Ryan Sprayberry has come home…and he has a few stories to tell.
Just six weeks into his new job as the new exhibits and collections manager at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in Waco, Ryan is a 2012 Baylor graduate who gave up a job at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History to return home to Texas (“I love Texas. I was born and raised here and it’s where I want to raise my family.”)
Sprayberry received his degree in History with a minor in Religion but needed to round out his hours during his senior year so he decided to follow a childhood interest and took a few classes in Museum Studies at the Mayborn Museum. After graduation, Ryan spent a year at the National Museum of the Pacific War (formerly the Admiral Nimitz Museum) in Fredericksburg, TX before getting married and heading to Washington, D.C. where he went to grad school at George Washington University and worked for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
“I have a passion for sports history and a desire to share all those great stories,” he says, explaining that he really got the bug for sports history after finding a dusty football jersey once worn by Oregon State’s Terry Baker, the first Heisman Trophy winner west of Texas. But further research in old newspapers and magazines led to the discovery that Baker also took Oregon State to the college basketball Final Four, which put him in rarified air indeed.
Sprayberry met Eric Jentsch, the curator of the Smithsonian’s sports collection, during a first-semester grad-school class at George Washington University, which has an exclusive relationship with the museum and holds most of its classes there.
“Eric has a great vision of how sports fits into the fabric of the American story,” Sprayberry says. He started off in collections management (going through records, cataloging objects) and then moved on to curatorial research (writing blog posts and describing exhibits online). “Half of the American History museum is closed for renovations and I got the opportunity to work on the new On With the Show exhibit, which will devote about a quarter of its space to Sports when it opens in 2017.”
But Sprayberry, who also helped relocate the College Football Hall of Fame to Atlanta from South Bend, Indiana, during his time at the Smithsonian, will have to travel back to D.C. for the opening to see the fruits of his labors. Creating a new Smithsonian exhibit tends to be a 2-3 year production and will remain on display for 40 years. He’s already dived into his new job and, thanks to the departures of a few staff members, is hard at work on projects that he says makes him feel like he’s “already been here six months.”
He’s working on a $500,000 renovation of the Texas Tennis Hall of Fame that’s scheduled to open in October, and is also working on updating the High School Hall of Fame exhibit and helped prepare for the Class of 2015 Induction ceremony.
Former Dallas Cowboys Vice President of Player Personnel Gil Brandt was one of those inductees, and Ryan particularly enjoyed combing through some of the potential objects for the exhibit. “He revolutionized how scouts work and we have some of the original scouting reports he wrote on people like Earl Campbell. It’s fascinating to see how he made it a streamlined process and computerized scouting during a time when many scouts were figuring out 40 (yard dash) times with their fingers.”
As for the Tennis Hall of Fame, while the Smithsonian had one of Billie Jean’s outfits from the Battle of the Sexes, Ryan has the racket covers and an original scorecard in Waco. “It’s such a great story…I love that story,” he says with a smile.
“His educational background was the perfect fit, but what really separated him was his experience with collections, particularly in sports,” said TSHOF Vice President of Museum Operations Jay Black. “Sports is such a small part of the museum world, and his experience was great.”
When asked what advice he’d give to fellow Baylor grads who are trying to tell their family stories, whether it be for reunions, funerals, or just acting as the family historian, he pauses for a brief moment before answering.
“The hardest part of telling stories tends to be talking about the living,” he said. “You have to remain unbiased and it can be difficult to balance including all the pieces, the good and the bad. You have to give the facts to allow visitors to draw their own conclusions. You have to celebrate their accomplishments — but just showing the sunny side is not being fair to history.”
It’s that outlook that made Sprayberry appealing to new TSHOF President and CEO Jared Mosley, who joined the Hall of Fame in October: “The two most important things that stood out about Ryan is that he can bring that understanding of how to build an exhibit that makes people want to come back, and we came away impressed with his demeanor. Seeing how he interacts with people he works with was important, because he will be doing it constantly while building up the museum.”
For his part, Ryan Sprayberry says he “couldn’t be in a more perfect place. There’s a lot going on here and I’m doing something I love. What more could I ask for?”
Alyssa Rueter ’16 is an intern for the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and contributed to this post. You can get TSHOF ticket information here.