The Tebow Thorpe Intersection

Earlier this summer you read about my ill-fated attempt to see Tim Tebow play minor league baseball against the Harrisburg Senators at City Island. Since that time, I’ve thought about who else played at that island in the Susquehanna River over a century ago.

Called Hargest’s Island in 1902, a crude baseball field there was home turf for Harrisburg Athletic Club for whom Carlisle Indian School grad and Dickinson College student Charles Albert Bender pitched one summer. The future hall-of-famer even hurled a game against the visiting Chicago Cubs. Chief Bender lost but acquitted himself well. So well, that by season’s end he had been signed by Connie Mack to pitch for the Philadelphia Athletics. The rest, as they say, is history.

Baseball wasn’t the only sport in which Carlisle Indians competed on Hargest’s Island. In 1908, 8,000 people attended the first annual statewide track and field meet sponsored by the Pennsylvania Intercollegiate Athletic Association. The Carlisle Indians defeated ten colleges to take first place honors. Several Carlisle athletes performed well. Among them was Jim Thorpe, rounding out his first season of competition. He came in second in the 220-yard hurdles and 16-pound shotput, and first in the high jump. Not bad for someone new to the sport.

Jim Thorpe on Hargest's Island

Jim Thorpe runs the high hurdles in the Pennsylvania Intercollegiate Meet on Hargest’s Island

The 1912 event was the source of an often-heard legend about the Carlisle Indians. Their team did not run 20 miles to a game, defeat their opponents and run home. Lewis Tewanima and Jim Thorpe were training for the Olympic Games to be held in Stockholm that year and did not compete as members of the team. As part of his training regime, distance running Hopi Tewanima ran from Carlisle to Hargest’s Island, waved to his friends, circled the track, and ran back to Carlisle.

Jim Thorpe returned in 1915 to compete there as a member of the Harrisburg Islanders minor league baseball team. A parallel of Thorpe and Tebow is that that both competed on City Island in baseball, not either’s first sport. Both camein to prominence for their exploits in college football. Tebow was a Heisman Trophy winner and Thorpe would have been had that award existed in 1911 and 1912. His prominent position in the College Football Hall of Fame attests to that.

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