American History With Sports

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American History With Sports

There are a million ways to teach history without a textbook: books, movies, food, or clothing. (Here are some more ideas to get you started!) Using these are excellent springboards into showing how people really lived back then. They can take boring black and white photos and random dates and places in history textbooks and help students make connections with their world.

When I came across Dan Gutman’s Baseball Card Adventures series, I realized there were so many ways to help connect history with sports, which is especially great for sports-loving students. For example, learning about baseball player Jackie Robinson is an excellent introduction to the Civil Rights Movement. Here are a few more examples of using sports to teach history.

Eric Liddell

Born the son of Christian missionaries to China, Eric Liddell attended boarding school before heading to Edinburgh University where he participated in several sports. There the athlete’s talent was noticed, and he ceased playing rugby began to focus all of his training and practice towards the 1924 Olympics. In Paris that year, he took home the gold medal in the 400-meter race as well as the bronze in the 200 meter, giving God the glory for each victory.

Liddell then moved back to China, devoting his life to sharing the gospel no matter the cost. When Japanese forces threatened to overtake the area, Liddell continued to provide medicare care and food to his neighbors in need. He faithfully worked for the peace of those around him until a brain tumor took his life in 1945. 

Resources for Early Elementary Students:

Resources for Late Elementary Students:

Resources for Middle/High School Students:

Extended Resources About Running and the Olympics:

Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali was a world champion heavyweight boxer and Olympic gold medalist. As a teenager, a police officer who doubled as a boxing coach first introduced him to the ring. He started to win match after match and continued to rise in fame. He converted to Islam in 1964 and soon became extremely outspoken against the Vietnam war and civil rights issues. 

Resources for Early Elementary Students:

Resources for Late Elementary Students:

Resources for Middle/High School Students:

Extended Resources About Boxing and the Vietnam War:

Jackie Robinson

A natural athlete, Jackie Robinson grew up with his hand in several sports. At UCLA, he played and lettered in basketball, baseball, football, and track. When lack of funds led to his dropping out of college, he joined the military to make ends meet. Upon his return to civilian life, Jackie joined the Negro Baseball League, of which he was a proud member until he caught the eye of the Brooklyn Dodgers president. Jackie was the first African American player the team had had since the segregation of baseball in the late 1800s. His amazing success put him in the spotlight and helped pave the way for further desegregation of sports. 

Resources for Early Elementary Students:

Resources for Late Elementary Students:

Resources for Middle/High School Students:

  • 42 – movie (PG-13) (Here’s my movie guide)
  • Stealing Home: The Story of Jackie Robinson by Barry Denenburg
  • I Never Had it Made: An Autobiography of Jackie Robinson by Jackie Robinson

Extended Resources About Baseball and the Civil Rights Movement:

Sandy Koufax

Sandy Koufax loved sports from a young age. In school, he focused on basketball and rarely played baseball, but at college, he discovered the sport that would make him famous. Koufax played professional baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers and was notable for being a left-handed pitcher. He was also the youngest player ever to be admitted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Koufax is Jewish. In 1965, he decided not to pitch at the World Series because it fell on the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur. Koufax is a great introduction to Jewish history in the United States.

Resources for Elementary Students:

Resources for Middle/High School Students:

  • Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy by Jane Leavy
  • Sandy Koufax Documentary (YouTube) 

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