Posts Tagged ‘Bob Wheeler’

More on Indian Sports Leadership

September 5, 2008

Yesterday’s email brought a curious announcement. I am going to receive a free, signed copy of a new book to be released soon. The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur by Mike Michalowicz, about which I know nothing, was looking for humorous bathroom graffiti. I sent in my all-time favorite from the back of the men’s room door at The Blessed Oliver Plunket, a bar/restaurant featuring live entertainment located across the street from the Cumberland County Historical Society. The Plunket, as it was better known, has numerous stories to tell but I’m not the one to tell them. In the late 70s, as I was leaving the men’s room, I noticed a scribble on the door:

No sign of intelligent life…Kirk Out

Apparently that witticism has found its way into a book.

Back to Donna Newashe McAllister’s question…

I expected that more people would comment on this and would like to see more myself. So, I’ll share some of my thoughts.

My wife and I have discussed this issue to some degree and I think it is an issue with multiple facets. First, I’m not so sure that American Indian athletes have necessarily declined. Judging today’s athletes with those who were at the Carlisle Indian School may not be fair. Those guys were world-class athletes coached by one of the most innovative coaches of all time. Pop Warner is criticized much today but few question his knowledge or his ability to coach football. During its heyday, Haskell had fine athletes and was led by Dick Hanley, Lone Star Dietz and Gus Welch, all of whom were excellent coaches. Dietz belongs in the College Football Hall of Fame. Neither Haskell nor the tribal colleges can afford to hire coaches of their caliber today.

Bob Wheeler tells me that Bill Thorpe shoots better than his age, 80, in golf. To compare anyone with Jim Thorpe is unfair. He was the greatest athlete of all time and could do anything well. I can’t imagine how he could be competitive in the pole vault, but he was. Sam Bird’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren are big in the rodeo. Some of the others didn’t have children and many settled off the reservation. For example, Joe Guyon was a big star at Carlisle, Georgia Tech and in the NFL where Joe Guyon, Jr. played for Catholic University.

But you seem to be focused more on leadership than on athletic ability. It appears to me that many of the better leaders did not return to the reservation after finishing at Carlisle or Haskell. Several were officers in WWI and were leaders in the service but didn’t return to lead their tribes. Some kept one foot in each world and their children found more opportunity in white society. For example, Thomas St. Germain’s son, grandson and great-grandson were/are renowned research physicians at Tulane University School of Medicine.

It may be that Indians are playing leadership roles individually but not together as a group. MANY of the Carlisle players went into coaching but Dietz, Exendine and Welch were about the only ones who made it their life’s work. Coaching was an even more precarious occupation then than now and only the best schools paid well. So, most devoted their considerable talents to other occupations. Even Exendine and Welch practiced law in the off-season.

Surely, other people have some insight into this issue.

Jim Thorpe’s Gloves

April 7, 2008

A mystery has haunted me since shortly after starting to research Lone Star Dietz’s life. Today, with the help of Freddie Wardecker, proprietor of Wardecker’s Mens Wear and Jim Thorpe Museum, and Bob Wheeler, Jim Thorpe’s biographer who, along with his wife Florence Ridlon, succeeded in getting Thorpe’s Olympic medals restored, I solved that mystery.

Lone Star Dietz died in 1964 and his wife, Doris, died three years later. Mary Lou Zientek had befriended the Dietzes and served as executrix of Doris’s estate. The estate consisted mostly of Lone Star’s memorabilia that included promotional photos for his movies and a pair of Jim Thorpe’s gloves. Mrs. Zientek donated many of the items from the Dietz estate to a museum in Pittsburgh. I was unsuccessful in locating any of these items in any museum in Pittsburgh. Today that changed.

Freddie Wardecker told me of a museum in Boca Raton, Florida owned by a man named Joel Platt. It seems that Mr. Platt wanted to build his museum just outside Carlisle some years ago but was turned down, so looked elsewhere. Last week Bob Wheeler mentioned Joel Platt in another context stating that he was from Pittsburgh. Today the light came on for me after Freddie chided me for not being able to locate Platt’s museum on the internet. Following his directions, the web site for Platt’s museum immediately popped up. After a little navigation, Jim Thorpe’s page appeared: http://www.sportsimmortals.com/thumb.cfm?ID=133&category=11&startrow=9

One item jumped out at me. I could never understand why Lone Star had a pair of Jim Thorpe’s gloves or why he would have kept them so long because I thought they were just ordinary men’s gloves. Well, these are not ordinary gloves. Seeing them will explain everything.

The photo shows other items related to Jim Thorpe’s time in Carlisle. Now that the Cumberland County Historical Society has funds for acquiring artifacts, perhaps they can bring Jim Thorpe’s jersey, letter sweater, gloves and other items back to where they belong.