Posts Tagged ‘Asa Sweetcorn’

Seek Restoration of Indian School

April 12, 2010

When looking for information on Asa Sweetcorn, I found a 1935 United Press article in which he was mentioned that had nothing to do with his exploits while at Carlisle. Titled “Seek Restoration of Indian School,” the article, datelined Carlisle, Pa., March 15, the article told of former Carlisle Indian School students’ attempt to reopen the school. Charles Dillon, who is best known for his role as “humpback” in the “hidden ball” play run against Harvard in 1903, spearheaded the movement. “Dillon, one of the greatest of the long line of football heroes who wore the colors of the old Indian School, was in town the other day sounding out sentiment on the proposed return of the Redskins.”

Dillon was on his way to Washington, DC to pry loose a few New Deal dollars to launch the program. He felt that little government money would be required to fund the school. He told some old friends in Carlisle, “Our aim is to build a college with Indian money, to be conducted by and for Indians. And only a comparatively few dollars are needed from the government to launch the program.” According to Mr. Dillon, “Scores of graduates of the erstwhile Carlisle Indian School are ready to contribute thousands of dollars toward establishing the school.”

He was to return to Carlisle the following week after negotiating with New Deal officials. Accompanying him were Jim Thorpe, Gus Welch, Albert “Chief” Bender and Asa Sweetcorn. That was a bad time for Indian schools to pry money out of the government. Lone Star Dietz left Haskell Institute in 1933 to coach the Boston Redskins after the government slashed Haskell’s budget. Gus Welch was well aware of funding issues as he replaced Dietz at Haskell. It is easy to understand why Dillon, Thorpe, Bender and Welch supported the initiative because they flourished at Carlisle. Sweetcorn’s involvement is curious because he was “canned” in Carlisle for his antics that reflected less than a studious attitude.

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Source of Sweetcorn Misinformation

April 8, 2010

A July 1970 article about the Sisseton-Wahpeton tribe’s alcohol program that was written by Homer Bigart for the New York Times News Service appears to be the source of much of the misinformation about Asa Sweetcorn that Sally Jenkins used in her book about Carlisle Indian School. One paragraph from this unsourced article is the major culprit:

The most illustrious member of the tribe was Asa Sweetcorn, an all-time football hero who played with Jim Thorpe at Carlisle. Asa was a giant who reputedly wore a size 21 collar and could ram his head through wooden doors.

A quick look through Carlisle Indian School newspapers uncovered no mention of Asa Sweetcorn in any year other than 1910. The Washington Post listed him as the starting left guard for the game against Virginia. This supports Gus Welch’s assertion that Sweetcorn was a “running guard.” School newspaper coverage of some other 1910 games mentioned his play. No mention of him being in a Carlisle game before or after 1910 was found. Steckbeck only lists him as being on the varsity squad in 1910. However, his rosters were often incomplete. Asa may have been on the varsity before 1910 but wasn’t a starter. But no evidence has been found to support that.

So, Sweetcorn was not a star on the 1910 team, or any other year. So, he definitely wasn’t “an all-time football hero.” He didn’t play on the varsity with Jim Thorpe, as Thorpe only played on the varsity in 1907, 1908, 1911 and 1912. He was not at Carlisle in 1910 when Sweetcorn played. So, the two didn’t play on the same team unless, when younger, they played on a shop team together.

Sweetcorn may have bulked up after leaving Carlisle, but Welch’s description of him and his photograph in uniform differ from that. He was anything but a giant when at Carlisle. It is possible that he gained so much weight later that he needed a size 21 collar, but he surely didn’t when he was at the Indian School.

Sweetcorn Fools Sally Jenkins

March 30, 2010

Last time, Asa Sweetcorn explained his strategy for getting more attention from sportswriters to Gus Welch. As it turns out, the wily Indian continued to fool sportswriters long after his death. Welch described his former teammate: “This Sweetcorn was a very rugged Indian, although he only weighed about 160 pounds and probably nowadays [1933] would just be turned over to the intramural department.”

On page 258 of The Real All Americans, Sally Jenkins describes Sweetcorn: “He was an enormous, brawling, swilling man who wore size twenty-one collars and was able to ram his head through a wooden door in a liquored-up stupor.” Welch definitely didn’t describe Sweetcorn as being enormous. To the contrary, at about 160 pounds he was far from large as a football player in his day. Two decades later, he would not be given a chance to make the varsity in Welch’s opinion.

A photo of Sweetcorn in his Carlisle Indian School football uniform supports Welch’s description. He appears to be no larger than average size and without a thick neck. If Asa ballooned up to the size Jenkins described, it must have been after he left Carlisle.

The condition of Sweetcorn’s jersey in the photo supports Welch’s assertion that he received quite a beating in some games. Why he was wearing that particular jersey is unknown. What is known is that new jerseys were in limited supply. Each year, the varsity players got new jerseys and handed their old ones down to the second team who handed them down to the third team or the junior varsity who in turn handed their old ones down to the shop teams. It’s likely that his old jersey was in better shape than this one, but he may have worn this one as a badge of honor to reflect his toughness.

Asa Sweetcorn, Carlisle’s Wild Man

March 26, 2010

As so often happens, I came across an interesting article when looking for something else. This time it was a 1933 interview of Gus Welch by Alan Gould of the Associated Press. By this time Gus Welch had gained a reputation as a great storyteller, having won the coveted Brown Derby Award at annual coaches conferences. For whatever reason, no award was made in 1933 but Welch told an interesting story about, as were many of his stories, a teammate at Carlisle. He recalled a headstrong player named Asa Sweetcorn who, as a running guard [probably a pulling guard in modern parlance], felt that his contributions were being disregarded in Warner’s newspaper columns. He reacted by drawing attention to himself. Instead of running plays as his coach diagrammed, Sweetcorn “…would go ripping around an end, legs and arms flying, making gestures at everybody but taking out nobody. I took him aside to find out what was going on. Slyly he wispered to me: `Gus, that’s psychology. I keep `em all worried and guessing and then they say, My what a great running guard this Sweetcorn is.’”

 Reporters rewarded him with positive mention in their columns and opposing teams started to take notice of him. Navy concentrated much of their effort against Sweetcorn to his detriment. Soon he was groggy and bloody. At half-time, Pop suggested that a substitute be sent in for him. Welch responded, “No, this Sweetcorn is just faking. Let him stay in.” After taking terrible beatings game after game, Asa began to wise up a bit but not completely. Lying on the field badly beaten in a game, he had about reached the limit of punishment he could withstand, he said something to Welch about needing a “medicine man” but Welch disagreed, “Never Mind medicine man; send for a priest.”  

 Next time, find out how Sweetcorn fooled Sally Jenkins.