On May 22, 1887, one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century was born in a small cabin in Oklahoma. James Francis Thorpe or Wa-tho-huck in his Native American name which means “bright future”, would have a bright future indeed. He would go on to make accomplishments in all of football, baseball and track and field.
In 1907, his first year at Carlisle Indian School, the young Thorpe displayed remarkable skills in football and track and gained the attention of Pop Warner, then Carlisle’s coach of these sports. Thorpe performed his amazing talent on the varsity football team, but in 1909 he withdrew from the school and went to North Carolina. There he worked as a farmhand and played semiprofessional baseball. Returning to Carlisle in 1911, Thorpe played halfback on the football team, contributing largely to Carlisle victories over some of the most powerful teams in the country. In 1911 and 1912 he made the All-American team. Thorpe excelled during this period in many other sports, including track and field, baseball, lacrosse, basketball, ice hockey, swimming, boxing, tennis, and archery.
Thorpe was a member of the United States track and field team at the Olympic Games of 1912 and he was widely recognized as the world’s greatest all-around athlete after he won both the pentathlon and the decathlon. Early in 1913, however, the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), after learning that he had played semiprofessional baseball, voided his amateur status and disallowed his Olympic victories. In 1982 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) restored both his amateur status and his two Olympic medals after his death.
Thorpe played professional baseball, notably with the New York Giants and the Boston Braves, from 1913 to 1919, when his weakness as a hitter forced him to retire. Meanwhile, in 1915, he had organized the Bulldogs, a professional football club from Canton, Ohio. After a series of outstanding seasons with the Bulldogs and other teams he retired from football in 1929. Thorpe subsequently had a few small parts as an actor in motion pictures, lectured on Native American culture, and served as a seaman in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II. In 1950 nearly 400 American sportswriters and broadcasters selected Thorpe as the greatest all-around athlete and football player of the first half of the 20th century. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963.
On March 28 1953, Jim Thorpe’s life came to an end. Although his time was over, his legend would live on in American history. His name would pop up on television and in the magazines whenever people were talking about sports greats. The state of Pennsylvania even named a town after him. Even recently on the ESPN’s “50 greatest athletes of the 20th century. He placed in the top 5! All over the world, Jim Thorpe will always be remembered and his stories will forever be passed down among generations.
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