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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


December 1, 2001 - Issue 50


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Wheaties, The Breakfast of Champions, Honors Jim Thorpe, One of America's All-time Greatest Champions


JIM THORPE, Pa.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Nov. 20, 2001-- Wheaties, The Breakfast of Champions, announced today at a ceremony held in Jim Thorpe, PA, that the legendary Jim Thorpe, an American Indian who left his humble beginnings on an Oklahoma reservation to become known as "the world's greatest athlete,'' will be honored on the cover of the celebrated cereal box.

"My dad had a bowl of cereal almost every day for breakfast, and of course we had Wheaties,'' said Jim Thorpe's daughter, Grace Thorpe, 80. "He was very modest and humble when it came to all of the attention, but he would be very honored to be recognized by The Breakfast of Champions.''

Members of the Thorpe family and Pennsylvania Governor Mark Schweiker unveiled the new Wheaties box during the ceremony at the Jim Thorpe High School football stadium and participated in a parade to celebrate the occasion. The Pennsylvania state legislature passed a resolution, "Recognizing the great athletic achievements of Jim Thorpe and celebrating his appearance on the Wheaties cereal box.'' Thousands of school children, many of them who are among those who wrote letters to Wheaties, also marched in today's parade and participated in the ceremony.

"Jim Thorpe is an American original, and his story should be told to every child across the nation,'' Governor Schweiker said. "We applaud Wheaties for recognizing his remarkable accomplishments and for sharing them with a new generation of Americans.

"On behalf of all Pennsylvanians, I am delighted that Wheaties chose to unveil this wonderful tribute to Jim Thorpe in the community that bears his name'' Schweiker said. "I invite all Americans to visit this proud community to learn more about the legacy of this great champion and great American.''

Also in attendance, members of the Native American Indian running group Wings of America traveled from all over the United States to participate in the ceremony along with a national spiritual leader of American Indians, Orrin Lyons, an Onondaga Indian, who presided over a memorial service at Jim Thorpe's gravesite and monument before the parade got under way.

The Wheaties announcement was timed to coincide with National American Indian Heritage Month.

Not only was Jim Thorpe a gifted athlete and a fierce competitor in track and field, football, and baseball, but he was well liked and had friends and admirers from around the world, and he loved his family and was very kind to children, Graced Thorpe said.

History is filled with Jim Thorpe legends--he led his football team from the small Carlisle Indian School of Pennsylvania in victories over such powerhouses as Pitt, Syracuse, Army, Nebraska, Navy and Penn State; he played professional baseball with the New York Giants and the Boston Braves--but the most well known comes from when he won gold medals in both the pentathlon and the decathlon at the 1912 Olympic Games held in Sweden. After Thorpe was awarded his second gold medal of the games, Sweden's King Gustav V shook his hand and said, "Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world!''

Thorpe replied, "Thanks, King.''

"Jim Thorpe is the archetypal Wheaties champion, and it is easy to see why his story is so inspiring to school-age children in America,'' said Brian Immel, Wheaties Marketing Manager. "Wheaties is honored to have a role in keeping the legend of Jim Thorpe alive.''

So compelling is the Jim Thorpe history that his life story was made into a 1951 Warner Brothers movie, Jim Thorpe, All American, starring Burt Lancaster, and in 1954 two Pennsylvania towns, Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk, decided to consolidate and change their name to Jim Thorpe, PA, to honor the legendary American.

Jim Thorpe was on a short list among legendary and historic champions Wheaties has under consideration, but he moved to the top of the list once thousands of school children from around the country began sending letters to Wheaties.

"Jim Thorpe is a hero among school children, and this Wheaties box is dedicated to every child in America who, like Jim Thorpe, is inspired to pursue a dream,'' said Immel.

For years members of the Jim Thorpe Area Sports Hall of Fame in Pennsylvania have nurtured the Jim Thorpe legacy and have been invited into schools to talk about the history of the great champion, said Jack Kmetz, the group's president. But a few years ago the newly crowned Miss Indian USA, Anna McKibben of Quapaw, Oklahoma, started a letter-writing campaign that sparked the thousands of letters sent to Wheaties in support of Jim Thorpe.

McKibben, who recently earned a journalism degree from the University of Arkansas and is currently a doctoral student at the University of Oklahoma, is a member of the Quapaw Tribe, which, like Jim Thorpe's Sac and Fox Tribe, is located in Oklahoma. She was inspired by the story of Jim Thorpe and decided to champion the cause to have him placed on the Wheaties box during her reign as Miss Indian USA 2000. She wrote to every American Indian newspaper, tribal headquarters and website in more than 35 states, and the response was overwhelming.

"I've received hundreds of letters of encouragement from people who are passionate in their support of Jim Thorpe and my cause,'' McKibben said. "Jim Thorpe has a special place in the heart of all Native American Indians, and now Wheaties has a special place in my heart.''

Wheaties has received thousands of letters from across the country and around the world in support of Jim Thorpe. Among the letters from Pennsylvania, Richard Lopez, 10, writes that Jim Thorpe is a "shining star,'' but it is also important to Wheaties, as Corey Graham, 11, points out, that Jim Thorpe was "nice to everyone.'' Samantha Elmy, 9, writes, "I will love Jim Thorpe to be on the Wheaties box.''

Wheaties began its association with sports in the mid-1930s with a sign on the left field wall at old Nicollet Park near downtown Minneapolis. General Mills' broadcast deal with the minor league Minneapolis Millers on WCCO Radio included the large signboard that Wheaties would use to introduce its new advertising slogan: "Wheaties--The Breakfast of Champions.'' Since then, Wheaties has built a heritage that includes many of the greatest athletes of all time.

Jim Thorpe joins a distinguished list of Wheaties champions such as Lou Gehrig, Babe Didricksen, Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Walter Payton, Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, and Tiger Woods.

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Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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