Category Archives: grad school

Embracing the Tangent

One of the things I’ve learned while teaching African American Studies the past year-and-a-half is to embrace the tangent. At a PWI (predominately white institution), my classroom is one of the only places that students have where they can ask questions and discuss issues of race (even if it isn’t related to sports). Most of my students are white, and they are curious and often eager to talk about race. It fascinates them, and they have questions and assumptions they want to talk about. But many are reluctant or scared to talk. They are worried they will say the wrong thing, or offend somebody. They don’t have the tools, information, or the places to do it in ways that do not seem offensive to some. They’re out of practice. Our culture often tries to minimize race, ignore it, sweep it under the rug; not talk about. This is unfortunate.

I tell my students to speak openly, to come with their questions, so that we can talk about what they’ve heard, common assumptions, and why they may be wrong or how it may seem offensive others. Some may describe my class as a “safe space” though I prefer to think of it as collaborative open learning environment, where students help drive the conversation. It is about letting students talk openly in a place that is largely non-judgmental, and seek answers. Otherwise, they won’t talk about it. They will continue to be curious but feel attacked every time they try to learn or engage with someone else.

Anyways, out of this philosophy, and my drive to create this type of classroom culture, I have learned to embrace the tangent. To let students ask things and drive the conversations to unexpected places because although it may not be in my lesson plan, that is the education they need. Those are the conversations they want to have, and they will likely get more out of them because they relate directly to their thoughts, concerns, and daily lives. This often leads us to talking about current events, things going on around campus (including yesterday’s fascists posters), and stuff that they see in popular culture (which is how it relates back to sports). I love having the freedom to do this, and I can tell my students enjoy it. Today at the end of class, which was my last “lecture” of the semester (they do presentations next week), many commented how much fun they’ve had and asked me what else I teach. I felt proud. I’m lucky to have such an awesome job, and really engaged and curious students. And I feel like I am really making a difference.

#BakerBuilt: NAIA Football & the Lingering Impact of Small College Sports

I shared most of this story in a Tweetstorm on Sunday, but wanted to share it here too, and extend it into paragraphs. My alma mater, Baker University, is playing in the semi-finals of the NAIA Football Playoffs on Saturday. Baker is a small, United Methodist affiliate, liberal arts college that enrolls roughly 1,000 undergraduate students in Baldwin City, KS. This season its football team is 13-0 and has a fun high-powered offense. ESPN3 has streamed several of their games, and including their recent playoff match ups.

Their opponent this weekend is Eastern Oregon University (EOU). I have a slight connection to EOU. Dick Davies‘, my advisor at Nevada, son was their president from 2009 to 2014 (He’s now the president of Murray State, and I got the chance to meet him in 2015). During my two years at Nevada, Dick and I talked about NAIA football regularly. I remember he went to a few games up at EOU and had me guest-lecture in his classes, which were among the first college lectures I ever gave.

Beyond that connection though, after I was admitted to the University of Nevada in April 2009, Davies sent me a personal email welcoming me. In that message he recounted the story of his one interaction with Baker University. It was in October 2005 and the football team traveled to Ashland, OR to play Southern Oregon University. Dick and his wife were spending the Halloween weekend there. They happened to be staying at the same Holiday Inn as the Baker team, and he wrote “I recall how much my wife and I were impressed by their behavior and courteousness. Had a brief chat with the coach and was impressed by his attitude on what college football at that level was all about. I had intended to send a note to the Univ president to that effect and regret that I did not follow through.” It was his one interaction with the team, and probably the only time he had ever heard of Baker University, but it was a good one. I doubt it had anything to do with my admission to the university or his agreeing to work with me, but the positive impression from meeting Coach Grossner and the team in 2005 certainly didn’t hurt. Seeing that I was a graduate of Baker, he connected it to his positive memory. It helped us forge a personal connection early on.

As Baker prepares to play Eastern Oregon in the semi-finals of the NAIA football playoffs, I’m reminded of this story. Of the impression Baker made on Davies. On the ways that football success — at any level — can help boost the image of a university. Of how small personal interactions matter, and can pay it forward for others. I undoubtedly benefited from the Baker football team’s friendliness.

Academics love to ask you where you went to school. Many are aware of random small liberals arts colleges throughout the country, but it’s still rare when they know about Baker. Dick knowing about Baker, put me at ease when as a brand new master’s students 1,500 miles from home. That’s few people know about Baker is not a knock on the school, but a reflection on the lay of the land. The NAIA has done a good job of streaming their games. Maybe people will watch them randomly on ESPN3. Or maybe they will interact with a former Baker athlete, see one of its history majors at the Missouri Valley History Confernece in Omaha (which has become a regular event for them). Whenever they watch or meet a Baker alum, I hope their interactions go like Dick Davies’ did, and I hope they help pay it forward. Small schools are wonderful places, and I hope more people get to know them.

