- John Apostal Lucas: Teacher, Sport Historian, and One Who Lived His Life Earnestly: A Collection of Articles and Essays with an Autobiographical Sketch by John Apostal Lucas
As the title suggests, this e-book is a collection of academic articles and essays from a halfcentury of work by John Lucas, an early developer of sport history and Olympic studies. Although the selection criterion for the twenty-three essays is not entirely clear, they are arranged chronologically and are representative of the breadth of Lucas’ research. The central focus of the essays is the early Olympic movement, but he also includes some fascinating articles about endurance feats in colonial America, marathon running in Ancient Greece and twentieth-century America, and trans-Atlantic nineteenth-century pedestrianism races. As such, the collection begins with a 1957 article about the running style and accomplishments of Olympic marathoner John Kelley and concludes with a 2007 reconstruction of the early history of the United States Olympic Committee.
A (too) brief autobiographical sketch that evokes the American Dream precedes the essays. Lucas’ parents were immigrants from “nineteenth-century Albania—Europe’s poorest country” (p. ix), and his life seemed to be anchored by the dual institutions of education and sport. Early success and encouragement in the classroom led him to pursue higher [End Page 135] education after spending a year in the post-World War II army to earn money for college. After graduating from Boston University, he coached and continued to run while earning his master’s degree at the University of Southern California. He then moved on to coach and pursue his doctoral degree at the University of Maryland, with the goal of coaching at the collegiate level.
He then headed off to coach at Penn State University upon completing his dissertation on the early years of the Olympic movement. After six successful years of coaching, he “requested and received permission to enter the challenging, uncertain world of nontenured associate professor” at Penn State (p. xvii)—and our field has benefited from this decision, evidenced by his over 220 published works and his thousands of students. This autobiographical sketch, and the ensuing collection, clearly demonstrates his passion for the positive possibilities of sport.
This compilation of important work is of a specific time and place, but that does not make it immune to criticism. Many of the selected articles were too reliant on the actions of the “Great Men” of the early Olympics while marginalizing the broader historical, cultural, and social contexts in which they acted. Also, many of these same articles were too American-centric in both tone and content in often unproblematically presenting early twentieth-century American approaches and perspectives toward sport (and the Olympics) as the ideal. These critiques could have been mollified with a sort of present-day contextualizing of these articles. It would have been fascinating for Lucas (or another current scholar) to offer brief editorial comments for each piece, which would have temporally and politically located each piece, reminded us of the importance of his work, and also offered space for engagement with the contemporary critiques of works from those periods.
Those caveats aside, I did enjoy much of the collection. Although he does not entirely discuss the broader power relations involved in relationships between colonial Pennsylvanians and the Native Americans, chapter nine, “‘Three Specially Selected Athletes’ and a Recapitulation of the Pennsylvania Walking Purchase of 1737,” is an expert description of how the white colonialists stretched the terms of a treaty that guaranteed a sum of land depending upon how far a man could walk in a day-and-a-half. The next chapter, “American Preparations for the First Post World War Olympic Games, 1919-1920,” is an important history of the administrative and bureaucratic challenges faced by the leaders of the American delegation to Antwerp. Chapter thirteen is an exploration of fin de siécle relationships between humans...