"Memorial Gym Magic" is a phrase that should be familiar to followers and supporters of Vanderbilt University basketball, and lifelong residents of Nashville. It refers to how the Commodores round-ball teams seem to always win in the friendly and unique home environment of the campus main gymnasium. Memorial Gym is unique because the two team benches are not on the side lines but rather at the end lines, and the audience seating to the sides goes lower than the playing floor -- making for an effect that you're watching the game being played on a stage!
Hm-m-m-m! To watch university sports being played in a place that resembles a place for musical or drama performances. Shall we call this "Music City USA meets the Athens of the South"?
Yesterday, Sunday, at the conclusion of another blessed time of worship in Eastwood Christian Church (Disciples), fellow member Bob Frech told me he had an extra ticket for the afternoon game, featuring the VU women's team. The Frech family are strong supporters of Vanderbilt athletics even tho' none attended or worked at the university. So I went with Bob and his dad Soapy to the game. As we crossed the floor -- the "stage" -- I chose to pause by the broadcasters' tables and inquire about my friend Charlie Mattos. Shortly I saw him crossing the floor toward me, attired in a purple turtleneck. We greeted each other and chatted briefly about various matters, and I complimented him on the turtleneck.
The Frech family's season seats are right behind the opposing team's bench -- I think because Bob likes to heckle them. Just a little heckling; Bob's a good Christian gentleman! We not only had to our left a pep band this time (other games I'd been to recently were during the holiday break, with student body absent) but a good-size pep band. As in no less than five sousaphones, etc.
Then, at halftime I was interviewed by a young woman student, for a communications course of some sort. She asked such questions as my association with Vanderbilt athletics (wife Ellen received a BA here in 1976 and I an MA in '88), who my favorite players are (Hannah Tuomi and Meredith Marsh), how many games I'd attended (not en'uf, only 3 or 4).... She concluded the interview with standard invitation to the interviewee (me) for final comment. To which I replied, "Go, Commodores!"
With that I scooted back to my seat to see a neat and very different halftime show. It was the very end of an exhibition of oversize mascot types, accompanying Mr. Commodore. As these were then leaving the floor -- the "stage" -- the Mighty Raptors came out. They are special needs students formed into a cheerleading unit. Bob Frech told me as we watched that some of them are from the school where he teaches, Station Camp HS in nearby Sumner County. I replied that my very first sub-teaching assignment when I lived in San Antonio was the Life Skills class at Lanier HS, and I quickly came to love those special students! Surely it took patience, time and understanding by their trainers, but the members' enthusiasm and effort matched any bunch of cheerleaders I've seen! Did I say, "Go, Commodores"? Well, how about "Go, Mighty raptors!"
But alas! the magic didn't happen in Memorial Gym for the hoopsters this afternoon! The Vanderbilt women had surged ahead 10-2 to open the game against the women of Mississippi State. But the visitors, who had bested the VU women earlier in Mississippi, soon took the lead and never relinquished it. So I got to be present and watch my first ever loss. Final score was MSU women 65, VU women 66.
Later, in the evening I got some small consolation, in that I attended a supper for Building Lives, a local veterans aid organization, hosted by Clark Memorial UMC. This historic Methodist church, Afro-American but United Methodist rather than of the African Methodist denominations, is located off Jefferson on Fourteenth Avenue, near the Fisk University campus, but its earlier sanctuary still stands on Fourth Avenue a few blocks south of the Schermerhorn Concert Hall. The food was delicious, and leader and mentor Tim Gregath gave a brief presentation on a program Building Lives will provide soon, a version of Dave Ramswy's financial self-help instruction.
But what caught my attention the most was one of the many plaques on the wall of the Clark Memorial UMC fellowship hall where this all took place. It was a plaque recognizing folks who'd contributed $1000 or more to the restoration of the historic facility. Among the names was that of Edward Temple. I asked and got confirmation that this is none other than the famous Coach Ed Temple of women's track and field at nearby (but not nearly as close as Fisk!) Tennessee State University. A historically black state institution, TSU is alma mater of the famous Olympic runner Wilma Rudolph. And Coach Ed Temple was her coach! A street that passes just east of the TSU campus is named in his honor. I was further informed that he not only is very much alive but very much active in the congregation!
Being a lover of track and field even more than I love basketball, baseball or football, and one who cherishes the memory of the late Wilma Rudolph and her inspiring story, this tidbit of information fascinated me. As in "Wow!" So I concluded my evening at Clark Memorial by touring the sanctuary. I found it a rather small one but beautiful in its tradition appearance. Especially the dark-stained wooden rafters supporting the cathedral ceiling above me.
So despite the loss by the Vandy women, yesterday was a very good, memorable Sunday, sandwiched between two good churches. In the Buckle of the Bible Belt even!