There is some irony in my writing about Baker football and its impact on me. Before this story, I didn’t really care much for football at Baker. I ran cross country and track. They got all of the attention. And because Baker is the second-winningest program in the NAIA, they always had high expectations that they seemed to meet. And then, on the personal level, sometimes they got in our way when we were running on the track (during our season). I had a few football player teammates (including the current head track coach), and I really liked them, but overall I was lukewarm at best on the football program. I doubt that I’m the only xc/track kid that felt that way, That’s just how it seemed to go. Yet, now as alum, I love following the football team. I like seeing when the do well. I take pride in their wins. I feel the same way about volleyball and soccer, and so on. Cross Country is still my top, but I’ve learned and seen how much sports at small colleges matter. I’m lucky they take the role of sports and education seriously. It hard for me not to be speak effusively about my time there, and how it has prepared me for my current career. I’m lucky I got to compete and briefly coach at Baker. And I’m proud of its success. It’s helped me, and I know its helped others.

I know football success will never put Baker on the map. I spent a lot of time studying Baker’s rich sports history, and have seen how its remarkable successes haven’t elevated the school’s reputation. But can claim Emil Liston, Phog Allen, Edward Gallagher, Karl Schlademan, and Charlie Richard, as having coached on its athletic fields. Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy played there too. The school has immense pride in these figures, which I think is sometimes misplaced. It’s not about the iconic coaches or the win, it is about the people who they’ve mentored. There are hundreds of alums like me, who benefited from the athletic programs and only a handful of iconic coaches. Sure, there would be more if we cared about small time colleges in this country, but the fact that we don’t, in some ways, allows them to do better work without the pressures to win. That being said, I really hope they win Saturday and continue their march towards the national championship.

Race, Class, and Media: An Impromptu Education on the 2016 Election

It has been busy but a fantastic week in the Ivory Tower. I’ve met some amazing scholars and had some really enlightening conversations. As the week draws to a close, I’ve begun to see it as a bit of an impromptu grad seminar with some interesting themes emerging that help me better see the 2016 Election.

Monday I had lunch with Nicole Hemmer after Purdue’s political history seminar and we got to chat more about her new book Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics and its connections to the current political climate. The role of media and the debates over media ethics, and questions of fair coverage (e.g. the fairness doctrine) are so fascinating as it applies to conservative media. She breaks its history into multiple periods, and tracks it rise. We see how conservatives have an almost anti-establishment dogma, even when they are the establishment, which has intensified the rightward turn and played out in conservative media. It has become a constant race to be the most anti-establishment figure, for some, which is why we’ve had things like the Tea Party. There is a lot at play there, but it definitely is a huge influence and helps shape conservatism as it rises to power and seeks to maintain power. And I think the ways media does these things are crucial for understanding modern political conversations and “how” we can get someone like Trump doing what he’s doing.

Next, on Wednesday Ibram X. Kendi, was on campus talking about his new book Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America and afterwards I joined him for dinner where the conversation continued. In his book (and his talk) he highlights how racist ideas and racial policies work hand-in-hand to re-inscribe racist views, pointing out that there is an interesting producer-consumer dynamic at play. He also outlines various types of racial ideas, such as segregationist, assimilationist, and anti-racist. The goal is to embrace anti-racist views, but the politics and policies of the previous forms continue to linger, and re-inscribe themselves through things like faulty thinking, self-perpetuating data that is misunderstood, and other things. Policy, in many ways, seems to be at heart of the matter, and creating an anti-racist world requires changing the policies (which requires disrupting and altering systems of power). He offers a few ways on how to do this, but generally, it requires convincing folks that anti-racism is in their best interest so that they will support and advocate for anti-racist policies.

Last night, my grad colleague Wes Bishop invited me to participate in a discussion of Nancy Isenberg’s new book White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America at a local bookstore downtown and with the general public. It was a wonderful conversation and so much fun to talk history with *real* people. Questions of class often get overlooked or folded into debates over race and racism. Isenberg’s book helps us look at how class has functioned and its role within the power structure of American society asserting (poor) whiteness along the lines of other racial categories. We see quite a bit anxiety within these relations  and the tenuous nature of class as an identity that seems to be more assigned from the top (in Isenberg’s view) than embraced or created from below. Elites use the “white trash” as both a coalition they ran rely on and a scapegoat they can blame. My understanding of this book is still rudimentary as I have not finished reading it, but in relation to Kendi’s book, I begin to see more clearly how class ideas are crucial for understanding power and policy (of course, any good Marxist would tell you that), but also it seems that the “white trash” operate as a tool of a power doing some of the dirty work that elites don’t want to do (and not just in terms of creating wealth).

