Retired state Sen. James Robey, who went by "Jimmy" when he was a student at Howard High School, strikes a strongman pose in his Lions football uniform in a 1958 photo that is part of a new museum exhibit opening Friday.
Despite that show of bravado, he wouldn't go so far as to call himself an athlete.
"I wasn't very good," Robey recalled of his years playing school sports. "I played football at Howard, but I wasn't fast enough, and I played basketball at Ellicott City Junior High, but I wasn't tall enough."
Robey's yearbook image will be among those featured in a joint exhibition with the Smithsonian Institution at the Howard County Historical Society Museum in Ellicott City to celebrate how sports have molded the nation's character.
Called "Hometown Teams: How Sports Shape America," it will run from Sept. 19 to Nov. 7. Admission is free to the exhibition, which is part of the Smithsonian's Museum on Main Street program in which "the Smithsonian comes to Main Street USA," said Shawn Gladden, executive director of the Ellicott City museum.
"Communities just live for sports," Gladden said, adding that he was a football player and wrestler at Wilde Lake High School. "Everyone — whether they play, coach or cheer — can relate to this exhibit in one way or another."
A ticketed preview party featuring Boog Powell, former first baseman with the Baltimore Orioles, will be held Friday night to launch the exhibit. A re-enactment of 1860s-style baseball will take place Sunday on the lawn at historic Mt. Ida.
The idea behind the joint exhibit is to boost the number of visits to community museums by bringing the cachet of the Smithsonian to people who may not otherwise be able to view its collections in Washington, Gladden said.
One of the five copies of the traveling exhibition — which was launched in New Jersey in January 2014 — is making its last Maryland stop in Ellicott City. It has been hosted since February by Annapolis, Federalsburg and Cumberland, and just closed Saturday in Galesville, a town in Anne Arundel County.
"This is a destination exhibit, and the first of what we're hoping will be rotating exhibits in the space opposite our permanent collection," said Gladden, who is excited about the collaborative effort.
The local portion of the joint exhibition will feature photos and artifacts along with a timeline of local sports history, Gladden said, adding he can still accept items on loan to augment the display during its run.
Local sports history dating back to the 1890s will highlight horse breeding and horse racing as well as baseball, volleyball, soccer, football and the older sport of field ball, which Gladden believes was a precursor to modern field hockey.
"The exhibit will examine the rich traditions of Howard County high school sports, various organizations like the Soccer Association of Columbia and the Howard County Youth Program, and niche sports such as fox hunting," he said.
"Visitors will be able to see how much sports uniforms have changed over the years, especially women's, which used to resemble school uniforms," he said. "They also will note that the number of men's and women's sports was fairly balanced in Howard County, even long ago."
Photos of Michael Campanaro, Tatyana McFadden, Steve Lombardozzi Jr. and Clint Peay — celebrated athletes from the professional worlds of football, Paralympics, baseball and soccer who grew up in Howard County — also will be featured.
The Smithsonian's traveling exhibition will be mounted on pylons and kiosks, and incorporates video screens and interactive features as well as a ball cart, lockers and bleachers.
Before the Smithsonian added Ellicott City to its schedule last spring, the historical society had digitized all the county's high school yearbooks dating to 1915, and staff was able to put that work to good use for the exhibit, Gladden said.
Robey — an Elkridge Democrat who served the county as police chief and county executive before his election to the Maryland Senate — remembers his big moment in the spotlight at an Ellicott City Junior High School basketball game.
"We had intercepted a pass and I was standing right under the basket," he recalled. "My teammates yelled, 'Make it, Jim! If you do, we'll win the game.' Well, Jim missed, and I'll never forget that.
"I still remember two of my P.E. teachers and coaches, Forrest Kelly and Bob Marshall. They stood out to me because they taught us sportsmanship, how to work together to solve problems, and to learn from our mistakes. That's what makes playing community sports so fantastic."
Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, a Columbia Democrat who played baseball and football at Howard several years after Robey, also appears in a photo in the exhibit.
"Ed was a left-handed pitcher and a great athlete who pitched a perfect game," recalled Robey, who serves on the board of the historical society.
Robey has also arranged to borrow an old baseball glove and set of boxing gloves for the exhibition from C. R. Daniels, a manufacturing firm that is now located in Ellicott City and used to make sporting goods in its former mill in Daniels, Robey's hometown.
Tony Saunders, a retired Major League Baseball pitcher from Anne Arundel County, has loaned the museum his 1997 World Series trophy from his stint with the Florida Marlins.
Five other Museum on Main Street exhibitions — on topics including food, work and music — are or have been part of the Smithsonian series and have traveled to other states across the country.
"It means a lot to us — and says a lot about us — that the Smithsonian is bringing this exhibit here," Robey said. "People should definitely come and see what it's all about."
If you go
"Hometown Teams: "How Sports Shape America" will open Sept. 19 at the Howard County Historical Society Museum, 8328 Court Avenue, Ellicott City. Admission is free; hours are 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday.
A preview party and fundraiser will be held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sept. 18 at the museum. Guest speaker will be Boog Powell of the Baltimore Orioles. Attendance is limited to 60. Food will be provided by Lisbon Town Grille with beverages included. Tickets: $50 per person or $85 per couple.
A demonstration of 1860s-style baseball will be held from noon to 5 p.m. Sept. 20 on the lawn at historic Mt. Ida, 3691 Sarah's Lane, Ellicott City. There will be re-enactors, vendors and children's games from the 1800s. Attendees may also tour the mansion. Admission: $5 for adults, free for kids 14 and under.
Information: hchsmd.org or 410-480-3250.