Guest Post – The Role of Sports: WW II by GPCox


GPCox  shares the role sports played during World War II in entertaining those left at home. Sports was a diversion from the everyday reports of how the war was progressing in the various fronts around the world.

By: gpcox

Chesterfield ad

Chesterfield ad

The movies and newsreels of WWII provided information and diversion for many at the home front, but none could provide the escape and release of stress for the civilian as much as sports.

South Florida maintained a carnival atmosphere with the Hialeah Race Track and West Flagler Kennel Club, which took in $100,000 nightly – just to prove my point.  And, somehow, travel restrictions did not deter the action at Miami’s Tropical Park.  Horse racing went on, despite the war, in every country.  All in all, racing boomed as the 68thrunning of the Kentucky Derby went off with 100,000 in the crowd.  Unfortunately, this was the same day that 68 men had been taken by the Japanese at Bataan; they were all members of D Company, 192d Tank Battalion, out of Kentucky.

The war did not stop the golfers either as the tournaments and professional tours continued.  Sam Snead, fresh back from the Navy, played in the 1944 tourney; he came in second to Byron Nelson. (gpcox met Snead at the ‘Sail Inn’ in Delray Beach, FL when he would drop in for lunch after a game with friends.)

In boxing, Joe Louis started the idea of holding a sports event for the war effort.  He announced in 1942 that his profits from the bout against Buddy Blair would go to the Naval Relief fund.  The gate was $200,000 and Louis finished off his opponent in 2 minutes and 56 seconds.  Louis was drafted three days later.

Not to be outdone, a profitable pro-football contest was held between the National League All-Stars and the

Growing up during World War II

Growing up during World War II

Chicago Bears and these profits also went to the Naval Relief Fund.  The National Football League was forced to reduce to a 42 game season in 1943 due to all the draftees, but Coach George Halas brought home two championship titles for the Bears, 1940 & 1942; while Curly Lambeau’s Green Bay Packers won it in 1944.

As during most of WWII, 1943 in New Zealand had no Rugby International matches played, but the West Coast did retain the Northern Union Cup.  England and Australia were unable to hold their tennis championships, such as Wimbledon, for the extent of the war.

In 1942, the Rose Bowl was moved to Duke Stadium in North Carolina to avoid having large crowds converge anywhere on the west coast.  Dallas, Texas had 38,000 for the Cotton Bowl that year and 35,505 amassed in Miami for the Orange Bowl: Georgia Bulldogs 46 – Horned Frogs 40.  The annual Army-Navy game brought 66,000 to Baltimore’s Municipal Stadium in 1944, when Coach “Doc” Blanchard led the Army, not only to victory, but a perfect season.

Professional baseball was as hot as ever when 37,815 fans watched the American League Browns, in Sportsman Park, beat the New York Yankees for the pennant 1 October 1944.  This made the World Series an all-St. Louis affair against the Cardinals.  Truman was there watching as the Cardinals won their fifth world crown.  The Yankees won it in 1943 against the Cardinals.

As most people are aware, the baseball racial barrier was not broken until 1947 when Jackie Robinson walked out on the field, so during WWII there were two Negro leagues.  (As they were called back in the day.)  Out of Hometown, Pennsylvania, “Josh” Gibson and Walter Johnson dominated the games.  In the Washington Griffith Stadium, he had the long-ball hitter record of 563 feet, (Babe Ruth’s record was 550’) and a .541 batting average in 1943.

Rockford Peaches - 1944

Rockford Peaches – 1944

And, we cannot close this section of baseball without mentioning the AAGPBL – the All-American Professional Baseball League, also known as the “lipstick league.”  They were the “Girls of Summer” depicted in the newspapers as “Queens of Swat” and “Belles of the Ball Game.”  They referred to each other by nicknames like: ‘Jeep,’ ‘Flash,’ ‘Pepper’ and ‘Moe.”  The league premiered in 1943 and

Dorothy Kamenshak

Dorothy Kamenshak

would last for 12 years.  There were 545 female athletes that made up the ten teams and their popularity would eventually draw a million fans.  These women have been honored by the movie, “A League of Their Own” in 1992 and finally received tribute in the Cooperstown Hall of Fame in 1988.

Young adults (the word “teenager” was not really used back then), used sporting events as a gathering spot for camaraderie among friends and also to help fill the void of adult male influence that was prevalent in so many homes.  In the “Corn Belt,” basketball ranked as the number one sport, but there was also tennis, golf, a tumbling club, fencing and even Ping-Pong clubs.  High school games were even broadcasted on the radio.  The girls would join a Booster Club to be their school’s cheering squad and wearing their boyfriend’s sports jacket was a major status symbol.

Early 1940's - Risen (TX) Football

Early 1940’s – Risen (TX) Football

Not all sports were organized.  Boys played stick ball in the city streets and in the suburbs, a basketball hoop attached to a garage door attracted neighbors.  Church picnics and block parties always included a multitude of games and sports to occupy the younger set.  Communities were kept closely knit that way, like Kerry Corner, the Irish working-class neighborhood not far from Harvard yard.  They organized their own baseball and basketball games.  John “Lefty” Caulfield formed a baseball scholarship program before he enlisted in the Navy because it had done so much for him.  Those that returned from the war became part of the ROMEO Club, (Retired Old Men Eating Out), to maintain those childhood friendships.

