University Sporting Goods

University Sporting Goods employee restocks for another big football weekend.University Sporting Goods is a store with staying power. It’s been a part of the story of the Oxford Square for the past half a century.

Opened in 1966 by George Maynard and George Watson of Tupelo, few businesses have remained on the Courthouse Square that were there before Archie Manning ever took a snap for Coach John Vaught and the Ole Miss Rebels. But University Sporting Goods is one.

Originally located where Boure’ is now in the northwest corner of the Square, the business moved in the late 1980s to its present location in the northeast section of the Square. Downtown Grill, the former restaurant, was located in the old University Sporting Goods location before Boure’ moved there.

University Sporting Goods flourished in its old location and continues to do so in its present one. Owned by George “Pat” Patterson and Jeff Busby, as the times and Oxford and the University of Mississippi have changed, so has University Sporting Goods. But it always remained true to its roots.

“It was the only sporting goods store in town at that time, ” Busby said of the early years and even into the 1980s. “You did a little bit of everything. Uniforms for all your park commissions and everything else. There are things we did back then that we still do today.”

That’s because Busby and Patterson and the staff at University Sporting Goods understand their roles in the larger community of Oxford, Lafayette County, and Ole Miss.

“We keep our footballs and baseball and basketballs, bats, gloves, all those things, ” he said. “We don’t want to lose what we started with. Of course, now we are also a fan shop. In the fall we basically transition into an Ole Miss store. Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, I’ll bet there weren’t three racks with Ole Miss items. But you didn’t have but 30-something-thousand for some games. Now you can have that many in the Grove when Ole Miss is playing.”

Busby recalled the last 30 years of University Sporting Goods and remembers the way things were three decades ago and before.

“I started working for George Maynard in 1984. John Champion was working here. George Maynard continued to live in Tupelo. He and his wife would stay here Monday and Tuesday nights at the old Holiday Inn, go home to Tupelo Wednesday, come back and stay Thursday night every week and go back home Friday afternoon. He probably did that 20 or 30 years. Pat bought the store in December, 1984. I was already working here. I started working here when I was a senior in high school and then started Ole Miss in the fall of 1984.”

Busby said there was a time when non-football game Saturdays could be handled by one person in the store, and the summers were much slower.

“Oxford has become a destination place, ” he said. “And the Ole Miss football game weekends are the biggest ones of the year for us. This is our Christmas time.”

Ole Miss was one of those college football teams that for decades played more home games away from home than actually at home. Memphis or Jackson would host games each fall, and Oxford hosted only two or three Rebel football games each season.

Now with seven home football games each year here, along with numerous sports events and other activities every weekend throughout the year, the whole world of Oxford has changed. Bowl games always help, too.

“December is one of our slowest months, unless Ole Miss is playing in a bowl game, ” Busby said. “The students are gone home, and there aren’t as many people here. Now that they play in a bowl game every year, December is better for us.”

The business began screen printing in the 1980s before any others.

“Pat and I went to Scottsdale, Ariz., to learn how to screen print, ” he said. “That really got us going as far as softball teams, which was so big back then. It let us do so much in house. That still today is a huge contributor to this business, whether it’s for fraternities or sororities or travel baseball teams. We don’t do as much park commission business as we used to, mainly because Pat is mayor, so we can’t bid on any city stuff, and I am a county supervisor, so we can’t bid on any county stuff. We can’t bid on park commission things, but we can with the travel teams.”

Busby grew up in Oxford and understands the place, as well as all its changes. He knows the people and said the store is like a gathering place, almost like a reunion of sorts, when former employees and longtime customers drop by.

There’s a small town, hometown feel to University Sporting Goods as well, and that’s the way the staff wants it.

“We want to continue that type business, that personal relationship type business, ” Busby said. “We’re a part of this community and have been since 1966. We have Oxford and Lafayette items. We sell tickets for the Crosstown Classic, which is this Friday night. We give the trophy – the University Sporting Goods Crosstown Classic. We still have the University Sporting Goods Game of the Week on radio, for both Oxford and Lafayette.
“There’s a lot more competition here than there was a few years ago, but there are a lot more people here or coming into this town. We continue to do what we do best, and we continue to grow each year.”

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