The standard joke about obituaries is that you’re not dead until the New York Times says you are. So although Sydney Wooderson died back on December 21st, I didn’t learn about it until three days ago, when I read this obit in the Times.
Never heard of Wooderson? I hadn’t heard of him myself, but it turns out he was a pretty important figure in track and field history, holding the world record in the mile (at a now-pokey 4 mins., 6.4 secs) from 1937 through 1942, and also holding world marks at 800 meters and 880 yards.
But my interest, of course, was in his running togs. The Times obit was accompanied by the photo shown above, which showed a pretty cool-looking logo on Wooderson’s left chest (here’s a closer view from a different photo). At first I thought it was a Star of David, but no — a Star of David is comprised of two triangles, while the star on Wooderson’s chest was formed by two squares. I’d never seen this design before.
I noticed in the obit that Wooderson’s death was confirmed by “an official for the Blackheath & Bromley Harriers Athletic Club,” and that in 1948 he “won the national cross-country title for the Blackheath Harriers; he later served many years as an official for the club.” So on a whim, I googled “Blackheath Bromley Harriers.”
Bingo. Turns out Blackheath & Bromley is a 138-year-old athletic club (its full history is here). As you can see on their home page, they splash that logo around pretty liberally. No surprise, then, that the Blackheath star now shares uniform space with another well-traveled logo.
Still, I have questions. Today’s Blackheath logo has an Maltese cross in the center, while the one worn by Wooderson had a laurel wreath — a design evolution, or a reflection of two separate groups within the club?
Also: What exactly is an athletic club, anyway? I mean, I’m admittedly pretty weak on track and field knowledge, but when I think of an athlete setting the world record in the mile — or the high jump, or the pole vault, or whatever — I don’t think of him doing it “for the Blackheath Harriers,” or for any other group. Aside from national teams (y’know, the ones that compete at the Olympics, the World Championships, etc.), I thought track teams only existed on the high school and college levels. Could someone fill me in on how this works? Or at least how it worked back in Wooderson’s day?
Sailor or Landlubber?: Meanwhile, the mysterious preponderance of sailor-hatted NCAA mascots (spelled out in greater detail in Sunday’s post, and added to by Denis Kirstein, who found this old Longhorns logo) may have been solved by reader Dave Sikula. He writes:
My theory is that the hat isn’t a sailor’s hat at all (which makes no sense to put on a mascot) but is, rather, a freshman’s beanie.
Almost all the images [in Sunday’s entry] show a pillbox hat, widening toward the top, with a very visible button on the crown. While a sailor hat does taper up, it also generally curls as it reaches the brim, and usually lacks a top button. As can be seen in this image from Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman, the classic beanie has the brim and the button, and fits in with college sports and the period in which most of the mascots were designed.
Not a bad argument. My only quibble: The freshman beanies tend to be striped, while the mascots’ caps are stripe-free. I’d say this merits further study.
Tiger in My Tank: Yesterday I mentioned that Uni Watch hedge fund analyst Jenny Strasburg had given me a vintage bowling shirt with this embroidery on the back. What I didn’t realize until yesterday, however, is that Massillon, Ohio, is the town that was profiled in the mind-blowing 2001 film Go Tigers! (highly recommended — see link at right). So that logo on my bowling shirt has a bit of a history.
Ohio-maniacal reader Chad Klenk fills in some additional info about Massillon and the tiger logo:
That’s the “Obie Tiger” logo [originally “O.B.,” for orange and black — PL]. I have family in Massillon, and unless you’ve experienced it, it is unfathomable how big high school football is in that community. Newborn boys at the Massillon hospital have a little football put in their crib [this is shown repeatedly in the movie — PL], and Tigers gear is as available to buy as Ohio State gear is in Columbus.
They bring in a live tiger cub to be the Obie mascot every season. Obie stays with and is cared for by a family in town, and the people that used to do it lived down the street from my aunt and uncle, so we used to go down and play with him when he’d arrive near the start of each football season.
My uncle was an assistant coach there for decades, and I had cousins play there in the ’80s (at the same time Chris Spielman was there — and appeared on a Wheaties box). Paul Brown was the coach there before he moved on to Ohio State, then Great Lakes Naval, then the Cleveland Browns, and then of course my Bungles. The school’s stadium is now named for him.
The Massillon/Canton McKinley game is on the same rivalry scale as OSU/Michigan — maybe even more, considering they’re minutes from each other. My 7th grade Ohio history textbook had a little segment about it, and the 100th game was profiled a few years back in Sports Illustrated. It’s always the last game of the year, and even if they meet in the OHSAA playoffs and redeem a loss, they still complain that they should have won the “regular season” game.
Great stuff. Yesterday’s Comments section included links to Massillon uniform and helmet info, too. Now I love my bowling shirt even more. The only question is how it was ever permitted to leave Ohio.
Uni Watch News Ticker: No sooner did I devote yesterday’s entry to vertically striped hosiery than the Village Voice (Uni Watch’s alma mater of sorts) ran this house ad featuring local performance stripper Lady Ace (who apparently has quite a history of striped hose). … Many NHL teams wore jersey patches last night (here’s a closer look), as part of this promotion. … More hockey cheerleading info, this time from Tom Carlson: “Teams in Minnesota have a long history of cheerleaders at hockey games — not only in the stands but on the ice. We have season tickets to the Minnesota state high school hockey tournament, and many of the high school teams have cheerleaders on the ice between periods. With the combination of the hockey, the bands, and the arena packed with high-energy high schoolers it’s the best tournament in the nation.” … And Alex Surasky-Ysasi reports that Brown University has the country’s only marching band on ice (for full photo galleries, look here). … Cool note from Byron Wages, who writes: “I was going through some of my dad’s old stuff, and I came across a 1969 Atlanta Braves pennant with an actual team photo in it. My dad, being seven years old at the time, wrote out some of the players’ names, as you can see. I’ve never seen a pennant like this before.” Neither have I — anyone else? (And for good measure, Wages sent this photo too.) … Someone over on Chris Creamer’s board noticed that Fox ran a graphic yesterday with the wrong Super Bowl logo. … Our recent discussions of MTSU’s flex-sized nameplate typography prompted this from Daniel Dingerson: “The most popular team that I can recall doing this is the University of Tennessee [as seen here in 2001]. Middle Tennessee may have taken their cue from the big boys on that one. I always thought it looked tacky.” … As a bonus, Dingerson also pointed out this gallery of late-1800s U.Mich football photos. … “For the third year straight, I have punked my buddies in our fantasy baseball league,” writes Pete Ortiz. “This year, we played in a Yahoo! League, with prizes for the winner. Attached is a picture of my first place bobblehead. That’s right, the uniform is purple, including the helmet, the lettering, even purple sanitaries.” Horrifying. And to make matters worse, the uni number has an open-quote instead of an apostrophe.