 Just prior to the book discussion, I read Timothy Lombardo‘s fantastic blog post on Tropics of Meta, “New Right, Far Right, Alt-Right? Donald Trump and the Historiography of Conservatism.” We chatted briefly about it on Twitter, but he argues the whole conservatism historiography has been a tad flawed, and we need to understand how the alt and extreme right have been tacitly nurtured by mainstream conservatism, even if not wholly embraced until now. It’s a really interesting read, and I think it helps get at how and why extreme ideas and logical ideas have gotten spliced together allowing so many Trump supporters to be rational people with some what crazy views. This is an issue I have been thinking about quite a bit. My Aunt is a proud Tump supporter. She is a well-educated, fairly wealthy, business owner and not an anti-establishment type (though she is anti-Obama and anti-Hillary). She doesn’t fit the Trump supporter stereotype. So it has been puzzling to me to understand how she can be a smart, rational conservative, yet become so seduced by Trumpism. I think Tim is right. There’s something within the history and rise of conservatism that has nurtured and spliced together rational and logical views with extreme views, normalizing them. Historians need to dig deeper to better understand that process.

 I list these events not to brag about how lucky I am to meet amazing people or how engaged I am with new scholarship (fact is, I’ve barely read any of these books so maybe I am just writing non-sense). Rather, I list the events because they have helped me rethink and better understand much of the current dynamic at play with Trump and the election. Media, race, whiteness, and our pre-conceived views/understanding of conservatism all factor into how we try to make sense of it. I hope my short synopses help show some of these connection (even though I didn’t  explicitly draw them out in this post). I won’t say that I had a big “Ah-Ha” moment this week, but the juxtaposition of all of these things in my schedule have helped me see some of the larger trends and understand a bit more of the nuance. I’d encourage everyone intrigued by these various elements to take a look at some of these books or essays to dig a little bit deeper.

It’s not common that my weekly schedule arranges itself as an impromptu grad seminar/meet-and-greet, but damn, this week was fun. I’m lucky to be where I am.

Flashback Friday: Nevada Beats Boise

Purdue plays Nevada tomorrow in West Lafayette, and it has me reflecting on some of the good times watching Nevada football while an MA student in Reno. This is a repost of something I wrote following the Nevada upset of Boise State on November 27, 2010. It was a thrilling game fought on a frigid night in Reno, I participated in the camp out for tickets, tail-gaiting festivities, and rush of the field I describe below. To this day, it remains one of the most exciting sporting events I have ever attended.


Thousands of new fans were initiated into the Wolf Pack last night. On what will forever be remembered as Blue Friday in Reno. For twelve long years students and die-hards have remained loyal, yet disappointed as Nevada had consistently failed to defeat Boise State. Some of the more recent games were heart-wrenching shootouts, overtime thrillers that took the air of their chests. Yet, they continued to believe.

At the beginning of the season many Wolf Pack fans, young and old, circled this year’s Boise State game on their schedules. They skipped Thanksgiving trips home and focused on the hated Broncos. An early season upset of then-ranked-California intensified their fervor. A national ranking and aura of destiny surrounded the team and fans, building up their hopes.

Some of that hope was stolen by a devastating loss to Hawaii. The Pack’s weaknesses were exposed as they failed to complete a fourth quarter rally. However, not everyone gave up. The team went back to work, winning their next four games. With Boise State up next they stood at 10 – 1 with hope alive for a share of the WAC Title.

Immediately following the New Mexico State blowout excitement began to stir among students. The Boise State game was sold out since September. Standing-room-only-tickets disappeared from box office counters in a matter of hours.

Boise State ranked 4th in the country was the media darling. The Broncos had been a thorn in the side of the BCS for the last three years – winning 24 straight games. Nevada, ranked 19th, was an overlooked and unknown team to many. These feelings intensified and angered the fervor among Wolf Pack fans.

Nationally BCS officials and larger schools were frustrated. Boise State had played and beaten their opponents, but would not schedule difficult, truly tough competition. The Ohio State University President said Boise only played the little sisters of the athletic world and could not compete day-in-and-day-out in a power conference like the Big Ten or SEC. Some Nevada fans felt slighted being lumped in as a little sister and by the media’s assumption that Boise State was nearly guaranteed a win.