Capt. Glen Miller preparing for performance at 1943 Yale Bowl

Capt. Glen Miller preparing for performance at 1943 Yale Bowl

Harry James, better known as a big band leader for the ‘Swing Era’ was also a one-time Detroit Tigers prospect.  He organized his own band into a team, complete with uniforms.  Louise Tobin, singer with many of the big bands, said, “The boys were hired first because they could play baseball; second for their instruments.”  Fellow musicians said you had to have a .300 average to get an audition with Harry.  The band’s manager added, “They carried more equipment for baseball than music…  Another bus on the road would probably be a band and we’d stop and play a game.”  Mr. James gave his all for baseball as captain, pitcher and the heaviest hitter.

For the home front, living during a world war was an experience no one of today’s generation has experienced.  Judy and I have attempted to portray both the hardships they lived through and some of the activities that helped them to endure and be molded into the “Greatest Generation.”  I’m certain I have missed at least a million or so stories out there that are related to the sports of the 40’s, so let’s hear some!!

A great big thank you to gpcox for the research needed to put together this post. I hope you enjoyed it.

Tomorrow, I’ll begin a week of letters written in 1946. Dave’s homecoming is getting closer and closer and so is the arrival of Grandpa’s third grandchild over in France. 

Judy Guion

44 thoughts on “Guest Post – The Role of Sports: WW II by GPCox

  1. Another fine bit of research and writing. My dad talked about playing baseball in the Philippines during a lull in the action. Well, there is also 2019 Cricket World Cup matches line up. So, this month will have a great time to enjoy.

  2. Navin Sharma says:

    I really love this story. Thanks for sharing with us
    This is an awesome post

    • Judy Guion says:

      Navin Sharma – I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for the comment. Why not check out more of GP Cox’s excellent Guest Posts and my regular posts about life for an ordinary family during an extraordinary time.

  3. Sports News says:

    I think this is a standout amongst the most critical data for me. What’s more, i’m happy perusing your article. Be that as it may, ought to comment on some broad things, The site style is flawless, the articles is truly awesome : D. Great job, here’s to you

    • Judy Guion says:

      Sports News – Thank you so much for your comments. It was an honor to share the Guest Posts of GP Cox. GP’s posts were well researched, and if I had personal info about my father or his brothers, I would let her know and she would include that in the posts. It was also neat that our fathers were the same age and entered the service within a few months of each other. Thank you again, Sports News.

  4. Dina says:

    Thank you reposting the high quality work of GP Cox, Judy.
    Sports bring us together, I very much enjoyed this.
    Thanks once again to both of you. x

    • Judy Guion says:

      Dina – Than you for your comments. I was honored when GP agreed to write these posts originally and was very happy to share them again. They truly helped set the tone for my posts about this “Slice of Life” covered by my family’s letters. I’m glad you enjoyed them.

  5. […] via Guest Post – The Role of Sports: WW II by GPCox — “Greatest Generation” Life Lessons […]

  6. Lavinia Ross says:

    Thank you, GP, and Judy!

  7. Loved the story on Harry Jamee.I can see a couple of bands meeting up on the road in their tour busses and stopping off of a quick game of baseball on the local cow pasture. –Curt

  8. I love it! This is an awesome post. Thank you.

    • jaggh53163 says:

      ajeanneinthekitchen – I’m so glad you visited this excellent Guest Post. GP does extraordinary and thorough research for each of her special posts. Why not share these posts with someone you know who would really appreciate this look into the past.

  9. Janet says:

    Reblogged this on Janet's thread and commented:
    Echoes of my childhood. During the War Years I was in elementary school. My beloved brother was in the Navy.

    • jaggh53163 says:

      Janet, Thank you for the re-Blog. I always appreciate someone else helping me to spread the word about life in America during the 1940’s, a time that is fast disappearing from our history books.

    • jaggh53163 says:

      Thank you for the re-Blog, Dave. I appreciate it when others help spread the word about the information I have to share about life for the American family during the 1940’s.

  10. I love how we used to do sports–still do with many teams. That camaraderie–very special.

    • jaggh53163 says:

      Jacqui – Yes, I also enjoy the purer side of sports where money does not have a major influence. I actually enjoy watching college sports on TV much more than professionals.

  11. Thank you for the research. Useful to know. Michael

  12. Dan Antion says:

    Another fine bit of research and writing. My dad talked about playing baseball in the Philippines during a lull in the action.

  13. Jennie says:

    This was delightful! How we came together on the home front through sports is worthy of a gold star. Thank you, GP. And, thank you, Judy. Keep those important stories coming!

  14. beetleypete says:

    Another great trip back to those years, and some perfect images too. Of course, sport of all kinds was useful in maintaining morale on the home front, but also very popular in the services too. My Dad played in the Army Cricket Team all through the war, and inter-service matches were always hotly contested.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  15. GP Cox says:

    [sorry we missed each other when you were here in Fla.]

  16. GP Cox says:

    Thanks, Judy.

  17. GP Cox says:

    Reblogged this on Pacific Paratrooper and commented:
    I hope you are all ready for our Sunday reblog from 5 years ago. Judy has been kind enough to share these with everyone once again!! Say Hi to her over at Greatest Generation Lessons!!

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