During the later half of the 19th century, Indian children were brought into public and boarding school systems to “civilize” or acculturate them. These schools were sponsored by the federal or state government, missionary groups, tribal, and other organizations. Most were established in order to assimilate Indians into the dominant society and erase all aspects of Indian traditional life, including language, religion, appearance, and even games.
Athletic programs were viewed as an integral part of their adaption into the dominant culture. For most Indian children, school provided their first exposure to baseball, basketball, and football.
Most Indian school’s physical activities were limited to formal exercise well into the 20th century. However, two Indian schools attained early acclaim in the area of athletics. These were the Indian Training School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and the Haskell Institute (now the Haskell Indian Junior College) in Lawrence, Kansas. Athletes were actively recruited to Carlisle and Haskell in the belief that a prominent sport program would reflect well on the institution and would also attract talented students in other areas. Student athletes were recruited from as far away as the Sherman Institute for Indians in Riverside, California. Students were taught baseball, soccer, football, and formal track events. Indian youth proved to be enthusiastic participants.
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