We’re in the process of wrapping up work on the third edition of the Berkshire Encyclopedia of World Sport, which has been a lot of fun to work on. I now feel armed and ready for the next time I play Trivial Pursuit — my nemesis was always the Sports part of the dreaded Sports and Leisure category. (I could handle the Leisure part, because there were always questions about darts and pool that I stood a chance at knowing.)

We’ve discovered some interesting facts along the way. Here are just a few! (Thanks to Amanda for her help compiling these.)

  • Softball first came about by sewing together a boxing glove; it later became popular as a way for firemen to keep busy between fires.
  • In a precursor of water polo called water derby, competitors bobbed around on barrels while hitting a ball with a mallet.
  • Mark Twain tried surfing in Hawaii in 1860s, as mentioned in his book Roughing It.
  • Jack London (author of Call of the Wild) wrote about his attempts at surfing in an article in the October 1907 issue of Woman’s Home Companion.
  • Lieutenant (later General) George S. Patton participated in the modern pentathlon at the Stockholm Olympics in 1912; he might have won had he not done so poorly in the shooting event, where he insisted on using his service revolver while the rest of the pentathletes used target pistols.
  • The theologian Martin Luther bowled, which reminded him of the Christian’s duty to knock down the devil; John Calvin also enjoyed bowling, although he saw most other sports as a hindrance to holy living.
  • It is often claimed that stoolball’s name derived from the fact that the first bats were three-legged milking stools, from which modern bats were developed.
  • The entire first day of the original modern Olympics was devoted to religious rituals—a kind of prolonged opening ceremony when religion mattered more than patriotism or commercial glitz.
  • In the 1930s, the sports publicist Leo A. Seltzer organized “Transcontinental Roller Derbies,” which were (indoor) month-long marathon races up to 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometers) long, skated in teams of two on a banked track.
  • Prior to 1937, the national flags of Lichtenstein and Haiti were identical by coincidence; a fact neither country discovered until they competed in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany.
  • Liechtenstein’s national anthem is the same melody as England’s. When these two nations compete, the tune is played twice. Before a football preliminary qualification match for the European Championship 2004 held on 29 March 2003, “God Save the Queen” was sung first. When the tune was played again for Liechtenstein, England’s fans began to boo, until they realized what tune it was, then sang “God Save the Queen” again, even though it was Liechtenstein’s turn. (The same tune is used in the US, where it is called “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.”)
  • The American football huddle was invented at Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf, in 1894. The huddle was created to prevent opposing teams from seeing play decisions being “talked” out with sign language. Nowadays the huddle serves a similar purpose; as cameras get better at providing up-close coverage, huddles hide players’ mouths so their lips can’t potentially be read.

More to come as we go over final articles in the coming days!

-Bill Siever





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