Teaching Sports Literature

Date: Tue, 2 Jul 1996
From: Judith Hakola
Subject: teaching sports lit

In response to Joyce's recent message about inquiries re: teaching sports lit, I'd be happy to answer questions, makes suggestions about syllabi and texts, etc. I have taught a course in American Sports Literature and Film every other spring since 1988 as a large-enrollment lecture course, a small-enrollment summer course, an interactive TV course, with and without a teaching assistant. etc. I will also be "facilitating" some seminars on sports literature for area public school teachers in the fall. Pose your questions either through H-ARETE or directly to judyhak@maine. maine.edu.

I look forward to sharing ideas. Judy

Date: Tue, 2 Jul 1996
From: Tim Morris

My most important lesson from teaching sport literature has been to give students some roon at the beginning of the course-- in the form of informal writing assignments, journals, lightly moderated discussions--to vent their feelings about sport in general. Otherwise students will write a first paper or participate in an early seminar, sometimes on a difficult text (*The Natural*, let's say, or *You Know Me Al*), but be unable to resist setting the text aside so that they can tell everyone a) how much they hate Marge Schott; b) what a great team the 1980 Royals were and how their dad took them to the park every night; c) what lousy whiners today's ballplayers are compared to the selfless 1980 Royals, d) etc. all of the above. One can also find from starting a course with free-form discussions that issues have a habit of returning when one does turn to texts.

I find that students care more deeply about sport than they do about anything else I "teach," and I also teach courses on literature and sexuality and on literature and religion. Sport literature teaching is emphatically not about child's play or diversion, as Judy and others will no doubt join me in observing--it is a ground on which one meets students most personally, and learns what they value about work, family, politics, and America--

Tim Morris
Arlington, Texas

Date: Mon, 8 Jul 1996
From: Judith Hakola

Tim Morris' suggestion about letting students express their own interests and concerns about sports early in the course is a good one. This exercise that I use in the first class meeting works pretty well too. It's simply to define what sport is. As soon as we have come up with a rough definition, I ask them to apply it to fishing (alone), playing tag or marbles, wrestling for the WWF, and playing chess. (The chess question is legitimate--every few years, the University of Maine Chess Club applies for varsity sport status--mostly in an attempt to get funding for travel and a coach--and the Athletic Dept. has to wrestle with explaining how and why chess isn't a sport.) This is when all the underlying but unexpressed assumptions about sports come out. Students are all quite sure that chess isn't a sport but they often have trouble articulating why. The other "sports" present different but equally challenging problems in definition. And by trying to come to an agreement on what activities aren't sports, they develop a clearer (but never final) definition of what sport is.

I also tell my students early in the course what one of the questions on the final exam will be so they can be thinking about it and taking notes for it as they do the reading for the course. This is the question:

The late Laurence Perrine, who taught at SMU for many years, said that the purpose of interpretive literature is "to broaden, deepen, and sharpen our awareness of life." (Chapter 1, STORY AND STRUCTURE) Referring to at least four pieces we have read/viewed, explain how the material in the course has broadened OR deepened OR sharpened your awareness of some aspect of sports life. You can write about a specific sport, about a "character" in sports such as the coach or the fan, or about some topic we read about and discussed, such as defining oneself as an athlete, the effects of competition, sports as a means of forging or maintaining connections, etc. Be very specific in explaining how each piece changed or enhanced your understanding.

Judy Hakola

Date: Mon, 8 Jul 1996
From: Dick McGehee

Regarding Judy Hakola's recent interesting comments on activities in her class -- specifically, the part about students' opinions on the question of chess being, or not being a sport:

Chess is one of the official sports of the Central American Games, a regional multisport festival held first in 1973 and repeated every four years (when circumstances permit). Participating countries are Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, and Belize. Reporters writing about the chess competition sometimes call it the "intellectual sport."

I also have tried an exercise of defining sport and trying to apply definitions to a variety of activities, using a long list that included some of Judy's. I think a couple of body builders in the class got their feelings hurt, because in my alphabetical list, beauty contests and body building ended up next to each other, and they thought I was intentionally casting aspersions on their sport. Sport?

Dick McGehee

Date: Sat, 20 Jul 96
From: Michael Olmert

Hello out there. I'm Mike Olmert & I'm an old SLA (love that acronym) hand who appeared in the second volume of ARETE back in 1984 with an article on Chaucer's lotteries. I teach Shakespeare at the University of Maryland these days.

Anyway, I've just published a book on the nature of history that includes a number of essays on sports cultural & literary history. The book's called MILTON'S TEETH & OVID'S UMBRELLA (Simon & Schuster, June 1996). It includes chapters on Football, Running, The Sporting Chance, Betting, Lotteries, Cards, Chess, Baseball Talk, and the medieval games of American cowboys.

I thought some of you might like to know about these for your classes. (No, I really did; this is not just some shameless self-advert on the Net.)

I spend my summers typing away near Berthoud, Colorado, rooting for the Rockies, and would love to hear from you. I'm at MO4@umail.umd.edu. Mike Olmert

Date: 22 July 1996
From: John Bale

Like Mike Olmert I really think my (co-authored) latest book might be interesting to everybody. It is John Bale and Joe Sang, 'Kenyan Running: Movement Culture, Geography and Global Change', Frank Cass, London and Portland OR. (ISBN 0 7146 4218 5).

What's it got to do with sport literature? Frankly, the bulk of the book has nothing to do with it but in several of the chapters we touch on the way the 'Kenyan body' was represented in ealy 20th. c. travel writing and other texts. Since completing the book I have gotten very interested in the textual and photographic representation of the colonial body and I am now wondering if there is much other work, drawing on post-colonial theory and the problem of representation, which has been applied to indigenous or colonial sports. Any references would be welcome.


John Bale

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