Few have left a bigger impact at Mississippi State than the legendary Babe McCarthy for what he achieved on and off the court in the 1950s and 60s.
And on Thursday, Oct. 22, his hometown of Baldwyn will honor him with the unveiling of a Mississippi Department of Archives and History marker on Main Street.
“This is something that’s been in the planning for a long time, and it’s something that’s been long overdue,” one of several organizers and Baldwyn resident Lori Tucker said. “This is an important day in Baldwyn and an event both Baldwyn and Mississippi State are proud to showcase.”
McCarthy’s impact was more than just winning, championships and an NCAA Tournament. He was a trailblazer when he changed the course of history in Mississippi sports.
McCarthy’s early MSU squads were denied opportunities to play in the NCAA Tournament due to an unwritten policy prohibiting white athletes from competing against black athletes, despite winning SEC crowns that made the Bulldogs eligible. But in 1963, McCarthy defied that policy of state leaders when he snuck his team out of Starkville en route to East Lansing, Mich., to face a Loyola-Chicago squad that featured four black starters.
Mississippi State and Loyola played the contest, and the game has been celebrated as one of the most important moments for racial change in America and certainly in the South. Recently, it was named one of the Top 25 defining moments in college sports history.
It’s even spawned the writing of two books and a documentary, while there is ongoing discussions about a possible movie.
“This marker will ensure Babe’s legacy will never be forgotten,” said Baldwyn native Jeff Roberson, another organizer. “This is something all Mississippians will be proud of because of the historical importance. This wasn’t just about basketball. It was also about social justice and what Babe stood for.”
McCarthy, who died in 1975 at age 51, coached Baldwyn High School to a boys state basketball championship in 1948, then followed that up with four Southeastern Conference titles at Mississippi State and a successful career in professional basketball with teams in the American Basketball Association (ABA) in New Orleans, Memphis, Dallas, and Louisville.
RemberingtheABA.com website said McCarthy “was one of the ABA’s most beloved characters” and said he “was affectionately known as ‘Ol Magnolia Mouth because of his so-called “honey-dew Mississippi drawl.”
The unveiling ceremony will take place at 2 p.m. at the corner of Main Street and Front Street in Baldwyn. A reception will begin an hour before that at 1 p.m. at Lula Lee’s restaurant at the corner of Main Street and Second Street. Former MSU players and coaches, family and friends of McCarthy are expected to be in attendance.
(From MSU Media Relations)