In The News

Smithsonian exhibit on sports coming to Rock Island

This article originally appeared in the Dispatch-Argus

By Jonathan Turner

A rare chance to showcase local and national sports history is coming to Rock Island in September, courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Illinois is one of the first six states to tour a new Smithsonian exhibit, “Hometown Teams,” and Rock Island is just one of six towns in the state to show it and share its own unique local stories.

“We were just thrilled to be chosen,” said Lisa Lockheart of applications approved by the Illinois Humanities Council (IHC), which is partnering with the Smithsonian. Ms. Lockheart is the publicity and outreach liaison for the Rock Island Public Library. “Sites are expected — as well as putting up the national exhibit — to put up a local exhibit that shows how sports and humanities intersect.”

“Our challenge will be finding time and space to tell even a fraction of the ways our Hometown Teams have affected life in Rock Island County, ” said Ms. Lockheart. “We’re particularly excited by the fact that the exhibit will include multiple ways for attendees to reflect upon and share their own stories.”

While it will be shown on the second floor of the downtown library (from Sept. 13 to Oct. 26), it will truly be a Quad-Cities exhibit as the library is partnering with other community organizations and businesses, such as the Quad Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau, Quad City Sports Commission, Heritage Documentaries Inc., historical societies, other libraries, and area sports clubs, Ms. Lockheart noted.

The library will tell stories of teams from Rock Island and surrounding communities, both through local exhibits and free public programs. From the building of Douglas Park, which hosted Rock Island Islanders semi-pro baseball team, the Rock Island Independents professional football team, and numerous world fast-pitch tournaments, to the glories of high school sports in Rock Island and Moline, sports is part of the fabric of the Q-C area, Ms. Lockheart said.

Local teams to be showcased include the Tri-City Blackhawks, one of the first franchises in what eventually became the NBA, and their Hall of Fame coach Red Auerbach (who became a legend with the Boston Celtics).

Part of a “Spirit of the Game” tablet interactive in the Rock Island exhibit will contain footage of the Rock Island High School marching band from last fall, thanks to support from Mickle Communications and the Rocky marching band, she noted.

“Sports is part of our language,” she said, noting Douglas Park, Rock Island High School’s stadium, Wharton Field House and Modern Woodmen Park will all be highlighted. “We have strong stories that caught their attention. What happened here is a microcosm of what happened in other areas.”

Sports are also a huge economic development driver for the area, Ms. Lockheart said, pointing to the John Deere Classic and the annual Rock Island kart races, among other events.

The Smithsonian exhibit (which goes to every community) will feature seven major parts:

— “Sports Pylons”: This section celebrates sports played on turf, water, road, court, snow/ice.
— “More Than a Game/Sports Everywhere”:Connections between sports and popular culture.
— “Fields of Glory”: Local connections to stadiums, fields and gyms.
— “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”: The fan experience.
— “Playing the Game”: What’s involved in the athletic experience — playing, practice, equipment, equal time.
— “Root, Root, Root for the Home Team”: Teams and community pride, boosterism, rivalries.
— “Sports Revolution”: Technology, new and emerging sports, the future of sports.

The exhibit seeks to use sports to reflect trials and triumphs of the American experience that have shaped the country’s national character. All levels of sports will be covered, from professional match-ups to pick-up games on the local playground. The exhibit is national in theme and local in scope, with each site interpreting the exhibit to share local history and sports heritage.

“Illinois history is full of historic upsets, championship runs, rivalries, traditions, individuals and teams, each that tell a greater story about the region,” said Mallory Laurel, the Illinois Humanities Council coordinator for the tour. “We hope to see these stories inspire pilgrimages from sports fans all over the state. It would be a testament to how sports can galvanize and unite communities.” 

“Hometown Teams” is part of the Museum on Main Street (MoMS) program, a partnership between the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and the IHC. MoMS serves small-to medium-sized communities across Illinois by bringing Smithsonian-quality exhibitions to local museums, historical societies, libraries and community centers. 

“It’s a huge project for a community to undertake, and there are a limited number of communities who feel their organization is up for the challenge,” Ms. Laurel said. The IHC works closely with each of the Illinois host sites and helps plan and prepare their exhibits.

“There’s a real desire to elevate their institutions, challenge themselves with this project,” she said, noting Rock Island has the energy, motivation and sense of regional collaboration to make this a success.

“The more voices that contribute to a story, the more complex and rich that story becomes,” Ms. Laurel said. “Lisa has been really excited about the partnership she’s forming as a result of this project.”

The library is seeking volunteer committee members for program planning, the local exhibition, exhibition installation, marketing and advertising, education outreach, business outreach and community support. To volunteer or for more information, contact Ms. Lockheart at 309-732-7303 or 

Illinois tour schedule 

The “Hometown Teams” exhibit is scheduled to visit the following sites in Illinois:

— March 1- April 14: Union County Museum with Union County Historical & Genealogy Society, Cobden.
— April 19- June 1: City of Mattoon Tourism and Arts Department with Coles County Historical Society, Mattoon.
— June 7-July 20: Bottomley-Ruffing-Schalk Museum, Nokomis.
— July 26- Sept. 7: Waterloo Museum Society, Waterloo.
— Sept. 13- Oct. 26: Rock Island Public Library. 
— Nov. 1- Dec. 14: Friends of Hancock County, Carthage.

For more information on the exhibit, visit The blog for the Illinois exhibits (called “Extra Innings”)  is at