Gulf Coast Museum has great new high school sports exhibit

Published 8:55 am Thursday, January 24, 2019

PORT ARTHUR — If Southeast Texas high school fans want to see a tremendous history of high school sports then the new “Hometown Heroes” exhibit at the Gulf Coast Museum is the place to head too.

Having grown up across the country as a traveling architect’s daughter, Sarah Bellian did not understand why high school sports are important in Southeast Texas.

After a childhood in which she didn’t participate in any team sports, she recently joined a roller derby team in Beaumont and began to understand their importance in local culture.

The sense of belonging was an impetus for the former curator at the Museum of the Gulf Coast to organize the “Southeast Texas Sports: Hometown Heroes” exhibit, which opened and will be on display through May 4 in the museum’s Dunn Gallery. Bellian, who now works with the Jefferson County Historical Commission in Beaumont, even shed her alma mater Western Colorado University sweatshirt to reveal her team jersey during a speech.

“It has been about a year in planning,” said Bellian, who also solicited help from local sports journalists for entries and information. “When I resigned in November, this was pretty much ready to go, and I came back to put it up with the help of two of our museum volunteers, Stephanie [Orta] and Brittany [Delagarza]. They came late at night and we came in on the weekends and we got this all put together.”

Alumni from past and present high schools in Southeast Texas have donated or loaned high school artifacts to the museum, such as letterjackets, jerseys, helmets, photos, yearbooks and spirit gear. Museum director Tom Neal said such contributions are still being accepted.

Dozens of visitors were on hand for the opening, many of them sporting their old high school colors, past and present.

“It’s neat to have an area so interesting that you have stories to tell,” Neal said. “And, then, it’s neat to present them here at the museum in a way that people are enjoying them and engaging to all these things. We’ve had so many people contact us about this subject, much like ‘Betting, Booze and Brothels’ but from a different standpoint. ‘Betting, Booze and Brothels’, people wondered if they had any relatives who might have been arrested doing something, and they came in to check. Now, people are coming in out of curiosity, and they like it.”

The history of sports in Southeast Texas is traced back to 1901, when local semi-professional football teams in Beaumont and Port Arthur were playing. Jim Thorpe, widely considered the greatest American athlete before Muhammad Ali, even brought a team to Beaumont to take on the Port Arthur Pirates, a 1920s semi-pro club.

High school sports came to existence in the area in the 1910s, but not before locals frowned upon them because of the misbehavior of fans that sometimes led to unlawful conduct, according to Bellian.

The Museum of the Gulf Coast is located on 700 Procter Street in downtown Port Arthur. It is open Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m., to 5 p.m. It is closed on Sundays and holidays.