The Wolf Pack is full of a pride. Fans believed; they had faith. The first manifestation of what some might consider an irrational hope, appeared amidst gusty 30-degree weather and snow packed grass on a Sunday afternoon a week before the Boise State game, on the Reno campus. It was there that students dressed warm and set up tents. They were awaiting the student ticket give-away – which would begin at 8 A.M. Monday morning. The building did not open until 6 A.M. so to ensure tickets and early entrance the students camped.

The campsite was littered with students wrapped in blankets, some hiding in tents from the arctic air, some sitting in lawn chairs, and others laying on the snow-covered ground. Falling snow and swirling winds nipped at the students fingers and faces. The more prepared students brought propane heaters, generators, and grills. The compound resembled a World War I Russian refugee camp.

Anticipating the large turn out and cold conditions, the Nevada Athletic Department prepared well. The Student Union doors opened promptly at 6 A.M. Students were organized into lines and shuffled into a theater to be entertained and warm themselves up while they waited for the ticket office to open They ensured the campers were rewarded before the late comers, as the line had grown to well-over 500 in the hours before the doors opened.

Throughout the week the student excitement was contagious on campus and around town. Reno Mayor Bob Cashell announced the city would change the lights in the city’s famous “Little Biggest City in the World” arch to blue in support of the football team. Many of the prominent downtown casinos followed suit, leaving a blue hue in the Reno night sky and reinforcing the Athletic Department’s mantra “one community, one Pack.”

Tail-gaters and campers began taking over the University’s north parking lots on Thursday night. Miniature cities came to life early Friday morning. Tents, RVs, grills, fire pits, and stereos sizzled with energy. Periodic Wolf Pack chants broke out among the madness of intoxication and anticipation. Boise State paraphernalia and signs were burned in grills to the loud cheers of surrounding fans.

Die-hards dressed warm and began to line up in the frigid air to enter the stadium hours before the kick off. The student section was buzzing cheering and yelling obscenities as the teams warmed up on the field. The build up to the kick was electric. The addition of Senior Night only added to the fervor.

Nevada received the ball first and began driving. The Wolf Pack had scored on 10 of their previous 11 opening drives. The fans thought this game would be no different. Kaepernick and Taua were moving the ball, picking up yardage and first downs. Then the Broncos intercepted an overthrown pass on a spectacular defensive play. A little air floated out of the student’s sails, but the remained determined to urge the Wolf Pack on to a strong defensive stand.

The Broncos moved the ball swiftly, quickly amassing first downs, eating up big chunks of real-estate. Within no time they arrived in the red-zone poised to score. The defense held them to a field goal. A Pyrrhic victory for many fans.

The Wolf Pack needed to respond but could not. Their offense stalled and they had to punt. The offense showed little rhythm in the first quarter, but defense held. After 15 minutes it was 3 – 0 Boise State, but the second quarter would not be so kind.

The Broncos rolled off 14 unanswered points taking a commanding 17 – 0 lead in the second quarter. Boise State blocked a field goal and continued to have its way with the Wolf Pack offense. Finally the Wolf Pack got on the board scoring a touchdown with just under 6 minutes to go, but the Broncos quickly responded. It was 24 – 7 at halftime.

Commentators thought the game was over and Boise would sail on to another one of its trademark blowout wins. The spread was 14 and the Broncos had covered. Many fans and viewers in the eastern and central timezones turned off the game and went to bed. In the stands some fans began to question their team as well. Would this be just another disappointing loss? Do they have what it takes to comeback? Can they win the big game when it matters?

The Bronco got the ball to start the second half. Fans knew that the defense would have to step it up if they Wolf Pack were to climb back into it. They did, forcing a punt on Boise’s first possession. Nevada responded with a field goal, but it was blocked. The students thought to themselves that everything that could go wrong was going wrong.

The defense went back to work and forced another Boise State punt. A slight glimmer of hope was returning to the Wolf Pack faithful. And then crowd went ballistic as Colin Kaepernick scampered 18 yards for a touch down. Boise State still led 24 – 14 but the Wolf Pack defense had stepped up. They forced another punt and the third quarter ended without a Broncos score.

Nevada had the ball as the fourth quarter began and fans knew the desperately needed to score. Quickly they did, cutting the Boise lead to 3. The Wolf Pack were back in the game and a victory was no longer out of sight.

The stands were rocking. Wolf Pack cheers echoed throughout the stadium during timeouts. Boise State’s offense had lost its rhythm, punting on its first fourth quarter possession. Nevada responded pulling even with a field goal sending the stadium into a frenzy. The game was tied with 5 minutes remaining. The Wolf Pack had scored 13 unanswered points with stymie defense and hard-nosed running. The pressure was all on Boise State.

