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  • From Vision to Reality: The Pre-History of NASSH and the Fermentation of an Idea
  • Robert K. Barney and Jeffrey O. Segrave

On the evening of Friday, May 24, 2013, the 41st annual convention of the North American Society for Sport History, or NASSH, opened in the stately McNally Theater Auditorium on the campus of Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.1 If nothing else the “coming up on almost 50 years of formal existence” prompts a pause for reflection, if not for NASSH youngsters then for the organization’s oldsters. That’s the way human nature is, the older one gets, the more one reflects on one’s past. It’s no different for organizations. It will not be long before a demand will be made for NASSH’s first half-century of history to be researched and written. In that regard, the NASSH Archives at Pennsylvania State University’s Paterno Library awaits the properly motivated investigator. As an inducement, indeed a stimulus, to grasp that motivational torch and “get on with it,” we offer the following preliminary incentive, and hopefully, enticement.

We are told by the ancients that a two-word inscription was carved in stone above the temple entrance at Delphi—“Know thyself,” a hopeful supplication to all who entered the temple for prompting thought and action in life. That ancient appeal is as pertinent to moderns as it was to ancients. And, beyond simply individuals, “knowing thyself” relates to groups of individuals as well. A dimension of “knowing thyself,” certainly, is an awareness of ancestral tradition from which fundamental qualities and character arise. With [End Page 381] regard to our organization, the question might thus be asked: What do we really know about our founding tradition? Yes, we know of a perceived “immaculate conception” in a New Orleans hotel room on the evening of January 10, 1972, when a group of physical educators interested in the history of their discipline and its related field of sport met, moved, seconded, and unanimously approved a motion to form a North American Society for Sport History (NASSH). And yes, over the ensuing two years plus, a constitutional steering committee was appointed and a constitution written, various sub-committees established, an administrative structure implemented, officers elected, and the first and second annual conferences planned and executed at Ohio State University and the University of Western Ontario in the spring of 1973 and 1974, respectively. Yes, all that is known, indeed well documented. But, what of NASSH’s pre-historic epoch, its fermentation age of tradition so to speak, an almost decade-long period pre-January 1972 when an idea was transformed into deed? This essay is offered as a preliminary effort in our “knowing thyself.”

To Begin!

At the convocation ceremonies of East Carolina University in the spring of 1950, twenty-four-year-old North Carolinian Guy Maxton Lewis, an aspiring high school football coach,2 stepped forward to receive a Bachelor of Science degree in physical education.3 Three years later Lewis became the recipient of a master of education diploma from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. And, seven years following that milestone (1960), he was admitted to the doctorate program at the University of Maryland. Four years later (1964) he graduated with a Ph.D. in physical education, having researched, written, and defended a dissertation entitled, “The American Intercollegiate Football Spectacle, 1869–1917.” During his Ph.D. sojourn in physical education, Lewis completed a number of courses in American history,4 one of which, a graduate seminar taught by Prof. Carl Bode, embedded a seedling idea in Lewis’ mind that years later flowered into the first initiatives leading to what we today fondly refer to as simply NASSH, an organization admired by many across the world as the epitome society wedded to the history of sport genre. What was that seedling idea? As Lewis himself put it in a handwritten note dated January 17, 1966, “I first thought about the Society of Sport Historians years ago, probably 1961 while taking a seminar under the direction of Carl Bode at the Un. of Md. He said that one of [the...


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