For 10 years, I worked at the Marion Public Library in Marion, Ohio. This is significant to this story because one of our branches was in LaRue, the home of Jim Thorpe and the pro-football team which featured the Oorang Indians. We had entire programs built around Jim Thorpe. But it still always tickles me when other people talk about Jim Thorpe, in part because I’m not super involved in the world of sportsball of any kind and I forget that other people are and they know things about it. Today we are honored to share with you a deleted scene from the new book, UNDEFEATED by Steve Sheinkin.
I always wind up with a lot of deleted material, and often whole scenes, but this was the once instance in Undefeated where I cut an entire chapter. I love the story, but I knew the same themes would be covered later in the story, once Jim Thorpe arrived on the scene.
On an October night in 1902, Pop Warner sat in his home on the Carlisle campus, wondering what he could possibly do to turn his football program around. The team had gone 6-4-1 in 1900, with losses to Penn and Harvard, and a 35-0 thrashing at the hands of Yale. 1901 was worse. A beating by old school, Cornell, set off a seven game winless streak, and the team finished with a losing record. Warner could not possibly justify his salary with these kinds of results.
There was a big game with a strong Cornell team in four days. And Warner, an optimist at heart, was wrestling gloomy thoughts.
“It looked,” he later said, “as if victory was going to be impossible.”
Halfway into the 1902 season, Carlisle was 3-1. Not bad, but they hadn’t played any top teams yet, which is what made this Cornell game so important. That and the fact it was Pop’s old school. And the fact they’d crushed Carlisle 17–0 the year before. And the fact that Pop’s younger brother Bill, one of the country’s top linemen, was the Cornell team captain. Was he really going to let his kid brother humiliate him again?
Bill was six-foot-one, 220, and Cornell’s other linemen were nearly as big. They’d use mass plays to batter Carlisle’s smaller line. But the bigger problem was the state of the Carlisle team. Nikifer Schouchuck, the sturdy center from Alaska, had been hurt so badly the week before, he was still in the hospital. Albert Exendine, a promising eighteen-year-old left end, could hardly walk on his badly sprained ankle. Martin Wheelock, who Pop called “my best offensive weapon,” was down with a case of pleurisy, an excruciating inflammation of the membrane lining the lungs and inner side of the ribcage. “His pain was so great that he couldn’t bear even to have the bedclothes touch him,” Warner remembered.
Warner was pondering limited options when there was a knock on the door. It was another of Pop’s best players, Antonio Lubo. His arm was in a sling.
“Coach, I’d give anything if I could play against Cornell,” Lubo said. “I know how Schouchuk and Wheelock can’t play. I’d like to go up there for you and for Carlisle.”
In a game with Navy the year before, Lubo had suffered a compound fracture of his left wrist. The wound got infected, and still hadn’t healed properly. But here he was, begging to play.
“Not with that arm,” Warner told him.
“But that wouldn’t make any difference,” Lubo insisted. “I’ve been exercising and have kept in good shape in every other way.”
Warner asked Lubo where he thought he could play.
“Tackle, in Wheelock’s place.”
“No. That’s out of the question. A tackle must have both arms.”
“Well, then, center.”
“No, a center must use both hands to pass the ball.”
“Well,” Lubo said, “I know I could play somewhere.”
Pop had always been a tinkerer, the type of guy who liked to take things apart and put them back together. He had an idea. The next morning he found two strips of leather and sewed them into a finger-to-elbow cast. He slipped it over Lubo’s wrist, stuffed it with cotton, and wrapped the whole thing in a thick layer of tape.
“Thank you, coach,” Lubo said with a huge smile.
That inspired a movement. “All the cripples around the place asked for harness that would enable them to play,” Warner recalled. Albert Exendine’s ankle injury was fairly straightforward. “We bound his crippled limb with tape so tightly that he couldn’t move his foot.” The real challenge was Martin Wheelock, who sneaked out of the infirmary and showed up at Pop’s door.
Warner ordered him back to bed.
“If you can fix Lubo, you can fix me,” Wheelock said. “There’s nothing wrong with my arms or legs; all I’ve got is pleurisy.”
“But you can’t run, Martin.”
“Change me from guard to center. Then I won’t have to run.”
Against his better judgment, Warner shaped two sheets of aluminum into a sort of lightweight suit of armor. Wheelock wriggled his tender chest into the contraption, and taped it in place.
On the field at Cornell, Pop chatted with his brother before the game. Bill asked how the Carlisle team was feeling.
“So-so,” Pop said, shrugging. “I’ve got a sick lad at center and a one-armed chap at guard.”
“Say! We don’t want to play a bunch of cripples.”
Pop smiled. “Don’t worry old boy. You’ll find ‘em lively enough.”
Cornell was the stronger team, moving the ball steadily with power runs. But Carlisle hung around, making just enough third down stops to keep it close. “Mostly it was Lubo and Wheelock,” Warner recalled. “How Lubo did it with his lame arm I don’t know. And time and time again, Wheelock winced in pain as he came in contact with his opponents.”
Late in the second half, with Cornell leading 6–5, Carlisle recovered a fumble at the Cornell thirteen. Four plays later, third down and goal from the Cornell two, quarterback Jimmie Johnson handed it to Charles Williams, who dove over backs of his blockers, Lubo and Wheelock, landing across the goal line.
Carlisle held on for the win, 10–6.
Bill Warner hobbled over to shake his brother’s hand. He told Pop, “Thank the Lord these boys weren’t feeling well.”
Jim Thorpe was an incredible Native American athlete and Olympic gold medalist, and Pop Warner was an indomitable coach and football mastermind with an Ivy League background. Before these men became legends, they met in 1907 at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, where they forged one of the greatest teams in American football history. Called “the team that invented football,” they took on the best opponents of their day, defeating much more privileged schools such as Harvard and the Army in a series of breathtakingly close calls, genius plays, and bone-crushing hard work.
UNDEFEATED is an astonishing underdog sports story—and more. It’s an unflinching look at the U.S. government’s violent persecution of Native Americans and the school that was designed to erase Indian cultures. Expertly told by nonfiction powerhouse author Steve Sheinkin, it’s the story of a group of young men who came together at that school, the overwhelming obstacles they faced both on and off the field, and their absolute refusal to accept defeat.
Just in time for pre-Super Bowl football roundups and coverage, Steve Sheinkin brings Jim Thorpe’s inspiring story to life, highlighting his heritage and the previously little-known and astonishing history of Native American boarding schools.
Meet Steve Sheinkin
Steve Sheinkin is the award-winning author of fast-paced, cinematic nonfiction histories for young readers. The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights, was a National Book Award finalist and received the 2014 Boston Globe/Horn Book Award for Nonfiction. The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery, won both the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award and the YALSA award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults. Bomb: The Race to Build-and Stealthe World’s Most Dangerous Weapon was a Newbery Honor Book, a National Book Award Finalist, and winner of the Sibert Award and YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults. Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War was a National Book Award finalist and a YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award finalist. Sheinkin lives in Saratoga Springs, New York, with his wife and two children.
Published by Roaring Brook Press | On sale January 17, 2017 Hardcover | $19.99 | 9781596439542