Calm and collected Kellen more threw a quick screen pass that went for 79 yards and a touch down. Just as the momentum turned to the Wolf Pack, the Broncos sucker punched the fans with a lightening quick strike. With just under 5 minutes to go, Nevada was down 7.

However, the Wolf Pack offense continued to roll grinding out first down after first down. The clock continued to tick as Nevada grew closer and closer to the goal line. On second and seven with less than 20 seconds remaining, Nevada scored a touch down to pull even. Fans rejoiced. The final result would be decided in overtime they thought.

But Titus Young’s 22 yard kickoff return with 13 seconds left set up a 54 yard Kellen Moore pass to the Nevada 9 yard line. Two seconds were left on the clock. The Broncos had a chance to win with 26 yard field goal. The Wolf Pack fans were silenced. They had come this close to lose yet again on a last second heartbreak. It was all too reminiscent of the 12 previous years of losing. But then Kyle Brotzman missed the kick. The stadium exploded with energy. They sang along with Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer.” The elated Nevada fans had a second chance. There would be overtime after all.

Boise State would get the first chance to score. Determined to silence the crowd, they quickly moved the ball. Driving towards the student section they had first and goal on the 8 yard line. Thanks to a tough Nevada defense the drive stalled into fourth and goal at 12. Brotzman came on to kick again, this time for 29 yards and redemption. The crowd intensely cheered trying to distract the already mentally weak kicker. He missed.

Elation filled Mackay Stadium. Victory was once again within grasp of Wolf Pack fans. The stadium was rocking. All they needed was a field goal. Nevada came out and running on the first play, gaining four yards. A pass sailed incomplete on their second play. On third down they gained another four yards. It was fourth and two on 17 yard line.

With the game hanging in the balance, Coach Ault sent out red-shirt freshman Anthony Martinez. He made a field goal earlier but also had one kick blocked. It was a 34 yard attempt. Brotzman had just missed two shorter attempts. An uneasy anticipation hung over Mackay Stadium for Wolf Pack and Bronco fans alike. Would Nevada win breaking Boise State’s 24 consecutive game win streak? Would the Wolf Pack finally out-dual their arch-nemesis for the first time in 12 years?

The crown was silent with nervous energy. The student section watched with their hands folded in prayer. The kick was up. The ball sailed high over the heads of students, their eyes following it between the uprights and into middle of the net. The Wolf Pack won!

Fan poured out of the stands onto the field, jumping the fences lining the field like a river over a failed dam. Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” blared from the stadium speakers. Students embraced and sung along. Grown men cried. Blue Friday had finally come and their years of faith were rewarded.

After the game Coach Ault called it the biggest win in Nevada history. It was the first time two top-25 teams had played in Mackay Stadium. It was the Wolf Pack’s first win over a top-10 team. Pollsters and East Coast fans awoke the next day to shocking headlines. Boise State was no longer a Cinderella story and BCS buster. ESPN said someone should call Reno 911. Stewart Mandel wrote “what happens in Reno doesn’t stay in Reno.” The Wolf Pack swelled as Reno was no longer the older step-sister to Las Vegas, but at the center of the national conversation.

Dear George

Dear George,

I hope you’re proud of me.

I’ve worked, I’ve labored, I’ve sacrificed,
to live up to your example,
you were my role model,
the role model I needed when no one else would do,
and the inspiration that pushed me to pursue
something more.

You raised the bar,
you made me believe
that I was more than I was
and pushed to me to find out
what I really am
what I can really be.

I know you’re proud of me.

My path may have meandered,
and I feel like I let you down.
I was selfish when I went out on my own,
I promised to stay,
to take care of you and Betty until the end,
but my future was out there,
my dream to write history,
our history,
your history,

I left and so did you.

I missed the end.

You knew I was gone,
and it killed me to know,
the last time I saw you,
you were barely there.

But I think you were proud.

I was your grandson,
the one you knew best,the one you mentored,
the one you inspired,
the one who studied history,
who pursued his dream.

You gave me that.

But now I am alone,
trying to complete the journey,
struggling to find the motivation,
to make you proud,
to be the best me,
to write history,
and earn the PhD.

I want to make you proud.

Here I am,
still pursuing that dream,
our shared dream,
to become a historian,
to build a life,
that reflects your love,
reflects your kindness,
and embodies your inspiration.

I will never be you,
your blood does not run within me,
we are family by force of will,
by generosity and enduring love.
she broke your heart,
she lost her way,
I didn’t understand any better than you,
but you were my grandfather,
and she was my mother.
Still, I think, I loved you more,
because you have made me who I am.

