An Irish legend and a selfless patriot

Chevigny in middle of ‘Gipper’ lore

Jeff Carroll, Tribune Staff Writer

Editor’s Note: This week, Major League’s All-Star Game comes to Yankee Stadium for the last time. “The House That Ruth Built” is scheduled for demolition after the 2008 season. Home to countless World Series games and title fights, Yankee Stadium was also the site of several classic Notre Dame football games and moments. This week, the Tribune takes a deeper look at three of them.

The invasion had been in the works for many months. Like anything else in this second great war, securing the island of Iwo Jima, about 650 miles south of mainland Japan in the Pacific Ocean, was not going to be easy. There would be tremendous losses.

So in the latter part of 1944, the United States armed forces had gone to work. For 74 days, planes pelted the Japanese strategic stronghold with bombs, attempting to soften the island’s defenses. Previously, spy planes had been able to give the military a good gauge of what it would be dealing with: 21,000 Japanese troops, occupying about 600 gun positions, all of it under the protective banner of vast caves and other underground tunnels and bunkers.

All of that work came to a head on Feb. 19, 1945. In the early morning, two large U.S. Marine divisions stormed the beach. After a relatively quiet beginning, they suddenly found themselves surrounded by an unrelenting assault of enemy fire.

Marines took refuge in bomb craters carved out of the island’s volcanic ash beachfront. And so it was that two college football luminaries, Minnesota All-American Sonny Franck and Notre Dame’s Jack Chevigny, found themselves sharing a tight space several feet underground. Like thousands of other Marines, the pair clung to dear life.

Suddenly, Franck was overcome by a hunch, a bad feeling about the spot where he and Chevigny had hunkered down. Franck waited for an opening, then climbed out of the hole, sprinting to a location closer to where the landing had taken place.

Chevigny, the co-author of Notre Dame’s most famous football legend, opted to stay put.

‘I’ve got to go now, Rock’

In 1928, 17 years before the U.S. invasion of Iwo Jima, Notre Dame found itself in the middle of its worst season under legendary coach Knute Rockne. Since taking over the program in 1918, Rockne had been able to successfully navigate graduation losses and keep churning out national title contenders. In 1928, however, even Rockne’s magic touch couldn’t lift a team in major transition. The Irish had suffered two ugly defeats in the early-going, falling 22-6 to Wisconsin and 13-0 to Georgia Tech.

The team’s prospects, therefore, looked more than bleak as it prepared to travel to Yankee Stadium to face undefeated powerhouse Army on Nov. 10.

Regardless, two days before the game, a New York City columnist conjured for fans the memory of the great George Gipp, the Irish star of the 1919 and 1920 games against Army who had died of an illness following the 1920 season. A couple of days later, on the day of the game, a columnist at another paper in the city followed suit, writing a sanitized biography of Gipp, actually quite a mischief maker in his day.

A seed had been planted.

With 78,000 fans crammed into the palace in the Bronx, which had at that time been standing for less than a decade, Notre Dame and Army played to a 0-0 halftime tie.

Historians have long debated exactly what happened next. Regardless of the specific words that Rockne spoke, and the veracity of the source material, the subject matter of his halftime speech clearly roused his players.

As the Irish gathered around him in the Yankee Stadium locker room at intermission, Rockne began to tell them the story of George Gipp. How he had run rampant against Army in two thrilling Notre Dame victories. How he had fallen ill shortly after his college career had ended. And, most importantly, how on his deathbed, the ailing football star had called his old coach close to relate to him his most ardent dying wish.

Though it was almost certainly pumped up considerably for Rockne’s ghostwritten 1931 autobiography, the words long ascribed to the coach have earned as indelible a place in American culture as the lyrics to “Johnny B. Goode.”

“I’ve got to go now, Rock,” Rockne told his players Gipp said as he neared his dying breaths. “It’s all right. I’m not afraid. Some time, Rock, when the team is up against it and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go out and win just one for the Gipper. I don’t know where I’ll be then, Rock, but I’ll know about it and I’ll be happy.”

