BTW Athletic Museum
La’Mar Burks’ passion captures Hornets’ excellence in school’s athletic collection.
La’Mar Burks, founder and curator of the Booker T. Washington High School Athletic Museum, stands in the museum’s football room.
Twenty or so U.S. high schools are named for American educator and author Booker T. Washington, according to La’Mar Burks, founder and curator of the BTW Athletic Museum.
He should know. He has visited many of them.
But thanks to Burks’ passion and hard work, none has a collection of sports artifacts to match that of the Tulsa school.
Burks, a former Hornet football player who was an All-Conference center on the school’s 1973 state championship team, has led the efforts to record and preserve the athletic legacies of arguably the most decorated school in Oklahoma history. Burks graduated in 1974.
An art teacher for 32 years and a coach for 25 years in Tulsa Public Schools, Burks has combined both disciplines in his creation and continued expansion of the athletic museum. It is housed in the BTW Historical Building, which was formerly the school’s main entrance.
Eventually, the Historical Building also will house similar collections that chronicle the school’s past academically and in music and the arts.
Burks contemplated the athletic museum after he and two former Hornet football buddies, Gerald Hicks and Rodney Clark, produced a DVD on BTW football successes called “Hornet Football Excellence.”
Burks jumped into the memorabilia project full speed in the summer of 2010 after receiving what he calls the “orange light go-ahead” from BTW Assistant Principal Mike Mims.
“Whenever I take a vacation, I usually go visit other Booker T. Washington schools and have visited about 10,” Burks says. “Many of them have sports museums, but none can even touch ours.”
He also has visited other sports halls of fame to gain insight as to the best practices of sports museums.
Burks’ first order of business in establishing the museum was furnishing the BTW Football Hall of Fame, which he began in the summer of 2010.
With 15 state championships in football, finding appropriate memorabilia was never a problem. Jerseys, helmets, shoes, pads, footballs and various other mementos line the shelves.
The players whose framed jerseys hang on the walls all played in the NFL and could almost comprise their own All-Star team.
Established NFL players such as Reuben Gant, Jonathon Brown, Kevin Lockett, R.W. McQuarters, Demond Parker, Aaron Lockett, Mark Anderson, Felix Jones and Robert Meacham are among those enshrined.
The museum would not be complete without a tribute to longtime BTW Coach Seymour E. Williams, whose name graces the school’s football stadium. Williams’ coaching resume is impeccable:
- Wins: 290; losses: 23; ties: 11.
- Won 17 Oklahoma Interscholastic Athletic Association Black Football Championships and 29 Oklahoma Interscholastic Athletic Association Black Basketball Championships.
- Won five National Basketball Championships.
- Never lost a track meet.
- Won six national track meets.
Burks started work on the BTW Basketball/Wrestling Hall of Fame in the summer of 2011. While it may still be a work in progress, two of the honorees are BTW’s best-known and most successful athletes: Kenny Monday (wrestling) and Wayman Tisdale (basketball).
Monday is a three-time Olympic wrestler with gold and silver Olympic medals to his credit. And an entire corner is devoted to the late Tisdale, who many consider to be the greatest Hornet of all time.
Tisdale was a three-time All-American at the University of Oklahoma; 1984 Olympic gold medalist; No. 2 overall draft pick in the 1985 NBA draft; had a 12-year NBA career; and was a renowned jazz bass recording artist with eight albums to his credit and a No. 1 on Billboard’s contemporary jazz chart.
Etched on the wall is a handwritten testament to the fame of No. 23 for the Hornets, in which Tisdale’s college coach, Billy Tubbs, tells the story of eating with him in a Norman café.
“Wayman goes to the restroom, and a female takes the straw from his soda (and) runs out of the cafe shouting, ‘I got Wayman Tisdale’s straw! I got his straw!’”
In addition to the mementos from Tisdale’s playing days, jerseys of former Hornets Richard Dumas, Ryan Humphrey and Etan Thomas, all of whom played in the NBA, grace the walls along with collages of newspaper clippings.
The Track/Baseball/Softball Hall of Fame is in the start-up phase in what was the school’s former library.
Most of Burks’ work on the museum takes place during the summer.
“When I come in here, I hate to leave because I can easily get lost in thought of all these great people,” he says.
It’s easy to tell Burks loves his hobby.
“Lots of times in the summer when I come in the morning, I’ll raise the blinds, just stand there and simply look out the window at the football field and take it all in,” he says. “It’s comforting.”
Why does Burks think the athletic museum is important to the BTW community?
“The reason the museum is important is that it gives both young and old alumni the opportunity to witness what they have seen or heard about BTW athletics,” he explains. “It gives a person the opportunity to add to the rich BTW legacy and to pass that legacy on to future generations.”
Burks says two people in particular have helped make the museum possible.
The first is the late Hicks (Class of 1975), who Burks says was instrumental in making the idea a reality.
“The other is my father, the late Sam Burks, a former BTW Stadium/S.E. Williams Stadium supervisor,” the historian says. “Having had the opportunity to work many ballgames during my early childhood gave me a firsthand insight as to the history of BTW — meeting players, watching championship ball teams and being around role models of Hornet players, teachers and coaches.”