I wish you were here with me.

You were my goal,
the one who made anything seem possible,
we shared an alma mater,
you told me that Bostons were the best,
my dog and my degree,
tie me to you,
tie me to your example.

And now I am tied to no one,
I try to follow your example,
I try to wake up from this dream,
I am close to the end,
our doctorate is on the horizon,
inspire me once more,
to finish this journey,
to make you proud,
to be the best person I can be.

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Southern Jaunt #3 — My Journey to NASSH

I just finished 3 week trip through the South, visiting family, attending a workshop and conference, grading APUSH exams, and enjoying some time away from Indiana. I called the excursion my Southern Jaunt. This is my third post in a series of posts about my trip.

As I was driving out of Atlanta following the annual meeting of the North American Society for Sport History, I couldn’t help but think, “Brenda’s smiling.”

I first “discovered” sport history when I was a sophomore at Baker University. After taking a required “Laboratory in Research Methods Course” during the fall semester, which met in the reading room of our on-campus archive, I became aware of scholarly journals. After that class (and still to this day), I made it part of my routine to stop in the periodicals section of the library and browse the new history journals. One of them that always caught my was Kansas History the journal of the Kansas State Historical Society. In its Autumn 2005 issue, there appeared an article entitled, “‘Can Basketball Survive Wilt Chamberlain?:’ The Kansas Years of Wilt the Stilt” by Aram Goudsouzian. That article gave me the crazy idea that I could study sports and history at the same time.

That spring my first experiement doing sport related history was in a Roman history course. For our research paper we were assigned to find a ‘gauge of romanization in Britain.’ As a student of classical Latin (although the word is originally Greek), I was familiar with the palaestra, a Roman exercise grounds often located near a bath complex. The palaestra was an important part of Roman daily life, especially soldiers and elites. After discussing it with my professor, I decided to read a series of archaeological articles and maps to find out if and where palaestrae were located in Britain. It turns out they did exist, and I was able to find a pattern where and explanation of why. The paper, although fairly simple and tad bit too short, was a success. I was on my way to becoming a sport historian.

My early passion for classical Roman and medieval history quickly subsided the more I was pushed into primary source research. U.S. history made more sense, and better aligned with my new-found interest in sport history. At the time, however, I remained a history and secondary education major intent on teaching junior high or high school and most likely coaching. Because of the double major, I elected to write my required senior thesis the spring of my junior year, so that I could student teach the spring of my senior year. The topic of that thesis was “The History of Men’s Track and Field at Baker University” (which I turned into a digital exhibit in 2013 and spoke about at NASSH in Atlanta).

Writing my undergraduate thesis required copious amounts of research. I routinely hung out in the archives 2 or 3 days a week for several hours. I quickly developed a good working relationship with the archivist, and she was impressed by my dedication and diligence. Indeed, I fell in love with researching that semester. After finishing my thesis (and earning a coveted, rare A from my professor, Dr. Exon), the archivist asked if I’d like to intern over the summer. I gladly accepted the offer.

The archivist was Brenda Day. She had worked at Baker university for nearly two decades by the time I met her. She was eccentric and friendly woman that lived and breathed local and campus history. One of her passions was the Old Castle Museum (Baker’s first building, and the first university building in Kansas), which she felt a paranormal connection to (this led to a later study I did on the history of ghost stories at Baker), and helped save and renovate years before I arrived on campus. Brenda was also a leader in the efforts to develop the Black Jack Battlefield and Nature Trust, and taught a special class on the topic to dig deeper into its Bleeding Kansas and Civil War connections.

During my internship I was tasked with helping the marketing department prepare for the university’s sesquicentennial celebration. Basically, I did research for them and distilled stories into short segments that they could use on display panels and in brochures. I also got to explore the other functions of the archives, like help patrons who visited during the annual United Methodist Conference meeting to do research, re-house and catalog items, and process a collection of my own choosing. As a budding sport historian, I chose to process and re-house a file cabinet that belonged to a long retired Chemistry Professor, E.J, Cragoe. He served as the faculty athletic representative from Baker University to the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (KCAC) for over 20 years. He also served as Secretary and later Vice President of the KCAC. The collection included: the official conference meeting minutes, eligibility reports, heat-sheets and programs for the annual track meet, correspondence with important athletic officials and documents various and sundry. When I first got my hands on it, it had been sitting in the archive (which was then an open archive with very few finding aids) for a while as if it was wheeled in on a dolly and left untouched for decades. It was wonderful experience, and further fueled my passion for sport history.

