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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 9

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
MacArthur Close‑Up
William Addleman Ganoe

published by
Vantage Press
New York, 1962

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 11
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p85  Athletics Curriculum

He had been considering, specifically, the speedy evolution with the Com. The general purpose was to have something no institution of learning I'd ever heard of had conceived or carried out. Every cadet was to pass through a recognized and supervised course of athletics. Up to that time, as in most schools, taking part in sports had been voluntary. A cadet turned out to make the team according to his desire. Often men with excellent potentiality read books or lounged on comforters in their rooms, while the gladiators were working out on the field.

Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.MacArthur felt this loose system was akin to any other undemocratic practice. It certainly didn't follow the general design of the Academy, where each man took the same courses, wore the same clothes, ate the same food and went through the same stiff discipline and daily life as every other man, where there were no cuts or other evasions, where every man recited on his lesson every day in every class, where the classes were so small as to make teaching individual, and where the only things that distinguished one man from another were his naked body, brain and soul.

Under the then exacting schedule, the cadet must take gymnastics, boxing, fencing and wrestling. Why should the broader and more popular kinds of athletics be excluded? The graduated officer should know sports by actual participation so that at least he would be able to teach and coach his men. Then, too, there was no place even for part-time lounge lizards in the Corps of Cadets. On the other side, no man should even voluntarily be called upon to shoulder burdens others shirked.

Why, I thought, had no one in the long line of Superintendents and Commandants ever discovered these inequities and necessities or made an effort to effect an appropriate change? Why did it take a young man who for seventeen years had been  p86 separated from education and athletics of an institution, not only to discern the evident anomaly, but, like a true iconoclast, supply something better in its stead?

However, seeing was a long way from substitution. For the Supe and the Com to work out something concrete and practical took relatively little time. There was another kind of time that was rough to get — time off from other subjects. If the athletics program was to be inserted on the schedule, something would have to come out to make place for it. And there were only the theoretical subjects to subtract from.

If a professor was jealous of his prerogatives over his instructors and teaching, he was as horrified over losing a minute from his subjects as a father over a lost child. Take away time and you take away his weal, wealth and standing.

The Supe and Com had many huddles, and the Supe had many personal conversations with individual professors before they could make any headway. In a matter of this kind, where an officer's immediate responsibility and personnel were involved, MacArthur moved slowly and patiently, with weapons only of persuasion. As he would not inspect my outer offices, so he would not reach down and arbitrarily order something changed within a department.

In his attempt at conversion of the professors to a wholesale athletics program, he had two main inducements to offer — eradication of the perennial bickering between the academic and athletics heads, and the lessening of formal drills in favor of athletics rather than partial absences from recitations.

Between Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Danford's suggestions and implementations and MacArthur's encouragement and "pro" criticism, the athletics program came into being.

So MacArthur changed the whole face of physical training at the Point. So far as we could ascertain, he had established the most comprehensive and well-founded program of bodily development of any institution of learning in the world. The compulsory schedule required each cadet to learn all major sports, together with soccer, lacrosse, golf and track and field events. He was to be marked on his proficiency, and the mark  p87 would count in his standing at graduation, not as much, but in the same way, as mathematics or English. He was to be able to teach the sports in which he participated. He must take part regularly in intramural contests between companies, a feature which not only let him demonstrate his abilities but added to his excitement and morale. By this means, incidentally, some fine material was discovered for the first team.

So today, while the varsity is practicing on the main field, a lot of other teams are playing under competent coaches and instructors on other fields on the Reservation. And at the big games in New York, Philadelphia and elsewhere, there isn't a cadet on the bleachers who couldn't step down on the field and go through the game in fair fashion for sixty minutes.

Although physical fitness had existed before the program of curricular athletics, MacArthur bettered and equalized it so as to make the cadet an all‑round physical potential and abolish the rivalry between the Academic Board and coaches. He whispered to me, "You can sometimes make an obstacle work for you."

When President Kinley, of the University of Illinois, came to visit the Academy, he remarked, after observing the athletic program at work, "It's ideal. I would that we could carry out such a plan at the University, but we have neither the power nor the possibility."

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