These games are held yearly to honor Olympian Jim Thorpe, widely recognized as the greatest athlete of the 20th century and a Native American legend, and to recognize outstanding high school student athletes. They will be held from June 8 through June 14, 2014 in Shawnee, Oklahoma.
The first yearly games were held in 2012 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Thorpe’s Olympic performance, according to the Jim Thorpe Native American Games site. Athletes serving as representatives of various Native American nations, tribes, and bands will gather to compete and to honor Thorpe. The event typically attracts competitors from 70 tribes.
Thousands of athletes will participate in 10 sports. The gathering also serves as an opportunity for individuals from various tribal nations to share a time of fellowship. Events begin with the Parade of Nations and the opening ceremony, which includes fireworks and other entertainment.
The Jim Thorpe Native American Games and Access Sports is a charitable organization. It encourages excellent in health, fitness, and academics. Plans for 2014 include awarding a scholarship to one male and one female graduating high school senior who is also an athlete. The award is based in part on a candidate’s participation in the games.
Jim Thorpe Legacy
Some fans extend Jim Thorpe’s prowess beyond the 20th century and refer to him as the greatest athlete of all time. The Estate of Jim Thorpe says he was born in a one-room cabin in Oklahoma on May 28, 1887, to a father who was a farmer and a mother of French-Pottawatomie heritage who was a descendant Black Hawk, a legendary Sauk and Fox chief.
Thorpe began school at the Carlisle Industrial Indian School in Pennsylvania in 1904, where he became an athletic legend while running track and playing football. At 24, he and other members of the 1912 U.S. Olympic team arrived in Stockholm for the games. He excelled at the pentathlon and the decathlon, setting records that held for many years.
However, in 1913, Thorpe’s two gold medals fell into jeopardy when information emerged that he had played semi-professional baseball for two seasons prior to the Olympics, violating a rule that Olympians must not have a history of payment for participating in professional sports. Officials ultimately took away the gold medals and removed his name from the record books.
The New York Giants signed Thorpe as an outfielder for three seasons. In 1917, he moved to the Cincinnati Reds, then back to the Giants. His last season was in 1919, when he played with the Boston Braves.
While involved in baseball, Jim Thorpe also had a professional football career, playing for the Canton (Ohio) Bulldogs, then the Cleveland Indians in 1921. Afterward, he organized, played with, and coached a Native American team called the Oorang Indians.
After his professional career in sports, the athlete worked as a movie extra, was a spokesman for Indian affairs, and served as superintendent of recreation for the Chicago Park System. The Associated Press in 1950 named him “the greatest American football player,” along with the “greatest overall male athlete.” ABC’s Wide World of Sports named him “Sports Athlete of the Century” in 1996-2001.
Thorpe died of a heart attack on March 28, 1953. His youngest son served as the principal chief of the Sauk and Fox tribes in the 1980s.
I was in elementary school when Jim Thorpe died. Though he had no ties to my largely German-American home town, locals spoke often of him and admired his athletic talent. I remember my father coming home from work with a copy of a metropolitan newspaper. After the evening meal, he read Thorpe’s obituary aloud to the family.