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From Americanism to athleticism: A history of the American Legion Junior Baseball program

Kent Matthew Krause, University of Nebraska - Lincoln

Abstract

Inaugurated in 1926, the American Legion initially sponsored its Junior Baseball program to help perpetuate an "Americanism" agenda. Concerned that traditional America faced substantial threats in the 1920s, the veterans hoped their program would promote patriotic values, sportsmanship, and fitness among the nation's teenage boys. Legionnaires also believed that Junior Baseball would blunt the appeal of left-wing subversives with America's youth.^ Junior Baseball quickly spread and enjoyed great national popularity in the 1930s and 1940s. The active support of America's communities proved crucial to the program's success. A major reason why the Legion attained such support is that Junior Baseball teams became symbols of civic identity and significant sources of community pride. With this popularity, however, the primary focus of the program evolved away from its stated Americanism agenda and instead centered on "athleticism." The vast majority of Junior Baseball coaches, sponsors, and fans who were more concerned with winning than promoting Legion ideology fueled the transformation. With an athleticism focus, the program stressed building winning teams, developing elite athletes, maintaining support, and generating favorable publicity for the Legion. This emphasis, however, subverted Junior Baseball's original Americanism goals. For example, coaches who placed winning ahead of sportsmanship frequently broke the rules to gain an advantage on the field. Furthermore, with an elitist focus on winning teams, only the most talented boys could play in the Junior Baseball competition, thereby sharply limiting the number of participants and subsequently reducing the program's overall social impact.^ Despite the loss of its own ideological agenda, the popular Junior Baseball program still reflected prevailing twentieth century American attitudes about such issues as citizenship, race, gender, and sportsmanship. To provide an in-depth look at how the program functioned, the state of Nebraska is examined as a case study. While Legion Baseball in Nebraska and the rest of the nation has declined in overall popularity in the post 1950-era, the program continues today as a significant nationwide youth sports endeavor. ^

Subject Area

History, United States|Recreation

Recommended Citation

Krause, Kent Matthew, "From Americanism to athleticism: A history of the American Legion Junior Baseball program" (1998). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9829524.
http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/dissertations/AAI9829524

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