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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Smithsonian Hometown Teams exhibit comes to downtown library

Andy Rumsey and Kathryn Illback help set up the traveling Smithsonian exhibit “Hometown Teams: How Sports Shape America” on Thursday, June 20, 2019, at the Downtown Spokane Public Library. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Andy Rumsey and Kathryn Illback help set up the traveling Smithsonian exhibit “Hometown Teams: How Sports Shape America” on Thursday, June 20, 2019, at the Downtown Spokane Public Library. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Basketball is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the library. But if you’ve ever wanted to take a close-up look at John Stockton’s two Olympic gold medals, you can see them at the downtown library.

Through Aug. 3, the library is hosting the traveling Smithsonian exhibit “Hometown Teams: How Sports Shape America.”

“We’re all about building community,” said Vanessa Strange, cultural programming librarian. “Sports aren’t the first thing people associate with libraries, and this exhibit is a great way to invite sports fans into the library.”

The exhibit, made possible by Humanities Washington, examines the many roles that sports play in American society.

“Sports are the one thing where everyone can come together and cheer their team,” said Ellen Peters, community engagement manager.

Though the exhibit will appear in museums across the state, the downtown library is the only library selected to host it, Peters said.

And it’s likely the only place you’ll see the local basketball legend’s medals and the shoes he wore during his two Olympic outings.

That’s because in addition to the Smithsonian exhibit, Peters and Strange have gathered a collection of memorabilia from local athletes and teams.

You can see Carl Maxey’s boxing boots, a football signed by former New Orleans Saints safety Steve Gleason and one signed by Shadle Park High School grad and Super Bowl MVP Mark Rypien.

High school teams get a shout out, too.

“Every high school in the city of Spokane is represented,” Strange said.

For example, a 100-year-old band jacket from North Central is on display, as is an NC letterman’s sweater from 1931. The sport the wearer lettered in? Hiking.

Even the coveted rubber chicken from the Ferris/Lewis and Clark rivalry basketball games has a spot.

Area universities are represented, as well.

An Elite Eight signed basketball from the 1999 Gonzaga University appearance is there, as are items from Whitworth University and Eastern Washington.

EWU sports fans might be surprised to learn that the university, formerly known as Cheney Normal School, once had a synchronized swim team – the Water Buoys.

The Smithsonian exhibit addresses several themes, including sports and commerce, sports and our culture and equality in sports.

Interactive pieces invite people to smell the stadium popcorn or take a photo with “the peanut guy.”

A variety of related programming will be at the Downtown, Shadle and South Hill libraries. Presentations include “The Inside Scoop on Spokane’s Hockey and Baseball Teams,” “Train Like a Zag and Be Healthy” and “What Do Sports Teach Our Kids?’

The library also will host movies like “The Sandlot” and “Hoosiers,” and you can meet members of the Lilac City Roller Derby.

“There’s something for everyone,” Strange said.

Indeed. Special events for kids also are planned. Youngsters will be invited to meet local sports team mascots and enjoy a special storytime with members of the Gonzaga basketball team.

“Our world is so divided right now,” Peters said. “But sports are universal and bring people together in a positive way.”

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