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ISSUE 117 VOL 9 PUBLISHED 11/21/2003

Aesthetic athletics: Wee’s lecture addresses sports’ influence

By Aaron Johansen
Contributing Writer

Friday, November 21, 2003

Viking Theatre proved inadequate to hold the 22nd annual Carl Mellby lecture series last Thursday. The lecture, "Sport (Mostly Baseball) in Culture and the Curriculum: Seabiscuit and the Babe, Corked Bats and Teddy Ballgame, Dr. Strangeglove and a Little Chin Music," presented by English Professor David Wee attracted an overflowing audience of professors, students and public.

From Ted Williams’ immortalized and final home-run, to Seabiscuit’s "up and down fortunes on the racetrack," Wee explained why sport is a way of life, and how it can define an entire nation.

"Sport should be a lifetime of graceful movement and playing games among human beings who do it for fun and fellowship and friendly competition and the kind of personal renewal that we rightly call re-creation," he said.

Wee has been part of the St. Olaf faculty for 39 years. An NCAA All-American and member of the St. Olaf Athletic Hall of Fame, Wee was involved in sports throughout his life. In 1977 he set a world record for the two-mile by a 38 year-old.

After graduating from Stanford in 1967 with a doctorate in English, Wee came to Olaf to become one of its most influential and well known faculty members. Achievements include serving as the assistant dean of St. Olaf College and starting the women’s St. Olaf cross country running program in 1975.

With his experience and wisdom in sports and writing, Wee drew the audience into laughter and sorrow as he explained "what it is that grabs us into sports." His 50-minute lecture touched on everything from baseball vocabulary in the English language, to the impracticalities of player salaries and stadium costs.

"States and municipalities build ever larger and more luxurious stadiums while social services, schools, arts facilities, and welfare programs diminish due to insufficient funding. Have we gone crazy?" he said.

Wee emphasized the life lessons and racial breakthroughs that come with sport as well. In 1947, the St. Louis Cardinals refused to play the Brooklyn Dodgers because one of its players was Jackie Robinson, an African American.

"National League president Ford Frick, in a show of conviction and courage … replied to them, ‘if you refuse to play tomorrow, none of you will every play another game of Major League baseball in your life,’" he said.

Wee touched on smaller scale issues as well. "We don’t need to go to the professional levels, or even outside our own families to discover what sports can teach us," he said. He encouraged learning from any sport, independent of size or ability.

"These should be the priorities of sport: everybody plays. The satisfaction of doing a difficult physical thing with grace. To rejoice in being lithe, swift, and strong … if we consider it exhilarating to watch the world’s best athletes in the Olympics. For a taste of human effort and competitive joy that will bring tears to your eyes, watch the Special Olympics," he said.

Wee said that he takes these lessons and values and teaches them to students in his Baseball and American Values interim course. "The academic attention to the history, literature, economics, and psychology of sport … may reward us with a better understanding of a central human impulse that drives individuals and cultures to some very strange places," he said.

Appropriately, Wee’s course covers nine books, a "daunting yet delicious" load for anyone during interim. The course has historically admitted only 25 students, but last fall admitted 64 due to high demand.

Zack Bunnell '07 said "The lecture drew you into the message: sports is a lifestyle."

Amy Kolan, professor of physics, will present the next Mellby lecture coming in February. In response to Wee’s lecture, she said,"That’s going to be a tough act to follow."

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