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The pageantry of the 1936 Berlin Olympics was a triumph for Hitler’s propaganda machine. Evidences of the Reich’s virulent anti-semitism were swept from the streets. Gone for the duration of the games were the “Jews not welcome” signs in stores and shops. On display were the orderliness, architectural grandeur, and growing military muscle of Nazi Germany. Berlin would be the last Olympic contest until 1948, long after Hitler was dead and the city reduced to rubble.
Among the athletes competing in Berlin were Americans who became famous for not only their athletic skill, but their unconquerable courage: Jesse Owens, Glenn Cunningham, Louis Zamperini, and the men of the United States Olympic rowing team.
Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat tells the story of the University of Washington’s 8-oar crew team chiefly through the experiences of Joe Rantz, who overcame the death of his mother, expulsion from his family, grinding poverty, and Depression-era tumult to succeed as a rower, engineering student, and devoted husband and father. The other “boys” in the boat are profiled. Their stories are told against the background of preparations for the games in Berlin, and the propagandist Nazi film-making exploits of Leni Reifenstahl.
Before I read the book, I knew nothing about competitive rowing. Yet, my interest never wavered as the author described both the sport and the ingredients of a successful rowing team, not the least of which is physical strength. The author explains that “physiologists . . . have calculated that rowing a two-thousand-meter race – the Olympic standard – takes the same physiological toll as playing two basketball games back-to-back. And it exacts that toll in about six minutes.” (40)
But in addition to strength, the rowing coach must select for his team the young man with “the nearly superhuman stamina, the indomitable willpower, and the intellectual capacity necessary to master the details of technique,” and who also possessed “the ability to disregard his own ambitions to throw his ego over the gunwales, and to leave it swirling in the wake of his shell, and to pull not just for himself, not just for glory, but for the other boys in the boat.” (23)
Athletes, coaches, and all who enjoy an inspirational story will love this book.
Daniel James Brown, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. New York: Penguin Books, 2014.
Parents who consider youth sports a pathway to college athletic scholarships will want to read “The Rising Costs of Youth Sports, in Money and Emotion”, which appeared last week in The New York Times.
George Washington University’s Mark Hyman offers sound counsel:
“Parents think these investments are justified; they think it will lead to a full ride to college. . . That’s highly misinformed. The percentage of high school kids who go on to play in college is extremely small. In most sports it’s under 5 percent. And the number for kids getting school aid is even smaller — it’s 3 percent . . . What I tell parents is if you want to get a scholarship for your kids, you’re better off investing in a biology tutor than a quarterback coach . . .There’s much more school dollars for academics.”
For Christians interested in studying the role of sports in a child’s education, I highly recommend veteran Christian educator Richard A. Riesen’s School and Sports: A Christian Critique.
Another college season is over and the Tigers remain the greatest football team ever.
No, not those Tigers but the 1899 Sewanee Tigers, who ran their record to 12-0 by outscoring their opponents 322-10. Records are made to be broken, but does anyone seriously believe that another team will match Sewanee’s five shutout victories during a six day, 2,500 mile road trip?
Joe Paterno wrote of Sewanee’s Iron Men:
“While there are some who would swear to the contrary, I did not see the 1899 Sewanee football team play in person. Winning five road games in six days, all by shutout scores has to be one of the most staggering achievements in the history of the sport. If the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) had been in effect in 1899, there seems little doubt Sewanee would have played in the title game. And they wouldn’t have been done in by any computer ratings.”
Now about those other Tigers: the only team to score against the 1899 Sewanee Team was Auburn, coached by the legendary John Heisman.
Many seasons have since past. But college football reached its apex in the fall of 1899.
|1899: Sewanee 12-0Oct. 21 Sewanee 12 @Georgia 0Oct. 23 Sewanee 32 @Georgia Tech 0Oct. 28 Sewanee 46 Tennessee 0
Nov. 3 Sewanee 54 Southwestern 0
Nov. 9 Sewanee 12 @Texas 0
Nov. 10 Sewanee 10 @Texas A&M 0
Nov. 11 Sewanee 23 @Tulane 0
Nov. 13 Sewanee 34 @LSU 0
Nov. 14 Sewanee 12 @Ole Miss 0
Nov. 20 Sewanee 71 Cumberland 0
Nov. 30 Sewanee 11 @Auburn 10
Dec. 2 Sewanee 5 @North Carolina 0