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Sports archive attracts attention

Heather VanHoegarden | Monday, October 3, 2005

From an autographed copy of boxer Jack Dempsy’s autobiography to the first book on American football, written by Walter Camp, the Joyce Sports Research Collection houses hundreds of thousands of sports archives.

The research collection, located in Notre Dame’s Hesburgh Library, is used more than one would think. With about 700 visitors in the past year, curator George Rugg finds it easy to keep busy.

“The collection’s used pretty intensively,” said Rugg, who has held the position since 1994. “It’s certainly not unusual for people to travel to Notre Dame to use this collection.”

Authors and moviemakers use the collection for research as well, including those involved with the movies “Cinderella Man” and “Unforgivable Blackness,” a Ken Burns film.

“If you’re working in college football, or boxing especially, this would be among the first places, if not the first place one would go to do research,” Rugg said. “We work routinely with networks such as ESPN and so on.”

The collection contains primary sources for many different sports-related subjects, mostly dating back to the 19th and early 20th centuries.

“It’s a collection of older, primary source, sports-related materials,” Rugg said. “I think it’s a collection really that’s more appropriate for people doing advanced research, writing books, scholars and graduate students who are working in the history and sociology of sports, journalists and filmmakers.”

Rugg emphasized that the collection exists not for sports fans, but rather for academic purposes.

“What it is, first and foremost, it’s a research collection,” he said. “It’s not a collection of memorabilia, of autographs, of uniforms or sports equipment. It’s here first and foremost as a research collection.”

Within the collection as a whole, there are different groupings of items. One collection is that of 64 autographed baseballs, which includes signatures from almost 50 Hall of Famers. 7,500 boxing photos from the 1920s and ’30s – almost all unpublished – comprise the Harry Winkler collection. There are also scrapbooks of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League that contain clippings, correspondence and programs from the WWII league.

However, the core of the collection comes from a purchase the University made in 1977, Rugg said. Notre Dame bought the Goodwin-Goldfadden collection almost a decade after beginning to solicit donations for its new sports library. Rugg said that hundreds of thousands of items were shipped to Notre Dame because of the purchase.

“That really continues to be the core of the collection,” he said.

But the biggest break for the collection came in 1987 when it was endowed, which enabled it to continue to grow.

“Not only was there money to develop the collection, but also the money to build a collection, with purchased acquisitions,” Rugg said.

The collection was able to add something else recently with the purchase of a business ledger of the Birmingham Black Barons, a Negro League team. It contains all the financial information of the team, including players’ salaries and the business records.

“Records of these leagues are extremely scarce, so this was really a wonderful item,” Rugg said. “This is a great thing to have – it will be studied.”

And for those who don’t use the collection for research, occasionally some of the archives are put on display in the lobby of the library.

“We did [an exhibit] last winter on our boxing related collections,” Rugg said. “That would be another way people can experience the collections. The reason these things aren’t out in stacks and don’t circulate is because we’re trying to make them available for research on the one hand, but we’re trying to preserve them as artifacts on the other.”

Even with the opportunity to experience the displays, Rugg said he would like more Notre Dame undergraduates to be able to utilize the collections.

“We certainly want to encourage undergraduate use,” he said. “It’s just that most undergraduates writing papers don’t use primary sources.”