We recently interviewed George Lea, a MALS graduate. George is currently a teacher and coach. He talked with us about his MALS experience, research, and advice for current students. An excerpt from his thesis, Taylor Field: A Diamond in the Rough, was recently published in the latest issue of the Jefferson County Historical Quarterly. Further excerpts are slated to be published soon so keep a look out for this distinguished alum!
Tell us a little bit about your thesis and the areas you studied in MALS.
In my thesis, Taylor Field: A Diamond in the Rough, I researched the construction, early use, and unique aspects of Taylor Field, a baseball field located in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. The facility was constructed in 1939 using WPA funds and was used by both professional and amateur baseball clubs, including about a dozen Negro League games in 1940. It was also utilized by political figures as a stage for launching campaigns and hosting debates in the 1940’s-1950’s. My two fields of study, political science and history, tied all of these aspects together.
What inspired you to work on the topic of Taylor Field and how has your work on it evolved over time?
My thesis chair, Dr. C.F. Williams, knew I was a teacher and a coach and encouraged me to research something sports-related. I have a family connection to the field because the land for the field was donated by Pinchback Taylor who married my grandmother’s aunt. Also, my maternal grandfather volunteered at the field for many years. While I was researching for my thesis, I interviewed several people including the long-time volunteer caretaker of the field, Jim Hill. He shared my interest in adding the field to the Historic Register and we began the process of researching what had to be done to complete that task. I suppose I moved from the role of a student to “official historian” or “preservationist” in the time after I completed my thesis. I am happy to say that Taylor Field was added to the National Historic Register in January, 2010.
What was involved in the process of getting Taylor Field added to the National Historic Register, and what’s the importance of this designation?
The first step is filling out a Determination of Eligibility Application and submitting it to the Department of Arkansas Heritage, Historic Preservation office. They review the application, conduct a site visit, and determine whether a site is eligible for addition. Then, the property is referred to the Department of the Interior for final approval.
This designation honors the field, provides some opportunities for tax-deductions for donations, and opens it up to potential grant money. It also offers some limited protection for the facility in the event that anyone wanted it destroyed.
Do you have further plans involving your work on Taylor Field?
A long-term goal is to publish a full history of the field. I understand that the city is also looking to use the field as a marketing tool since the story of it being added to the Historic Register tied for 7 out of the top 10 news stories in the city for 2009.
You are also a basketball coach and a teacher. How were you able to balance work and school, and how has the MALS program influenced your career thus far?
I decided to get my Non-traditional teaching license and teach high school while I worked on my Master’s. Life is busy with teaching, coaching, and raising three kids with my wife. I took classes at night or on-line that fit into my schedule and I became a graduate assistant for the MALS program. Of course, I couldn’t have done any of it without an understanding, supporting, and loving family.
MALS has helped me in my career as a teacher because I teach all of the upper level social studies classes and some of the younger junior high students. In addition, I am the Athletic Director and head basketball coach for the junior and senior high boys’ teams. Blending academics and athletics takes some work. I attribute our success here partially to the MALS experience of combining two disciplines.
Do you have any advice for current MALS students?
My advice is don’t give up. It can be difficult, especially if you have a career and/or a family. But, you can do it. Also, the earlier you decide on a thesis topic, the better off you are, especially if you can use papers from your various courses as chapters or partial chapters in your thesis.