Libraries’ Archivists Join ‘Mason Nation’ with Enthusiasm

Posted: September 14, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By David Driver

Throughout the year, University Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives (SC&A) Department gets hundreds of requests for reproductions of items in its holdings, such as photographs of former U.S. Presidents Kennedy and Nixon. And among the oldest of the hundreds of thousands of historic papers, photographs and books in SC&A is a book published in 1515.

But the department is now working on a project that is far from presidential and a few centuries more current: a physical and digital archive of materials from Mason’s magical run to the NCAA Final Four in men’s basketball last spring. Mason became the first men’s team in the 20-year history of the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) to make that run.

The project is like no other for the Special Collections and Archives Department. “This was one (project) we were so excited about,” says Anne Hakes, archivist and university records manager.

“This is yet another epoch in Mason history,” says Robert Vay, acting head of Special Collections and Archives. “It is absolutely rare that a (mid-major) school like Mason could go to the Final Four. To be on campus during that time was amazing. Everyone in the department was wearing green and gold, every day.”

No one at Mason had to suggest that SC&A start collecting items.

“I think we really started collecting enthusiastically after Michigan State,” says Vay, of that first-round tourney win on March 17.

Vay, already a big fan of the Patriots, and his co-workers got together and started tracking down items. For instance, once fans had finished watching games on television at the Johnson Center, SC&A staff picked up posters and fliers that promoted the event.

Another component of the basketball project is oral histories. SC&A has an active oral history program of interviews of people who have either made or have been part of Mason’s history and those who are connected to collections in SC&A.

Hakes, Vay and Katja Hering, SC&A’s oral history coordinator, conducted an interview with senior starter Lamar Butler in June and with Mason President Alan Merten in August. Senior guard Tony Skinn, before leaving to play professional basketball in France, was interviewed by Hering, Vay and Veronica Fletcher, reading room supervisor, in July.

Though some of the longer interviews last up to 90 minutes, the ones with Butler and Skinn are about 20 minutes. (The third starting senior, Jai Lewis, left for a European pro hoop league in Bosnia and Herzegovina before he could be interviewed.)

Vay notes that 20 minutes, in an age of broadcast sound bites, is a long time for a college basketball player to be interviewed. That extended time allowed the department to ask the players such questions as where they lived and ate on campus and what classes they liked or disliked, among others. While the answers may seem mundane now, future generations of Mason fans and historians may appreciate such information, says Vay.

Still to be interviewed are head Coach Jim Larranaga, his wife, Liz, and Sally Merten, President Merten’s wife. The department also conducted interviews with Kevin McNamee, deputy associate athletic director, Intercollegiate Sports, and Alissa Karton, assistant to the vice president for University Life.

So far, the collection contains more than 100 different items relating to the season. They include special laminated passes worn by Mason students who attended the Final Four games in Indianapolis; the oral histories; various publications; noisemakers and whistles. The bookstore even donated T-shirts to the cause.

Since the season ended, SC&A has gotten a big assist from the Sports Information Department.

“Maureen has been our best friend,” Vay says of Maureen Nasser, the public relations and communications director for Intercollegiate Athletics. Nasser, who was also interviewed for the project, helped SC&A gain access to the players and contributed official NCAA box scores and press notes made available to journalists during the tournament. She says that 10 years from now, the project will be a great resource for Mason fans.

Vay hopes to complete most of the digital archive prior to Midnight Madness on Oct. 13.

Meanwhile, SC&A is still looking for more material from the season, specifically from the CAA tournament that was held the first weekend of March in Richmond.

“We know there is more out there,” says Hakes. “As an archivist you never really say the collection is closed.”

To contribute or loan material relating to Mason’s 2005-06 season, contact SC&A at speccoll@gmu.edu or 703-993-2220.

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