As many, MANY people in my school can attest (and my family as well), I’m not a fan of football…at all. In fact after reading a book called Fourth Down and Inches (reviewed here in October of 2014) I’ve been on a one woman crusade to try to get the students in my school to understand the inherent dangers of the sport. Clearly, I’m fighting a losing game.
However, I’ve long heard of Jim Thorpe, the Native American who was an amazing athlete, yet I’ve never read a book about him. So I was interested to see this new title Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian Football Team by Steve Sheinkin. I had no idea how Thorpe got his start and was very surprised to learn all that I did about the beginnings of football and how we, as Americans, have a lot to thank the Carlisle Indian team for not only saving the sport of football, but making it into the sport that many love today. Not myself, mind you!
Jim Thorpe began his life in Oklahoma living with his father and his mother, his father’s third wife. Of Potawatomi and Sac and Fox ancestry, Thorpe never was one to like school. In fact, when his parents decided he should attend an Indian school, he ran away from it at least three times. It was 23 miles from his home. He simply ran back home! Thorpe’s young life was filled with tragedies and he would cope by removing himself to the woods. He was a wanderer, who often just took off because the confines of rules were not something he liked. However, when his father finally felt he could do nothing with him, he sent him off to the most famous of Indian schools of the time, Carlisle Indian Industrial School, located all the way across the country in Carlisle,Pennsylvania.
These Indian schools were not designed to support the children of Indians – rather they were designed to force children to give up their language, clothing, stories and history to be assimilated into the white world. Thousands of Indian children were sent to these schools by well meaning parents, while the vast majority of the children suffered terribly. In fact, one student at Carlisle was so miserable he refused to eat. Rather than sending him home, the superintendent tried to force him to eat and when that didn’t work, the boy starved to death. A cemetery remains to this day of the close to 200 students who died there.
It was to this school that Thorpe’s father sent him as a teenager and where Thorpe eventually met Pop Warner, who was the coach of the already famous Carlisle Indian football team. Together, they would go on to make history.
This book is an honest look at the beginnings of football and follows the lives of not only Jim Thorpe, but Pop Warner as well as other Indians who played this sport in its infancy and who changed the game forever.
Recommended for 6th grade and up for any students interested in football, Native American history, Jim Thorpe, Pop Warner or a really good read…even if you hate football like I do!