‘One for the Gipper!’

Even the skeptics in the press box, historians have written, were impressed by the energy Notre Dame showed as the second half moved along.

Army scored first, going up 6-0 on a short run. Soon after, however, Notre Dame’s Chevigny would celebrate his way into college football history.

The Irish offense, which had struggled to move the ball against its other major opponents, suddenly came to life. After a few plays, Notre Dame advanced the ball inside the Army 3-yard line. On fourth down, the carry went to Chevigny. He bulled his way across the goal line and according to the legend, shouted, “That’s one for the Gipper!”

Notre Dame would go on to win the game 12-6, one of the great upsets in school history. Two days later, when New York Daily News columnist Francis Wallace wrote about Rockne’s halftime speech, the game found a permanent place in American sports lore.

On the fast track

After ending his playing career, Chevigny went into coaching, taking a position on the Notre Dame staff after Rockne’s death.

“I think he was on the fast track to be the coach at Notre Dame eventually,” says Jeff Walker, a Texas high school football coach who has written a piece on Chevigny for the August issue of the Marine Corps magazine Leatherneck and is also working on a full-length Chevigny biography. “It would have taken a while, but I think it would have happened.

Instead, bad blood grew between Chevigny and Notre Dame head coach Hunk Anderson, and Chevigny decided to leave his alma mater and blaze his own coaching trail. He coached the Chicago Cardinals of the National Football League for one year. Eventually, he became the head coach at the University of Texas.

Chevigny’s second game at Texas was his finest coaching hour. Taking the Longhorns to South Bend for the first meeting between the schools in nearly 20 years, Chevigny’s team defeated Notre Dame 7-6.

Unfortunately for Chevigny, the rest of his tenure at Texas didn’t go quite as smoothly. After three seasons and a sub-.500 record, he was fired.

After leaving Texas, Chevigny spent some time in the oil business before returning home to Indiana. Soon after, World War II broke out. In response to the need for more men, the United States increased the draft eligible age to 36. A bachelor with no dependents, Chevigny was drafted into the Army in 1943. He eventually was able to earn a reassignment to the Marine Corps, and was assigned to a base in North Carolina.

There, Chevigny resumed his coaching career. Taking over a base squad that had lost its first two games in the fall of 1944, Chevigny coached his men to several victories before the end of the season, including one over Duke University. In fact, he could have stayed at the base and likely avoided a deployment overseas.

“(But) he sees himself as a leader at that point,” Walker says. “He rediscovers his vision quest. He says, ‘I want to go overseas. We’re sending boys over there. I’m a leader. I need to be there.’”

Which is how Jack Chevigny, hero of the famed “Win one for the Gipper” game at Yankee Stadium, found himself alone in a crater on the sands of Iwo Jima.

Complete confidence

Chevigny’s role in the invasion was that of a communications liaison between the fourth and fifth divisions of the 27th Marine Regiment. But as Japanese fire rained down, Chevigny could only huddle for some kind of cover.

Franck, the former University of Minnesota star, hopped from the space he spared with Chevigny and found another, safer crater. Within moments, he heard an explosion behind him. Before the invasion of Iwo Jima was complete, 6,821 American Marines would meet their death. At that moment, Jack Chevigny became one of them.

Within days, the American forces would secure the island, killing nearly all 21,000 Japanese soldiers in the process. The victory was immortalized by Joe Rosenthal’s Associated Press photograph of six Americans raising the U.S. flag.

Dying with Chevigny was the last connection to the major portions of the Gipper game legend. In the decades since, historians have combed the various threads of the story skeptically, trying to sort truth from myth making of the day. But Walker, whose research on Chevigny is extensive, believes that his subject did indeed dedicate his tying touchdown to Gipp as he crossed the Bronx goal line.

