- Sports and Recreation. Vol. 16 of The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture
The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture was published in 1989 as a collaborative venture between the University of Mississippi Center for the Study of Southern Culture and the University of North Carolina Press. The hefty volume, of a size and weight suitable for a doorstop, was hailed as a landmark contribution to the field of Southern studies. Scholarly interest in the South remains high and the breadth of research topics continues to expand, occasioning the need for a second edition of the Encyclopedia.
The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture (NESC) has changed in format. The twenty-four subject categories of the first edition have been modified somewhat, and the NESC consists of twenty-four individual thematic volumes, of which Sports and Recreation is number 16. Conceptually the contents are similar to the first edition, and in many cases contributors to the 1989 publication have updated their work for the new volume. The result is a “composite portrait” that addresses both what is distinctive about the South and the diversity within the region.
We Southerners (I was born and have lived nearly all my life in the South) have traditionally preferred recreational pursuits that are slower in pace and tied to the land, such as hunting and fishing, to more organized sports like basketball and tennis. However, as singer-songwriter Bob Dylan so aptly noted in 1964, “the times, they are a-changin’.” The arrival of professional sports teams to the region and the rise of big-time college sports had a significant impact. Sports helped breach racial walls, as evidenced by “Herschel Walker is my cousin” bumper stickers on pick-up trucks driven by whites and the ascendance of Michael Jordan as an icon of athletic excellence and marketing savvy. In the wake of Title IX and sports cable television’s need for more programming, women’s sports are well-supported and nationally recognized. A prime example is Pat Head Summitt and the extraordinary women’s basketball program she built at the University of Tennessee. The constant presence of television and the internet has brought the South closer to the national mainstream, while a firmly established middle class means more people have the resources to travel and to acquire expensive recreational toys.
Stereotypes still exist, but South is not monolithic, if it ever was. John Shelton Reed, Benjamin K. Hunnicutt, and Harvey H. Jackson III address myths and realities in a nicely crafted introductory essay on the evolving theories of sports and recreation in Southern culture. They discuss the leisure/lazy debate, the views and impact of the Agrarians and the New South, and what is different about Southern behavior and values.
Sports and Recreation offers significantly better subject coverage than the 1989 edition, expanding from twenty-six to seventy-four thematic essays and twenty-one to seventy-seven entries on specific people, places and events. The net is broad, covering both rural pastimes and market-driven activities; entries range from gardening and shopping to cockfighting and basketball. No topics have been dropped, although terminology has [End Page 509] changed: Roadhouses is now Juke Joints and Honkey-Tonks, Tournaments is now Ring Tournaments (for puzzled readers, these are equestrian events, also called lancing tournaments, modeled on medieval events). New essays reflect expanding Southern interests and a more diverse population: Rock Climbing, Stepping (step dancing), and even Soccer. Traditional pastimes are not slighted, however; Drinking now has its own entry, as do Quail Hunting, Picking Sessions, and Porch Sitting. The biographical entries have grown from eleven to twenty-eight. Who would have expected to see entries for Chris Evert and Mia Hamm, but they are living sports superstars who grew up in the South. Unfortunately, the volume follows the arrangement of the first edition, separating the thematic articles from those covering specific people/places/events. A single alphabetical list would be easier to use.
When the number of...