Category Archives: sports

#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.

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.

NCPH Working Group 2017: Call for Discussants

Sport History and Public History are two fields that I think were made for each other. I’ve said this a few times. Sport history is also, in many ways, embedded within Campus History, i.e the history of college and universities, high schools, etc. After all, they say sports are the front porch of the university. And Campus History is another stakeholder in public history, with resounding consequences for public perceptions, politics, and much much more. Recently the National Council on Public History has had panels and working groups addressing both sport history and campus history at its annual meetings. This year I am facilitating a working group that seeks to bring public historians working on campus history and sport history together to talk about how we can better work together and tell multilayered stories to the public. I am intentionally casting a wide net, hoping to bring together a lot of approaches and variety of voices from different vocations.

While I am organizing and facilitating this group, it needs members. The call for discussants from NCPH went out today. Here’s the part about my group:

Sports on Campus: Sporting Traditions as Public History and Memory

Sporting traditions serve as a de facto form of public history for many colleges and become a central part of their and their alumni’s identity, operating as a what historian Brian Ingrassia describes as a form of “middle brow” culture that appeals to the broader public. Athletic teams are also crucial components of university marketing and recruitment strategies, offering a window into student life, inviting people to campus, and attracting news coverage. Furthermore, campus culture is often viewed as a contributing factor to the success and failures of athletes and teams. This use of sporting traditions divorces them from critical public history, obscuring the context and conditions of sport and campus histories.

Extending conversations from last year’s conference, this working group explores the relationship between campus history, sport history, and the identities of colleges and universities, their students, fans, and alumni. In addition to bridging the gaps between sport history and campus history, it hopes to develop strategies for better adding historical context and complicating the narratives told by marketing and sports information departments and sports media. The discussion will center on research and presentation practices, sites for sharing this history, and ways to use sport to track collective pasts and chart collective futures. Key questions that this working group wishes to address are:

– How have marketers and sport media portrayed campus history and sporting events? How can public historians help shape those narratives?

– How might sport history benefit from a deeper understanding of campus events? How might campus history benefit from a deeper understanding of the history of sport?

– How does sport affect our understanding or perception of educational institutions and their history?

– How might public historians respond to sport-related controversies on campus (such as fan behavior, sexual assault, NCAA scandals, mascots, etc.)? What are some effective strategies?

– Where are the best places for public historians to share these histories?

Building off of the 2017 conference theme, the intersection of sport history and campus history serves as a middle ground for multiple interest groups and a place to tell multilayered histories. The result of these conversations will be a best practices document that we hope to make public at History@Work and/or Sport in American History.

If you have never been to NCPH working groups are a bit different from workshops, roundtables, and traditional panels. They usually involve 9-10 people who submit brief “case studies” ahead of time. Group members then discuss the issues, our experiences, and think about how we can shape the field by create guidelines. For example, one outcome for my group is to create a best-practices document. At the actual conference, we will talk about our findings and discussions and open our discussion up to the public for further input.

f you’ve never been to NCPH, working groups are discussion based panels of 9-10 people. Being a discussant involves submitting a brief case-statement and interacting with other group members ahead of time, discussing the issues, our experiences, and thinking about how we can shape the field. For example, one outcome is to create a best-practices document. At the actual conference, we talks about our findings and discussion, and open our it up to the public for further input.

Here are the instructions for joining the group from NCPH:

To join a working group, please submit a one-paragraph email message describing the issues you wish to raise with your peers, together with a one-page resume, c.v., or biographical statement by October 15. We welcome submissions from individuals across a range of professions and career stages. Please see the specific working group descriptions below. Individuals who are selected will be listed as working group discussants in the conference Program and will participate in the working group session at the annual meeting.

This winter the group facilitators will ask participants to contribute a case statement of no more than 500-1,000 words for discussion. The case statement will describe a participant’s particular experience, define the issues it raises, and suggests strategies and/or goals for resolution. Case statements will be circulated among participants by email and posted in the Public History Commons or in PDF format on the NCPH website. Discussants are expected to read and comment briefly by email on one another’s case statements well before the conference date. Some working groups may also have additional shared background reading materials identified by their facilitators.

To apply, please send your paragraph and one-page resume/c.v./biographical statement by October 15 to ncph@iupui.edu with the specific working group title in the subject line of your email.

If you have any questions about the goals or purpose of the group, feel free to comment here or contact me via email.

 

 

On Kaepernick

I’ve kept most of my commentary about Colin Kaepernick confined to Twitter, and “clicking like” on people’s posts on Facebook. As many of you know, I was an MA student at Nevada while he was the quarterback for the Wolf Pack. During that time I became a fan of his, and I have been following his career with interest ever since. What’s more, I teach an African American Studies course here at Purdue called “The Black Athlete.” So the story is relevant to me as both a fan and a scholar.

First, I think it is important to take note of the evolution of Kaepernick’s image. When I was a student at Nevada he was a community hero, a beloved figure to almost everyone. At Nevada he was a hero, but people also recognized he had a complex identity. They respected that and sought to understand him. The media did countless profiles on him and his background, revealing the nuance to his identity.

That treatment and that understanding did not follow him to the NFL. Once he went to the league, few people were aware of who he was, his complex identity, or personality. The national media did not dig up or rely on the Nevada narratives. Instead, while they liked his play, they also saw his tattoos and celebrations, making their own narratives. Quickly he became labeled a “thug,” immature, etc. He was caricatured along the lines of most black athletes, and became stripped of the complex nuances in his life; turned into a stereotype not a man. This representation held no matter his success. In fact, I witnessed many of my own colleagues openly rooting against him in Super Bowl XLVII because they didn’t like his image, attitude, etc., buying into the new and revised narratives.

