NonFiction Friday: Undefeated

This middle grade story of the early days of football has all the elements of a Hollywood or Disney hit movie. An unparalleled talent, a football genius, and a team that refused to quit came together to give us the sport of football as we know it today.


Jim Thorpe: super athlete, Olympic gold medalist, Native American.

Pop Warner: indomitable coach, football mastermind, Ivy League grad.

Before these men became legends, they met in 1907 at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, where they forged one of the winningest teams in the history of America’s favorite sport. Called “the team that invented football,” Carlisle’s innovative squad challenged the greatest, most elite teams—Harvard, Yale, Army—audaciously vowing to take their place among the nation’s football powers.

This is an astonishing underdog sports story—and more. It’s an unflinching look at the U.S. government’s violent persecution of Native Americans and the school that was designed to erase Indian cultures. It’s the story of a group of young men who came together at that school, the overwhelming obstacles they faced both on and off the field, and their absolute refusal to accept defeat. from Goodreads.

A drawing of a man who is Jim Thorpe looks out to the distance from the cover. He is wearing a red jersey with a large C on it and holding a football.

When I was in elementary school we got to go to the school library once a week. The most popular section was fiction. There you could find Babysitter’s ClubNancy Drew, and all the Beverly Cleary books. That section was also full of kids. I found more joy in exploring the rest of this one room library and, one day, stumbled across a free standing bookshelf full of old books – biographies. They were written specifically for children and were probably completely clean of anything upsetting or real but I was hooked on nonfiction from that moment onward. The first biography I selected featured Jim Thorpe.

I picked Jim Thorpe’s biography first because I would read anything that was about Native Americans. I didn’t realize he was an athlete until I was already deeply attached to the person.

In Undefeated I find myself, once again, picking up a book I believed was about Jim Thorpe and finding instead that the real story was about sports. I’m not sure where I got this idea. The man is holding a football on the front and the subtitle is “Jim Thorpe and the Carlise Indian School Football Team.” I’d like to chalk it up to not judging a book by its cover but I was probably just me becoming overly excited to find a new book about Jim Thorpe.

Undefeated is largely chronological but focuses on different major players in the development of both football and the Carlise Indian Team. The list of famous individuals involved in these early days of football include; Pop Warner, President Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Omar Bradley. The book also gives additional information regarding the lives of the major players on the team giving special attention to both Jim Thorpe and Pop Warner.

What I enjoyed the most was how this book dovetails the evolving tragedy of America’s treatment of Native Americans and the advent of modern football. Since I have been interested in Native American stories for years, I was not surprised by the establishment of a school specifically designed to take children from their families and separate them from their culture. I was less familiar with the development of football during this time. How the two come together is sure to interest anyone curious about football or Native Americans.

Tell me, please!

Do you enjoy history books?



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