The tireless work of Dr. Robert Reising (English) paid off this spring when the American Indian Studies Department named the first two Jim Thorpe Scholars at the annual Awards Day program.
Dr. Reising, who singlehandedly launched the endowed scholarship, continued this spring to raise funds and public awareness about the American Indian who, he believes, is the greatest athlete in the history of sport.
“I will gladly speak with any group, anywhere if there is a donation to the Thorpe fund,” Dr. Reising said. “I take no honorariums, and I have great pictures, videos and film clips to supplement my talks.”
Retiring in 2005 after 34 years at UNCP, Dr. Reising took his show on the road to Asheville, N.C., in March when he talked to students and faculty at UNC Asheville. The English professor, who teaches courses in American Indian literature among others, is a nationally recognized expert on Thorpe.
ESPN tapped into Dr. Reising’s expertise for a segment of “Sports Century,” a program that featured the top athletes of the 20th century.
“Jim Thorpe is unquestionably the greatest athlete of all time,” Dr. Reising said.
A Sac and Fox Indian from Oklahoma, Thorpe was a natural athlete who in 1912 became the only Olympic competitor to win both the pentathlon and decathlon. He played professionally in football and baseball, including minor league stops in North Carolina.
Thorpe’s professional basketball career was “discovered” recently when The New York Times reported in a March 29 article the existence of a ticket to a previously unknown barnstorming exhibition game featuring Thorpe. Who did the New York Times call for comment?
“He was trying to find his way,” Dr. Reising was quoted by New York Times’ reporter Bill Pennington. “He lived all these years in the white man’s world, but he had no marketable skills. Consumed by competition, he tried to keep going.”
Here is the story in Dr. Reising’s words: “On March 23, Bill Pennington of the New York Times called me. Lynn Draper, executive director of the Jim Thorpe Association in Oklahoma City, had suggested he call me because of my recent presentations and publications on Thorpe,” Dr. Reising said.
“Pennington had but one question: ‘Did I think the ticket that had been in the book on Jesse James, the outlaw, as well as the 1927 Pennsylvania basketball game it announced, was legitimate?’ He feared a hoax. He wanted my best professional judgment, given all the work I have done on Thorpe over the years. He had completed some preliminary checking in Pennsylvania, but, nonetheless, was not totally convinced. My reply was quite full. ‘Yes,’ I told him, ‘I believe the ticket, the game and the 40-game barnstorming tour featuring Thorpe is all the real McCoy, not creations of some sports fan's imagination or ingenuity.’”
“I based my response on the year (a time when Thorpe, at age 40, was losing his football skills), on the fact that Thorpe had excelled in basketball at Carlisle (one of his 11 sports there!), on his seldom-resisted bent for athletic competition, on his marital status at the time, and on the fact that the basketball venture resembled the football venture in LaRue, Ohio, when Thorpe was recruited to head the all-Indian Oorang Indians in 1922 and 1923, the NFL's smallest franchise ever. I told Pennington that Thorpe's name was magic, and any contests in any sport were certain of big gates if fans knew he was to perform. Pennington appeared to appreciate my response and added that someone was certain to let me know if he chose to cite me in the piece he was thinking about writing. Indeed, he proved to be a good prophet.”
The Thorpe scholarship at UNCP is proof of the power of the Thorpe legacy and is a tribute to it. As the endowment neared $10,000 this spring, UNCP students Rebecca Chavis and Bridget Dimery were named the first recipients in the amount of $400 each.
For more information about the Jim Thorpe Endowed Scholarship, please contact the Office for Advancement at 910.521.6252.