History through Sports


We all know kids who say they hate history, or reading, or math. They refuse to do any work in school and swear it just isn’t something they care about. Then, we’ll watch them sit down and read every article about their favorite baseball player, record and work out their statistics using complicated formulas, and then tell you how they fit into the bigger story of baseball. They will demonstrate proficiency in history, reading, and math in one short conversation about one baseball player! Teachers often find success with students by manipulating their particular interests and showing how the concepts they learn in school can help them better understand their passions. Want to know more about your baseball players statistics? Learn about probability. Want to know why the team is located where it is? Study some history. Want to know more about anything about baseball? Read.

There are many reluctant readers and historians out there who love sports. Take a look at American history through the lens of great athletes and sport events, some that I have listed here. 

  • Baseball began in the 1840’s in the Northeast right after the Trail of Tears led to the deaths of 4,000 Americans and right before Texas was annexed. 
  • Dr. James Naismith started basketball in the 1890’s. The cities were changing with the building of railroads, factories, and progressive ideas. 
  • The modern Olympics began in 1896. The Olympics did not happen in 1916 (WWI), 1940 (WWII) and 1944 (WWII).
  • In 1912, Jim Thorpe won two gold medals in the 1912 Olympics and was considered an exceptional all-around sportsman. He was half Pottawatomie Indian. World War I started in 1914.
  • Babe Ruth started his 22 seasons as a professional baseball player in 1912. In 1908, Henry Ford introduced the low-priced Model T ford and our automobile culture took off.
  • In 1916 the Professional Golfer’s Association of America began.With the rise of the Captains of Industry, many people were ready to embrace a life of leisure.
  • Babe Didrickson Zaharias excelled in many sports, especially track and field and golf, in the 1930’s. The Great Depression began in 1929 when the stock market crashed.
  • Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball in the 1940’s. Segregation was still legal thanks to Plessy v. Ferguson and real change didn’t begin until 1954 when schools were ordered to desegregate.
  • Roberto Clemente, the famous Puerto Rican baseball player, began playing in 1955. Computers were first introduced in the 1950’s.
  • Wilma Rudolph became the first American woman to win 3 gold medals in one Olympics. Considered the fastest woman in the world in the 1960’s, and was considered a civil rights and women’s rights pioneer. She also became an international star since she participated in the first televised Olympics.
  • Ted Williams, was the player of the decade in baseball from 1951 – 1960. In 1957 the Soviets launched Sputnik, the first space satellite. Americans were fighting in the Korean War as a part of the Cold War with Russia.
  • Muhammad Ali was named the best heavyweight boxer after a stellar career in the 60’s. In 1969, Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. 
  • Billie Jean King won 39 Grand Slam titles in tennis in the 60’s and 70’s. By 1967, there were 485,000 troops fighting in Vietnam to the vocal objection of some American protestors.
  • In the 80’s, Jackie Joyner-Kersee dominated women’s track and field and is considered by some to be the best female athlete ever. This was the decade of Chernobyl and the Iran-Contra scandal.
  • Who didn’t watch Michael Phelps dominate swimming in 2008 and 2012 winning 22 medals (the most ever)? 

This is just scratching the surface of famous American athletes and sports in our history. Reading about these athletes and these sports will help a child learn a bit more about what was happening at that period in history. Each sport has a rich and varied history that has been affected by war, civil rights, computers, and the internet. We can use special interests that children develop to encourage learning of all types. This is just one of many lists that we can create. But, first, who did we leave off? Who else could we add to this list of American athletes while still keeping it manageable?



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