There is much evidence that Rockne’s speech, Walker explains, affected Chevigny deeply. When he brought his Texas team to play Notre Dame in 1934, he borrowed liberally from it in his own pregame speech, explaining to his Longhorn players that his own dying father had told him to ask his players to beat Notre Dame for him. The official in the 1928 contest, Walter Eckersall, was also a journalist of the time, and Walker believes he was close enough to the action to hear Chevigny shout — and had the journalistic instinct to make a mental note of it.

Finally, Chevigny wasn’t usually the sentimental sort.

“A tough player, a no-nonsense coach, a life of the party, a lieutenant who could laugh with colonels, a guy who could get things done,” Walker says. “A guy who could walk away without hesitation from the sport that made him. (You’d think) Chevigny may have cared less about a fable from Yankee Stadium.”

Except, it turned out, he did.

When Walker examined a Chevigny family scrapbook a few years ago, he discovered among all the random clippings, four cohesive pages, pasted front-and-back with clippings from the Yankee Stadium contest.

It wasn’t the “smoking gun” he has always pursued, but it was just one more piece of strong circumstantial evidence of how important winning one for the Gipper was for Jack Chevigny. Important enough to have him shouting for joy as he crossed the goal line?

“I have complete confidence,” Walker says of Chevigny’s celebratory shout, “that it happened.”

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IB program sparks Eisenhower renaissance

Teachers use grant to visit Italy, research works of famous Renaissance artists to share with school’s IB students

Greg Densmore
The North Edition Leader

Thanks to a recent Fund for Teachers grant, Eisenhower High School teachers Mari Glamser and Michael Ann Kelley were able to bring their passion for teaching and learning to Europe in a move designed to take the school’s Renaissance Experience Installation program to a higher level.

Glamser and Kelley were among 107 teachers from 67 schools to receive individual Fund for Teachers grants to travel and learn this summer. The Eisenhower duo visited Italy and researched the works of famous Renaissance artists to share with their students.

A large majority of their students come from low socio-economic backgrounds, and most are considered at-risk of not earning their high school diplomas. Given the circumstances, Glamser and Kelley have devoted themselves to helping their students develop a “love of the game,” rather than simply spending their class time “teaching to the test.” To that end, the two joined forces to create the Renaissance Experience Installation, an offshoot of Eisenhower’s fledgling International Baccalaureate program.

Both Glamser, who teaches social studies, and Kelley, who teaches art, are IB instructors at Eisenhower. The IB Diploma Program is comprised of a challenging two-year curriculum in which students learn more than a collection of facts. Instead, students are encouraged to “learn how to learn” by asking challenging questions and developing the ability to communicate and understand people from other countries and cultures.

“In visual arts, we wanted our students to do more than just simple copy work,” said Kelley. “We wanted to push them a little further and put the work of Renaissance artists like Michelangelo, Raphael and Bernini into their hands, and thus provide them with a global connection to what art really means.”

That “global connection” involved the Eisenhower teachers taking their two-week excursion to Italy in early June. They spent six days in Florence, researching the three David sculptures created by Michelangelo, Donatello and Verrochio. From there, they traveled to Milan to study Leonardo’s “Last Supper,” and then spent six days in Rome researching Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistene Chapel, Raphael’s “The School of Athens,” Bernini’s “David” and Michelangelo’s “Pieta” and “Moses” sculptures.

“These were all foundation pieces our kids should know,” said Kelley.

The study of these pieces will serve as the foundation for the duo’s Renaissance Experience Installation program, according to Glamser. As part of the cross-cultural program, Eisenhower has allocated a room that teachers and students will transform into a Renaissance Gallery to analyze and create works of art, and foster the passion for learning.

“The kids will also do their own research and give tours during an exhibition,” said Glamser.

The two teachers also collected work by modern artists such as Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol that were inspired by – and played homage to – the work of Michelangelo and Botticelli, respectively.

“We hope this will show them how great artists are inspired by other great artists,” said Kelley. “We don’t want them to just copy someone’s work.”