It was during this time that I decided that I might try to do something other than become a junior high (I liked that age better than high school) social studies teacher. Archival work was kind of fun, research was fun, museums were neat. I had all sorts of options! AND, because I decide the summer before my senior year, I could drop my secondary education major, take more history classes, and apply to graduate school. Things sure seemed like they made a lot of sense then! I was living the dream in the summer of 2007.

Of course, the sudden decision to not become a teacher took quite a few people by storm. Sport history sounded great, but few of my professors had actually heard of it. One recalled maybe seeing a textbook in a catalog (it was Richard O. Davies book), but he didn’t know anyone who did it. Another professor confessed she’d always thought I’d make a great teacher, she sensed it about me, and was a little surprised that I wanted to give academia a try. She offered to help me nonetheless, and gave my materials her ever-intimidating once over, leaving them bloody with her trademark red ink.

The unstable or at least uncertain career prospects also scared some of my family. I could teach for a few years, then go back, they suggested. My Grandmother, to her credit, thought it was smart to pursue my passion now instead of get stuck teaching and regret never giving it a shot 5 years later when I had a mortgage and maybe a family. At that point it would be too late and I’d be too comfortable, she advised.

Amidst this uncertainty, Brenda believed in me and encouraged me. She said it might take time, but I would fit the right fit and become a sport historian. “You might just have to write your own ticket,” she reassured me, with unwavering confidence. Brenda encouraged me to become a sport historian before anyone else, and after she saw my passion in the archives, knew that it was what I was meant to be.

The story gets sad, and little disappointing from there. I dropped my education major, but failed to get into any of the graduate schools I applied to. I aimed higher than I realized, but was also a victim of poor timing. The economic recession of 2008 doomed my dreams like so many others. Luckily, I was offered a graduate assistant coaching position. I got a “free” master’s degree, while coaching track and field. My undergraduate mentors thought this was the best situation for me. It gave me time to decide between academia and coaching, while gaining experience doing both.

Brenda offered to let me stay on at the archives (I continued as a volunteer intern throughout my senior year). At the end of my internship, sometime in the early fall of 2007, her cancer came back. She’d beaten it once before, but this time it was more serious and more aggressive. By the middle of the fall of 2007, I was more or less running the archives alone. A graduate intern from the University of Kansas oversaw the museum and administrative duties, but I did the day-to-day things. At one point Brenda and I talked about the possibility of me taking over the position full-time in the future, but she thought I was destined for something greater. She once again said, “you gonna write your own ticket” and become a sport historian.

During the 2008-2009 school year, I worked in the archives in the morning, coached in the afternoon, and took classes toward a Masters of Liberal Arts in the evening. By late-January of that year I had become disenchanted with coaching. The long hours, constant travel, and disagreements with the head coach wore on me. Although I’d already missed all of the important December and January graduate school deadlines, I began looking at history programs with sport historians. I serendipitously discovered Richard O. Davies at the University of Nevada, Reno. They had a March 1st deadline and offered funding. I rushed the application, writing new materials, emailing Dr. Davies, and asking the graduate advisor if my MLA would count toward the PhD or I’d need to get an MA. They said they’d consider my app for both, and got the materials just under the wire. It was the only school I applied to, so I kept it quiet, in case I needed to return for the second year of my graduate assistantship.

In early April I found out I was accepted, without funding, and only for the MA. Though disappointing, I still intended on going, hoping they could find me some money and determined to make it work. I was never able to tell Brenda the good news. She was near death by then, frail and unable to type. One of my professors assured me that she knew, and was proud of me. Her faith meant the world to me, and pushed me to pursue my dream. Brenda died on April 25, 2009.

In August, I left Kansas for Nevada. I was on my way to becoming a sport historian.

My graduate career in Reno was nothing short of a success. While Aram Goudsouzian, a Purdue PhD and Randy Roberts student, was the first sport historian I ever read, Richard O. Davies was the first one I ever met. From day 2 he set my eyes on Purdue for doctoral work, helped me craft a thesis topic, outline efficient plan of study, and pushed me to get done quickly. Dick Davies remains an incredible mentor and friend, and has worked tirelessly to help me advance my career and improve me work.

Two years after arriving in Nevada, I came to Purdue to work with Randy Roberts. Although my time here has been less expedient than I would have liked, I’ve continued on my journey toward becoming a sport historian. Yet, in all of my years working in the field, doing research, writing my master’s thesis, publishing book chapters, starting a blog, I never attended NASSH. I joined in 2010, and hoped to go, but it never fit into my travel plans, it was in an inconvenient location, or I didn’t have the money. This year, I attended my first NASSH, taking another important step in becoming a sport historian.

