By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
J.W. McIntosh’s inspiration as a 6-year-old has grown into a display of collectibles.
McIntosh has put together about 200 pieces of sports memorabilia honoring many notable and some forgotten Native American athletes and has it on display this month at the Muskogee Public Library.
“My dad took me to drive-in movie about Jim Thorpe that was filmed here in Muskogee at Bacone College,” said McIntosh, 58 and a Tahlequah resident. “I remember him always talking about Jim Thorpe, how he wanted me to grow up to be like Jim Thorpe. And I remember how I sat up in the back seat of our car and was really captivated by that movie.”
“Jim Thorpe, All-American” was released in 1951.
“I just grew to appreciate it from a standpoint of heritage and the impact that Native Americans have had in sports,” he said. “I’ve spent probably the last 30 years collecting various items.”
Many of the items on display are items that honor Thorpe, a professional football standout and Olympic star from the early 20th century, ranging from cereal boxes to magazines, photos and cards.
“I played some sports along the way but I remember Thorpe attending boarding school growing up and I could especially relate to that,” said McIntosh. He attended Seneca Boarding School, which was located near Wyandotte, for a year and later moved to Hulbert before spending his senior year at Foyil where he played baseball.
A 1981 graduate of Northeastern State University, McIntosh didn’t play college sports but did play semi-pro baseball — something Thorpe also did for $60 a month and which, ironically, led to the loss of his gold medals in the decathlon and pentathlon at the 1912 Olympics. Those medals were returned to his family posthumously in 1982.
“He’s one of the greatest inspirations to our athletes today,” McIntosh said.
Others, perhaps less known for their Indian heritage, are also honored with collectibles. Bart Starr, former Green Bay Packers quarterback and NFL Hall of Famer, was part Cherokee. Ex-Cincinnati Reds catcher Johnny Bench, himself a Hall of Famer, was one-eighth Choctaw.
There’s also some more modern honorees, such as Sam Bradford, a Cherokee and Heisman Trophy winning quarterback from the University of Oklahoma, now a rookie with the St. Louis Rams.
Also this month, McIntosh, a retired clinical social worker with the Cherokee Nation, says he will localize the exhibit with items recognizing Indian Jack Jacobs, a Muskogee native and one-time standout at Oklahoma in football, the 1952 Bacone College Junior Rose Bowl team, tennis player Tom McSpadden, archer Joe Thornton of Tahlequah, Jeff Turtle, a Sequoyah High School baseball and softball coach who played baseball and Bacone and later at Kansas State, among others.