Their trip to Italy was a boost; both intellectually and spiritually, said Kelley.

“It was a wonderful way to mold my career and the artwork,” she said. “And spiritually, it was me going back to the motherland.”

During their travels, the pair visited the well-known haunts such as the Cathedral of Milan, the Spanish Steps, St. Peter in Chains, the Vatican Museum and the Trevi Fountain. But it was side trips to small churches and other sites that really impressed them.

“We visited every little church we saw,” said Kelley. “And you could practically find one on every corner. We were surprised to find out how many relics they held, relics that are not publicized.”

The Eisenhower duo stayed in rented apartments, rather than hotels, and thus “hung out with Italians” instead of other tourists, said Glamser.

“We got to call our own shots, pick our own agenda and choose our own guides,” she said. “That’s why we love the Fund for Teachers grants. Your ideas are honored so much. You write up your dream and then – there it is.”

Other Leader-area educators awarded Fund for Teachers grants included:

  • Brenda Parish, Carmichael Elementary, Aldine ISD; grant to explore the art of African storytelling to discover the impact it has on the students’ overall academic and personal success.
  • Amber Aubrey and Constance Fontenot, Bethune Academy, Aldine ISD; grant to glean evidence of culture, and study characteristics of Chinese gardens and performances to assist in the education of students, staff, and community.
  • Bradley Quentin, Stevenson Elementary, Houston ISD; grant to study the geology, flora, and fauna of New Zealand’s diverse ecosystems and create multimedia instructional units based on our travels.
  • Stephanie Witherspoon, Hamilton Middle School, Houston ISD; grant to attend the Global Conference on Educational Robotics in Oklahoma followed by two courses on robotics at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon National Robotics Engineering Center.
  • David Church, Oak Forest Elementary, and Angela Apte, Travis Elementary, Houston ISD; grant to collect primary source materials from the peace and equality movements fostered by Gandhi and Mandela in South Africa, and influential M. L. King.
  • Neda Khan, Black Middle School, Houston ISD; grant to travel to Italy and Greece to explore classical art forms of the ancient Roman and Greek empires, while studying contemporary European art.

Adventure in China: Woodlands teachers bring back culture, lessons

THE WOODLANDS – It’s a world away, but one Woodlands teacher found things aren’t so different in China.

Kassia Micek, Courier staff

During a month-long visit to the country, Constance Fontenot, a science teacher from The Woodlands, and Amber Aubrey, a drama teacher, gathered evidence of Chinese culture and globalization to bring back to their students at Aldine Independent School District’s Bethune Academy, a magnet school that serves nearly 550 third- and fourth-graders.

“There are certain things you find no matter where you are, and we want to put that in our culture box,” Fontenot said.

The two teachers brought back items purchased at Wal-Mart and placemats from Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald’s that students should recognize even though the packaging is in a different language.

The idea for the trip started after students learned Aubrey started her teaching career in Wuhan, China.

“The kids were always asking about China and asking her to speak in Chinese, so we wanted to go there and bring all this back to them,” Fontenot said.

The duo, who work together in the academy’s Fine Arts Department, lived with a family in Wuhan, China, saw what life was like in a small town at Yangshuo and watched performances in LiJiang, all in search of materials such as traditional instruments, music, costumes, art and dance videos, to create a school-wide performance on China once back at school.

Fontenot, who is in charge of the academy’s Garden Club, and Aubrey also visited gardens.

“We checked gardens everywhere we went and flowers, so we knew what kind of vegetables they had so we knew what seeds to buy so we could plant a Chinese garden at our school,” Fontenot said.

The voyage was made possible with a $10,000 Fund for Teachers grant.

“We give grants to individual teachers to pursue professional development,” Karen Kovach-Webb, National Fund for Teachers executive director, said. “They tell us what they need in their classroom and how they intend to share it with their students.

“What we provide them more than anything is the opportunity to pursue learning.” To learn more about Fund for Teachers, visit