Although my journey towards becoming a sport historian is not yet complete, attending the conference felt like a homecoming. For the first time I was surrounded by fellow sport historians. I’d known a few, and been around a handful or so of them at other conferences, but NASSH was an entirely different level. I soaked it in all week. I attended as many sessions as I could. I Tweeted, I took notes, I exchanged business cards, and marveled at meeting professors who I only knew from my bookshelves. I felt a proud camaraderie with many of my fellow attendees. There was the group of bloggers who I knew only from online but felt like friends. There was the “Purdue Mafia” of alumni that I’d heard stories about and felt sort of like fraternity brothers. It was a massive homecoming reunion centered around our shared passion.

It was, in so many ways, NASSH was the culmination of a dream I’d been working towards for so many years. And, the most fitting part was that my paper discussed my undergraduate thesis. Those long hours in the archives, the advice of Brenda, her unwavering faith in me, were on display in my session. The dedication of my master’s thesis, which I defended in 2011, reads “For Brenda, who lives on in the process of history.”  She lived on at NASSH this year, and she was smiling the whole time.

Southern Jaunt #2 — Meeting IRL

I’m on a 2-3 week trip through the South, visiting family, attending a workshop and conference, and enjoying some time away from Indiana. I’m call the excursion my Southern Jaunt. This is my second in a series of posts about my trip.


I’ve been in Atlanta for three days attending the “Doing Sport History in the Digital Present” workshop sponsored by Georgia Tech and the North American Society for Sport History (NASSH). It was a pre-conference workshop. NASSH’s conference is this weekend. It has been a wonderful experience. Everyone has been super welcoming, supportive, and engaged with other people’s work. I’ve had so many great conversations and met a lot of people.

One of the neat things about the workshop, was the pre-review process. Everyone read each other’s papers ahead of time. We also commented on a couple of them in preparation for panel presentations. This not only ensured that everyone was engaged, but also served as an introduction to each other. Thus when we arrived in Atlanta, it was fun to meet the minds and personalities behind the text we’d been reading.

Meeting and workshopping our papers before our panel.

Meeting and workshopping our papers before our panel.

Meeting people in real life (IRL as the kids say) is always fun and interesting. When I’m reading I always have an image and a voice of a person in my mind. Then, when you meet the person, you get to see if you were right. You also pick up more elements of their personality, sense of humor, etc. This was striking to me in a couple of ways because it made me realize that despite long-standing digital connections and online friendships, your conception of someone is still only an idea. Digital friendships and collaborations are un-bodied or disembodied.

I Tweeted this a few days ago upon arriving in Atlanta, but over the course of this week (both the workshop and the conference), I will likely meet at least 50 people I know from blogging, Twitter, email, and other digital mediums for the first time face to face. It’s kind of incredible.

My workshop paper discussed community and blogging, and how it can extend the conference, tear down barriers, and promote the field (and, I might add, individual scholars). As testament to this power, and the power of digital technology, is the fact that until the workshop, I had never met my co-editors IRL. We’d chatted online, video-conferenced, etc. but we’d never met face to face. Upon meeting we acted like friends, we worked well together, and many people assumed we knew each other for a while. I think it was because of our ease in communicating and familiarity with each other’s work/ideas, but also the fact we built something together and trusted each other solely through a digital collaboration/friendship. In some ways that anecdote proves that digital friendships and collaborations can work, and that digital communities are powerful. Despite that, I am glad to have finally met them. I also glad to have been accepted to attend the workshop and the conference. Personal, human, face to face engagement is important.

I’m little embarrassed to admit this, but this will be my first NASSH. I’ve been working in sport history since around 2009, but haven’t made it to the field’s major conference. I don’t really have any excuses, and I have wanted to go, but for one reason or another I haven’t. So I’m thrilled to be here and making IRL connections with scholars I have read, cited, emailed, Tweeted, Facebook’ed, and so on. It’s going to be a fantastic weekend.

Beers and laptops.

Beers and laptops.

Because it is my first NASSH, I’m in a weird but extremely flattering position. There are people who want to meet me. As lowly graduate students we never expect that. Indeed, I met one person already this week who knew who I was from the Sport in American History blog, but didn’t know me. He told me that for someone who is attending NASSH for the first time, I already have a pretty large footprint. I don’t think he was trying to feed my ego, but instead highlighting the success of the blog. For me, the blog has been my conference and my community. It will continue to be those things, but I’m glad to move beyond the digital and become a real person with a face and a personality. The real life connections and conversations in sessions and over beers are important, especially because not everyone embraces the digital. Likewise, those conversations are part of the difference between knowing someone and knowing someone. Digital communities can only go so far.