At the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, a black and white photograph freezes Ben Higgins in mid-air as he twists his body over the high jump bar.
“I remember he used to sit in the front row,” said Martha’s Vineyard regional high school history teacher Elaine Weintraub as she looked at the photograph. “He would be engaged in whatever I was teaching, a lovely kid, always mellow and very low key. Then he’d get out on the football field like Goliath unchained.”
In addition to winning (and still holding) the high school state record for the long jump, Ben played on the football team and helped lead the track and field team to a 1998 state championship.
The current spotlight gallery at the museum chronicles stories like Ben’s, all of which took place during the past six decades after the Martha’s Vineyard high school sports teams regionalized in the 1950s. Last Friday evening the museum hosted a reception for the exhibit which will run through Feb. 12.
“You always see the banners hanging in the gym, but never realize how big the stories are behind these championships,” said Jacob Lawrence, one of the students who helped curate the exhibit as part of the Sports in America class at the high school.
From the 1970s basketball glory years to Island Cup victories, the exhibit traces the Vineyard community through sports beginning in 1959 when the Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and Tisbury high schools merged into one.
“All the towns had to get together and learn how to play together,” Jacob said.
With the help of teacher Corinne Kurtz, the Sports in America students became history detectives uncovering the stories and names behind the big games and races.
“When we started to research we began to understand that sports, especially sports reporting, really wasn’t that big,” Ms. Kurtz said. “There was nothing except some scrapbook photos, yearbook photos, old Gazettes.”
With photographs to guide, the students interviewed past athletes and current teachers at the high school to piece together stories.
“A lot of it is word of mouth,” Ms. Kurtz said. “The Island is perfect for that. You have a lot of generations here with rich history.”
For example, student Kendall Robinson’s father Albie Robinson recounted scoring the nail-biting winning touchdown for a Nantucket football game in 1992. And twins David and Doug Seward remembered transitioning from the Chilmark school to the regional high school in the 1960s, a switch they compared to moving from the countryside to a public school in the Bronx.
The Sports in America students sifted through boxes of photographs from yearbook productions, collected stories through interviews, edited audio clips and wrote the captions for the pictures.
Some photographs still need identification.
During the reception 1964 graduate June Manning scribbled names on a post-it note underneath a photograph of the 1964 women’s basketball team. The girls team wore the first purple uniforms at the high school, with white stiff dresses and pinnies, too.
“I graduated with these girls, but I can’t remember if that’s Judy or Barbara,” Ms. Manning said.
And some stories still need dates. Jacob is searching for more details about a 1970s coach who intentionally lost a game because the team could not afford to travel to the tournament.
Jacob, a soccer and track and field athlete, said the dynamics of regionalization still hold true today.
“For most of our lives, we are all enemies on the field,” he said. “Then we all come together after years and years of playing against each other. We just gel, click, almost instantly. For us to come together as one at the high school, it’s like a Martha’s Vineyard all-star sports team.”