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84 Word of Alabama’s clash with the Texas A&M Aggies in the upcoming Cotton Bowl dominated the front sports page of the Nevada State Journal on Dec. 2, 1941. But it was an item running down the left side that garnered more attention from a core group of basketball enthusiasts in Reno that day. The brief story hailed a clinic at the University of Nevada gymnasium the night before conducted by Chuck Taylor, America’s “ambassador of basketball” and veteran of the best early professional cage teams. A photo showed Chuck in tight- tting shorts and leather knee pads, plus his own brand of black Converse Chuck Taylor All Star shoes. Forty years old at the time, the 6-foot-1 ex-forward had a deeply receding hairline and was starting to carry a paunch, but he could still Special Service 5. 05Chuck.indd 11/18/05, 3:01 PM 84 85 Special Service ce rouse interest in the 400 fans who showed up at the Nevada gymnasium, and he could still do free throws from behind his back and dozens of trick passes no youthful defenders could ever seem to stop.1 It was to be the last clinic Chuck offered prior to America’s entry into World War II. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 changed everything. Chuck Taylor’s life was changed, too. Past his prime on the “date which will live in infamy,” as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called it, Taylor was too old to ght, yet his patriotism could not be doubted. His older brother, Howard, had been injured in France during World War I while Chuck was still shooting hoops for the Bull Dogs of Columbus High School. Now it was Chuck’s turn to serve. In time the government would provide an important avenue for aging professional athletes and well-known coaches to assist in the war effort via the Special Services Division of the Army Service Forces. Chuck Taylor was about to put on a very different uniform than the ones he had worn on the Akron Firestone Non-Skids or Converse All-Stars in the 1920s. Special Services was established in 1942 on the recommendation of the Joint Army and Navy Committee (the JANC) on Welfare and Recreation, which itself had been established shortly before World War II in anticipation of the looming conict. From the early days of the war, Special Services was charged with developing a program to keep soldiers busy, happy, and t when they were not ghting, and it even had its own training school at Fort Meade, Maryland.2 “Every redblooded American youth, in and out of uniform, is a lover of sports,” a Special Services booklet published during the war declared. “The Army has found it desirable to maintain and foster this competitive ideal. Mass participation in sports and games of every description is the Army goal.”3 05Chuck.indd 11/18/05, 3:01 PM 85 86 Eleven million Americans suited up during World War II, and most of them, in one way or another, were touched by Special Services, which operated at virtually every camp, base, fort, and command post at home and abroad, and even assigned ofcers full-time to manage its affairs at the various military installations. Self-contained Special Services companies traveled through operational theaters abroad with athletic equipment, as well as books, records, and even 16mm lms. From February 1942 to April 1944, $20 million worth of athletic supplies were shipped out by the Kansas City quartermaster , including $1 million worth of softballs and $1.7 million in basketballs and footballs.4 Fifty-two eldhouses for camps with more than 10,000 men were ordered built early in the war.5 Thousands of pairs of basketball shoes were shipped to military bases from Miami to San Diego; even American troops caught in North Africa during the middle of the war clamored for shipments of basketballs from Special Services. Hoops were such a huge hit among the soldiers during the winter of 1942–43, the rst full winter for America at war, that the Special Services Division ordered an “Ofcial Basketball Guide for 1943–44,” which would standardize rules for all base competition and service leagues. This may have been the rst truly standardized rules book in the history of the game (college, pro, and even different leagues previously had their own rules), and it may have helped set the stage for the...


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