Jim Thorpe: Super athlete, Olympic gold medalist, Native American
Pop Warner: Indomitable coach, football mastermind, Ivy League grad
Before these men became legends, they met in 1907 at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, where they forged one of the winningest teams in American football history. Called “the team that invented football,” they took on the best opponents of their day, defeating much more privileged schools such as Harvard and the Army in a series of breathtakingly close calls, genius plays, and bone-crushing hard work.
I am a huge fan of Steve Sheinkin and he did not disappoint with this book. He writes non-fiction in a way that’s interesting and captivating. He writes the story almost like a novel. I admit, there have been times I’ve forgotten I’m reading about actual people.
There are a few stories in this book: a short one about Pop Warner himself, one about the Carlisle Indian School, and the one about Jim Thorpe. I had heard of the Carlisle Indian School, but I admit to not knowing very much about it. It was supposed to be a way to give Native American children some sort of skill training so they could find work. While it did train the students there, it also have a very negative impact on them all. All students were forced to wear the same uniform and have their haircut, which for some, was an important part of their Native American identities. Lastly, they were forbidden to speak their Native language while at school.
Most of the story centered on the football team. Football had just been invented when the team began to play and reading about how the game used to be played was eye-opening. At one point, players were allowed to punch each other in the face! The team itself is the epitome of inspiration. A movie could (and should) be made about their rise. They began with a horrible record, but ended up beating some of the most elite college football teams around.
I also learned a lot about Jim Thorpe. I knew about his Olympic victory, but little else. Sheinkin shines a light on his background, personality, and life beautifully. I had admired Jim Thorpe before reading this, but I admire him even more after. He was an interesting figure: determined, athletic, quiet, fierce. There are so many adjectives that can be ascribed to him.