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Jim Thorpe - one of the World's Greatest Athletes

On Prairie Avenue, just north of Rosecrans Street, there is a park called Jim Thorpe Park. That is because Thorpe lived in Hawthorne during the late 1940s and was, at one time, considered by many "the Greatest Athlete in the World."

Thorpe excelled in virtually every sport, playing football, basketball, baseball, and participating in track and field. He had numerous major feats, especially in football and track. In track and field, Thorpe participated in the pentathlon and decathlon and swept gold medals in both of those in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden. In the decathlon, Thorpe broke the World record which stood until 1928.

Thorpe also stood out in football, playing first at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. During the 1911 and 1912 seasons, his outstanding rushing ability guided Carlisle to big wins over then powerhouses Army (West Point, New York), University of Pennsylvania and Harvard. He was a three-time All-American, including first-team in his final two seasons.

For much of the time, Thorpe was know for his track and field ability but decided to try out for the Carlisle football team, head coached by the legendary Pop Warner, in the fall of 1907 when he was 20 years old. He borrowed a uniform that was two sizes too big. The players chuckled but Warner had him take the uniform off because he did not want the track and field standout to get hurt. Later, though, Warner tossed Thorpe the football and had him do some tackling practice. From there, he took off being a third-team All-American player in the 1908 season.

He also played baseball for Carlisle and pitched a no-hitter in his first start in the spring of 1908. After the 1907-08 school year ended. Thorpe signed as an infielder with a minor league baseball team from Rocky Mount of the East Carolina League. He was receiving $25 per week.

During his pro baseball stint, Carlisle's football program struggled and Warner, who along with his coaching staff called Thorpe "The greatest all-around athlete in the world' wanted him to finish college and return to the team.

One of the Thorpe's contests was against Harvard in 1911. Prior to the game, Harvard head coach Percy Haughton thought his team would walk over Carlisle and decided not to show up for the game, letting an assistant take over who would use his second string. Under nearly 30,000 fans at the contest in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Thorpe keyed Carlisle to an easy win over Harvard, which put in the starters late in the game but when Carlisle already had it well in hand.

In the summer of 1912, Thorpe participated in the Olympics in Stockholm winning the pentathlon and decathlon. When Swedish King Gustave placed a laurel wreath on Thorpe's head and a gold medal around his neck, he told him that he was the greatest athlete in the world. Thorpe replied "Thanks, King."

Thorpe, known by his granddaughter Dagmar, called Jim "very simple and a direct and truthful man." His entire family considered Jim Thorpe very gentle and simple.

Six months later, however, Thorpe had his gold medals stripped after the Amateur Athletic Association and Olympic Committee discovered that he was getting paid for playing pro baseball in North Carolina. The Olympic gold medals were awarded to the form silver medallist and his Olympic and World records were taken off the books.

Thorpe, being part Indian and raised as an American Indian, also faced a lot of prejudice that was very common during the white supremacy nation period that occurred at that time.

Thorpe scored 25 touchdowns and 203 points for Carlisle in being first-team all-American in the 1912 season. In 1913, Thorpe started his six-season Major League baseball career with the New York Giants, under legendary manager John McGraw. Six years later, however, Thorpe left pro baseball after having constant problems with McGraw after a base running mistake.

He began his pro football career with the Canton Bulldogs of the American Professional Football Association, the nation's pro football league prior to the National Football League, in 1915, the year the league began. Thorpe was player-coach-owner of the Bulldogs.

Five year later, Thorpe became president of the NFL when it first started. He played and coached for the Rock Island Independents during much of the 1920s.

Thorpe was born with twin brother Charlie at the Sac and Fox Indian Reservation on May 22, 1887. Thorpe never like school and ran away a few times. He attended Haskell Indian School near Lawrence, Kansas at age 12 but ran away and briefly worked in a Texas ranch. He returned home to his father, Hiram, but his mother, Charlotte, had died and Hiram remarried.

With Hiram's second wife too busy with their new children, Jim started playing baseball on prairies on Saturday. Thorpe hit the ball and pitched so well that he attracted semipro and college baseball scouts.

Thorpe started at Carlisle at age 16 in February 1904.

Jim's later life was sad having numerous problems with alcohol and lack of money. He was divorced twice. Living and working as a ditch digger in Los Angeles for $1 a day, Thorpe was unable to afford a ticket to the 1932 L.A. Olympics but Vice President Charles Curtis, to U.S. President Herbert Hoover, invited Thorpe to sit with him in the press box of the Coliseum. Curtis, like Thorpe, was part Indian.

Thorpe moved around a lot during the 1930s and 1940s, mostly working in bars. He lived in Hawthorne with his third wife, Patricia Askew, from 1946-49, before moving to a trailer home in Lomita where he died of a heart attack in 1953 at age 65.

After his death, some of the activities concerning Thorpe was not over. In 1982, 70 years after his feats at the Stockholm Olympics, he was reinstated into the Amateur Athletic Union status. A year later, replicas of the 1912 Olympic gold medals were issued to one of his daughters.

This was also a beginning of the Olympics admitting professional athletes for the first time in the 1992 Games in Barcelona, Spain.

From an article dated; December 29, 2000 in the Hawthorne Lawndale Press Tribune

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