Martha’s Vineyard student project traces the unifying role of sports

MVRHS teacher Corinne Kurtz with students Kendall Robinson and Jacob Lawrence, members of the team that worked on the project. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School seniors Madeline Webster and Carter D’Angelo were intrigued and excited as they helped add the finishing touches to an exhibit now on display at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum in Edgartown. The students were learning the powerful role of high school sports on Island life and culture.

Madeline, Carter and a dozen of their classmates, students in teacher Corinne Kurtz’s elective class on Sports in America, were at work on “Playing Together: High School Sports Since Regionalization,” which examines the evolution of high school sports on the Island. The students worked with Nancy Cole, the museum’s director of education, on the project.

The exhibit in the Spotlight Gallery will be on display until February 12. An opening reception was held January 25 to unveil the students’ work.

What began as a student project morphed into a museum exhibit that not only chronicles six decades of sports, but also illuminates the unifying role of sports when the Island centralized high school education in 1959, joining three high schools into one.

The exhibit includes a decade by decade look at high school sports from the 1940s and 1950s, when the Island had three high schools, through the establishment of the regional high school in 1959, and continuing through the millennial decade.

The exhibit includes brief written histories, photos, sports equipment, memorabilia and audio interviews with players and coaches and Island residents.

“We wanted to do something beyond a textbook exercise, something that hasn’t been done and now it’s turned into an exhibit at the museum,” Madeline said of the school project. “The exhibit is really a synthesis of the recorded history, with additional information and input from primary sources.”

“The exhibit has value as history. It creates a medium of the experience of a group of people from different backgrounds who came together through sports to create one school,” Carter said.

Madeline and Carter were assigned the 1960s decade — the nexus of change from three small and, in some ways, culturally disparate high schools in Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Tisbury into a single campus in the middle of the Island that has grown to a student population of nearly 800.

Thomas Wilkins, a senior, liked the idea that the class had a hand in shaping the direction of the project. “Ms. Kurtz made the proposal to us and asked for ideas and we came up with the idea of post-regionalization,” he said.

“We’ve been working on this for five or six weeks, read a lot of old newspapers and material and interviewed a lot of people like Coach (Bob) Tankard, Mr. (Mike) McCarthy, an MVRHS athlete and now its athletic director, and Lester Baptiste,” he said.

The group also interviewed Mary MacDonald, the girls basketball coach, and Kathy (Luce) Duys. From those women, the group learned about the dramatic change in women’s’ sports. Before the 1960s, decorum ruled women’s hoops. There were no coast to coast drives to the basket. Women were permitted to dribble only twice before shooting or passing the ball.

The researchers interviewed twin brothers, Dave and Doug Seward, “Crickers” from Chilmark (1960 population; 238), who stepped cautiously into a wider world down-Island, at a regionalized high school that had more students than Chilmark had people.

“Sports are huge here,” Thomas said. “Sometimes it’s not so obvious and it’s not just about the games but the fact that sports connect people, up Island and down.”

In a discussion prior to setting up the exhibit, the students were animated when discussing their plan to provide 15 to 20 two-minute interview segments on each decade that museum visitors can hear as they move through the exhibit. “We got some great quotes — really inspiring,” Madeline said

Senior Carl Gosselin handled the audio recording and learned a lot about editing and technical production of audio as he prepares to work in music in New York next year. “We were getting too much background on several of the interviews, so we asked several of the people to come back and re-record. I’d say we got a couple hours of audio that we’re editing now into maybe 20 two-minute segments.”

The idea for the exhibit bubbled up after a chance meeting between Ms. Kurtz and Ms. Cole during research in the museum library.

Ms. Kurtz has been teaching the Sports in America class “off and on” for seven of her thirteen years. “I thought we had a good idea that would interest the kids, but when they began coming to me during free periods to talk about it, I knew we had something,” she said.

And the idea grew in the community. “I know if we had two or three weeks more, the stuff would come pouring out of attics and storage,” she laughed. “Sports really are a culture point. What can we learn about American values through sport? It’s a history lesson, really,” Ms. Kurtz said.

“History texts are tools that someone else has provided for us. They have sifted through history for us. This is a great way to celebrate the work these kids have done,” Ms. Cole said

“You don’t have to love sports to love this exhibit,” Madeline said. “You just have to love history.”