To many people the first thing the name Jackie Robinson brings to mind is baseball. But although a great baseball player is what he would be remembered in history for, Jackie had many other achievements that are not as well known.
Jackie Robinson excelled in many sports. He played football so well his freshman year of high school, that when
football season ended, the basketball coach asked him to try out. After watching him play, the coach immediately put him in the starting lineup, and he was a star.
After basketball season ended, Jackie was a member of the track team. He competed in the long jump, pole vault, and high jump. Track season was underway when the sign-up sheet for baseball was posted. And, of course, the baseball coach was eager to have Jackie on the team.
Jackie was doubtful about baseball. First of all, it was his weakest sport. Second, how could he be on both the track team and the baseball team? His schoolwork would suffer, and his mom would be mad. “I don't play baseball that well,” he told the baseball coach. “Yeah, you might be right,” the coach answered slyly. “There are probably a lot of players who are better than you.”
That did it. He promptly signed up for baseball, and became one of the best players on the team, playing shortstop and catcher.
During the summer, he mastered yet another sport... tennis. He saw a sign announcing the Pacific Coast Negro Tennis Tournament. He had never played tennis before, but he ended up winning the tournament!
As good as Jackie was at sports, he was always overshadowed by his older brother, Mack. When he was 17, his brother went to Berlin, Germany, to compete in the 1936 Olympics. He was a sprinter, and a very good one. Mack came in second to Jesse Owens in the 200 meters. Adolph Hitler, the leader of Germany at the time, left the stadium so he wouldn't have to shake the hands of two black men.
At a junior college, Jackie competed in football - his strongest sport, basketball, track, and baseball. Even though he broke his ankle during the football season, he still made the Junior All-American team. He was the leading scorer in basketball and was named MVP in baseball. He also excelled in track, breaking many records.
Jackie was getting scholarship offers from universities all over the country. He chose UCLA. Because of his wide range of talents, he became the first athlete in UCLA's history to earn varsity letters in four sports. However, he left UCLA three weeks before graduation and took a job to help out his mother. While at home, Jackie got an offer from a Hawaiian football team and accepted. Shortly after the football season ended, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. The United States entered the war; Jackie was drafted into the military, became an officer, and was stationed at Fort Hood, TX.
Jackie was discharged from the military in November, 1944. He took a job as a baseball player on an all-black team because he did not have any other job prospects. Black athletes did not have many opportunities back then, but one day, he noticed a scout sitting in the stands. Rumors circulated that there was a new black league forming. To Jackie's surprise, the scout wanted to talk to him. “My boss wants to see you. Would you come to New York?” the man asked.
But Jackie wasn't being recruited for a new black league. Who was the man's boss? None other than Branch Rickey, the head of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Jackie could have easily been a professional football player or continued in track or basketball but he decided to go with baseball, simply because that was his only real job offer. And so Jackie Robinson turned his talents to playing professional base-ball and became one of the best players in the history of the game!