Of course, the difference between local, college media and national media is important here. But what has struck me, and I have only been able to fully recognized what troubled me for so long in the last year after teaching my course, is that in watching the revision of the Kaepernick narrative from college to the NFL I have been watching how racism works in America. We are capable and even willing to understand and appreciate certain athletes, behaviors, images, in a local, friendly, (and perhaps possessive) setting, but when they become unfamiliar, when they are the enemy, have a larger stage, etc. we care less, take less time, to dig deeper. Nationally, we are OK and comfortable with the caricatures and stereotypes that we would never tolerate in other contexts.

Following Friday’s demonstrations, the stereotypes continue for most. Entitled, ungrateful, prima donna, anti-American, etc. Others yet seemed baffled that an alleged “thug” could also be an activist, retreating to the commonly held stereotype that athletic ability and intellectual depth are mutually exclusive. The perpetuation of these stereotypes are indicative of the exact culture and treatment that Kaepernick is speaking out against.

Second, the analysis of Kaepernick’s demonstration and activism that I have read, has largely ignored the connections to W.E.B. Du Bois. As I learned today, Friday, when he refused to stand for the national anthem, was also the anniversary of Du Bois’ death. Du Bois, of course, coined the term “double consciousness” referring to how African Americans are both black and Americans, a twin identity that is often hard to reconcile given the history of this country and its relationship to race. Indeed, this likely was not lost on Kaepernick. As my friends at Nevada know, each student is required to take “Core Humanities” courses, one of which covers the American Experience. These courses are about perspectives and include discussion sections. DuBois is almost certainly a topic covered.

Additionally, Kaepernick joins a long tradition of black athletes engaging in activism. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar famously refused to play in the 1968 Olympics, saying “It’s not my country” about being unpersuaded by a patriotic duty to compete. Ali, of course, refused induction in the Army. They too invoked Du Bois’ concept, explicating their black identity from larger American nationalist and imperialistic goals that they could not reconcile with their realities. There are several other examples that I wont list here.

I offer these two points to help us understand the historic context of Kaepernick’s actions. The present context is equally complex. A flawed criminal justice system has given rise to the Black Lives Matters moment, Donald Trump has incited a resurgence in white supremacist ideals, and the NFL continues to be the “no fun league” with a major image problem. All of these issues continue to unfold, while Kaepernick pledges to continue “demonstrating” until some sort of real, substantive change happens. Some will say that regardless of the outcome, Kaepernick has been successful redirecting our attention and starting conversations. This is true, but like our awareness of nuance and complexity at the personal level, it can too easily be ignored and written off from a distance. As the story continues, I hope that the narratives surrounding Kaepernick will help us rethink and reevaluate national stereotypes and policies, help us better empathize with pain of living with racism in America, and inspire us to work together to not nostalgically “make American great again” but instead progressively make America a great place for all of us.

5 Athletics Races & Athletes I’m Eager to Watch in Rio

Just to be clear, we all know Athletics is the best event in the Summer Olympics. And there are some insane stories to watch this year. Here are five athletes/race I am looking forward to:

  • Allyson Felix competing in her 4th Olympics, trying to defend her 4×4 gold medal from 2012. Plus she is making her Olympic debut in the open 400m. She’s always been one of my favorites.
  • You also have Usain Bolt trying to become the first sprinter to win the 100m three times, and the 200m three times. Shelley-Ann Fraser-Price is trying to do it in the 100m as well (which was what Cat Ariail’s blog post on Monday was about). I hope one of them does it, but the nationalist in me wants Justin Gatlin to rain on Bolt’s parade.
  • I’m really interested in seeing Kirani James try to defend his 400m gold from 2012. He was only 19 back then, and became the first non-American (he’s from Grenada) to run under 44 sec. Will he approach Michael Johnson’s WR? I’m excited to watch.
  • The 10,000m is one of my favorite races for obvious reasons. Can Mo Farrah repeat? How will Galen Rupp fair for the US? My guess is neither will win it, but I’m eager to watch.
  • Two-sport stud (he is a WR for the Oregon FB team), Devon Allen is competing in the 110m hurdles. I’m rooting hard for him to medal.

What athletes, performances, or races are you eager for? Let me know in the comments!

13325630_731244498652_5320832633593269349_n

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.

12901406_10153671420364094_5243042037392153871_o

A New Kind of Hope

12901406_10153671420364094_5243042037392153871_oWhat’s the right optimism-anxiety ratio for Opening Day after your team just won the World Series? Seriously. This is all really new to me. And I feel like I actually paid less attention to the Royals this past offseason than anytime in the previous two decades. Usually spring training and opening day are exciting. I look forward to them because there’s a chance to move on from disappointment — something the Royals have often over supplied.For years the mantra of Royals fans has been “hope dies hard.” Blogs and Twitter proliferated with overanalyzing Kansas City fans. We were glued to every move, hoping, waiting, believing, that progress, improvement, winning, was just over the horizon. After years of yearning for a winner, years of renewed hope for a better season, and “trusting the process,” I’m forced to face a new season where my team may not improve.This year Spring Training and Opening Day represent the brevity of success and the possibility that the Royals reign could soon be over. It is a possibility I haven’t wanted to face and have prevent myself from facing this offseason. As the season opens, I’m forced to conure up a new kind of hope; a hope I have never needed before. It is no longer a hope for something I have never experience, it’s not a hope for improvement, but a hope for continuation. So, while I’m extremely excited that baseball is back, I’m also extremely anxious. It’s a new feeling for me, one that could be alleviated by a Kansas City dynasty.