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Washington and Jefferson College students unveil baseball exhibit at Flight 93 memorial

Jamie Martines
| Friday, May 4, 2018, 11:36 a.m.

On October 30, 2001, President George W. Bush took the pitcher's mound at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx to throw out the first pitch of Game 3 of the World Series as the Yankees faced off against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

He delivered a strike.

To many, it was a sign that the country could start to heal from the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

That ball is among several items on display at the Flight 93 National Memorial Learning Center in Shanksville. It is part of a special exhibit titled: “Down but not out: Baseball after September 11, 2001.”

Nine undergraduates from Washington and Jefferson College curated the exhibit with the support of the National Park Service. It examines the role baseball has played in helping the nation cope during times of crisis.

“There's so much that baseball has in our culture, that we don't even realize it,” said Ryan Willen, 21, of Cleveland, one of the students who worked on the exhibit.

Included in the exhibit is a Hillerich and Bradsby Co. M1A1 carbine stock from World War II. Like many manufacturing companies during that period, Hillerich and Bradsby took a break from producing products like its Louisville Slugger baseball bats to help out with the war effort, Willen said.

The exhibit has camouflage jerseys worn by the Pirates to show support for the troops, as well as recordings of interviews with players and coaches when games resumed the week after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The collaboration between Washington and Jefferson College and the National Park Service was born of a former student's research paper, which examined why baseball was significant in the wake of Sept. 11, said David Kieran, assistant professor of history at the college in Washington, Pa.

Stephen Clark, superintendent of the National Park Service units of Western Pennsylvania, heard about the paper when Kieran brought students to visit the Flight 93 Memorial in 2016.

The idea stuck with Clark, so he pitched the idea for a student-curated exhibit to Kieran. From there, Kieran developed a course in Museum Exhibit Design and Installation, and Clark coordinated the budget and museum resources that students would need to research, curate and install an exhibit.

Though Katie Prinkey, 22, also of Cleveland, was a kid in 2001, she remembers an eerie silence as planes at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport were grounded.

Students just a year or two younger than her aren't likely to have any memory of the day, Prinkey said.

“We're probably going to be the last ones,” she said.

Aside from researching and acquiring artifacts for the exhibit, Kieran said one of the biggest challenges he faced as a professor was teaching students to examine a contemporary moment like Sept. 11 as a historical event — “To ask them to step back from their own lived experience and to study it the way we might study the Vietnam War or World War II or the Civil War as key moments in American culture,” he said.

Students such as Jonathan Cadez, 22, of Canonsburg reckoned with that challenge throughout the three-month-long project. He first encountered Sept. 11 in an academic setting two years ago, in a college course about terrorism, he said.

“I was able to grow up and not know so much stuff about the time when I was younger,” said Cadez, who was in charge of coordinating with the George W. Bush Presidential Center to borrow the first-pitch baseball for the exhibit.

“But I guess that must be the way people felt about the attack on Pearl Harbor, or the death of John F. Kennedy,” Cadez said.

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at jmartines@tribweb.com, 724-850-2867 or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines.

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