Q: As a West Point cadet, Dwight D. Eisenhower played football for the army, where he competed against one of the greatest athletes of the 20th Century. Eisenhower later said this man “could do anything better than any other football player I ever saw.” What’s the name of the athlete Ike was talking about?
(Hint: This athlete is remembered more for his track & field accomplishments than for his skills on the gridiron.)
A: Jim Thorpe (who attended school at Haskell Indians Nation University in Lawrence!)
During a speech in 1961, Dwight Eisenhower said, "Here and there, there are some people who are supremely endowed. My memory goes back to Jim Thorpe. He never practiced in his life, and he could do anything better than any other football player I ever saw.” As a West Point cadet on the army’s football team, Eisenhower competed against Thorpe, who played football for Pennsylvania’s Carlisle Indian Industrial School.
Thorpe was one of the greatest all-around athletes who ever lived. Born in “Indian Country” (Oklahoma) in 1888, he was raised as a member of the Sac & Fox Tribe. He later attended the school we now know as Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence.
Thorpe excelled at every sport he played – and the list of sports he played is long: football, baseball, track and field, lacrosse, hockey, golf, swimming, bowling, and wrestling. He even won the 1912 intercollegiate ballroom dancing championship! But he’s best remembered as an Olympic champion. Thorpe represented the United States at the 1912 Summer Olympics in Sweden, where he won gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon. He also competed in the long jump and high jump. In short, whatever sporting activity you can do, chances are Jim Thorpe could do it way better!
Fun Factoid: Jim Thorpe’s Indian name was Wa-Tho-Huk, which means “a path lighted by a great flash of lightning,” or “Bright Path.”