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Jim Thorpe : The Greatest Athlete of the Century!
What to Know
Teaching Time
2 50-minute sessions
Grade Level
Elementary School
  • Civics and Government
  • Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening
  • History
Historical Period
  • The Emergence of Modern Pennsylvania - 1901-1928
  • The Great Depression and World War II - 1929-1945
  • Post-WWII Pennsylvania - 1946-1974
  • Contemporary Pennsylvania - 1975 to Present
Jim Thorpe was a natural athlete who, although not born in Pennsylvania, became one of its favorite sons when he attended one of the state's most experimental and controversial educational institutions, the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Thorpe not only excelled at football, baseball, and track at school, he went on to become an awe-inspiring athlete in the 1912 Olympics. King Gustav of Sweden, the host of the Olympics, said to Jim Thorpe as he crowned him with a laurel wreath, "You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world." Thorpe's response? "Thanks, king." Unfortunately Thorpe was unable to enjoy the success of his Olympic feats very long. His medals were confiscated in January 1913 and his recognition marred when the Olympic Committee declared he had violated the rule of playing sports only as an amateur prior to the Olympics. (Today this rule is no longer in books, and athletes both amateur and professional are allowed to compete.) Thorpe continued to play sports at a professional level after the Olympics and show his great athleticism. There is no doubt, however, he remained troubled by the turn of events from the 1912 Olympics. It was only in 1982–many years after his death in 1953– that his medals were returned to his family and his records reinstated in the books. In this lesson, students will look at the highs and lows of Thorpe's sports life using primary sources. Then they will learn about ways to lobby their government in preparation for their final assignment: to write a persuasive letter or brochure to send to their United States Representative to nationally recognize Jim Thorpe as the "Greatest Athlete of the 20th Century".


Students will be able to: 1. Discuss what makes a sports legend. 2. Analyze primary resources of Jim Thorpe and understand both his triumphs and tragedies. 3. Persuade their Representative that Jim Thorpe is worthy to be named the Athlete of the Century.

Standards Alignment

  • Civics and Government

    5.2.3. E. Describe ways citizens can influence the decisions and actions of government.
    5.2.3. G. Identify ways to participate in government and civic life.

  • History

    8.2.3. A. Understand the political and cultural contributions of individuals and groups to Pennsylvania.
    8.2.3. B. Identify and describe primary documents, material artifacts and historic sites important in Pennsylvania history.

  • Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening

    1.2.5. A. Read and understand essential content of informational texts and documents in all academic areas.
    1.4.5. C. Write persuasive pieces with a clearly stated position or opinion and supporting detail, citing sources when needed.

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