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Bats, Balls, Nets & Hoops: Stories of Sports in Brooklyn

The history of sports in Brooklyn provides an intriguing window on enduring issues in American history, from civil rights to urbanization.

Using case studies examining baseball legend Jackie Robinson, 1940s African-American track star Mary DeSaussure Sobers, Prospect Park as a locus of play and basketball’s roots in Brooklyn long before the Nets, these lessons will build upon children’s fascination with sports to explore the way athletics have always been more than simple games.

Why Study Sports?

Sports are a fundamental part of the human experience. The urge to play, to organize, to make rules, compete and push the limits of the mind and body are age-old, which makes the study of sports and athletics a compelling entry point through which to engage young people in the study of history.

Understanding considerations of leisure time, physical space, and urban development are essential to any discussion about sports in Brooklyn. Stoop ball, stick ball, hand ball, basketball, skateboarding, and more can all be seen as creative solutions to urban space issues. A certain Brooklyn ingenuity and fierce competitive spirit was born and bred on the streets where children made due with asphalt when there was no grass, and used their hands and feet, as well as sticks and lampposts when there was little money for any sort of equipment.

Connections to Standards

Bats, Balls, Nets & Hoops: Stories of Sports in Brooklyn connects to curriculum guidelines established by the New York City K–8 Social Studies Scope and Sequence and addresses several thematic strands identified by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), including Culture; Time, Continuity & Change; Individual Development & Identity; and Individuals, Groups & Institutions.

Bats, Balls, Nets & Hoops includes:

  • Primary and secondary materials from the BHS collection and other archives, including photographs, newspaper and magazine articles and oral history transcripts.
  • An oral history CD to let students to hear first-hand from people who are a part of Brooklyn’s unique history.
  • Critical thinking questions and document-analysis activities to help students observe, question, analyze and interpret the material.
  • A Teacher’s Guide, with lesson plans, historical background information, time lines, teaching ideas, guiding questions, extension activities, and reproducible activity sheets.

Oral History Interviews

Albert Vann (1:22)

Albert Vann was born and raised in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, He graduated from Franklin K. Lane High School, and went on to work in schools as both a teacher and an administrator. From 1974 to 2001, Vann represented Bedford-Stuyvesant in the New York State Assembly. In 2001, he was elected to serve on the New York City Council, where as of 2012 he continues to represent Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights.

Albert Vann (1:22)

Albert Vann was born and raised in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, He graduated from Franklin K. Lane High School, and went on to work in schools as both a teacher and an administrator. From 1974 to 2001, Vann represented Bedford-Stuyvesant in the New York State Assembly. In 2001, he was elected to serve on the New York City Council, where as of 2012 he continues to represent Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights.

George “Shotgun” Shuba (1:52)

https://bklynhistory.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/Shuba_Robinson.mp3

George “Shotgun” Shuba was born in December 13, 1924, in Youngstown, Ohio. He joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1948 and played with the team until 1955. In this interview with Brooklyn Historical Society, he talks about his teammate, Jackie Robinson, the first African American person to play major-league baseball.

Irwin Fenichel (1:48)

https://bklynhistory.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/BHS_Fenichel_2010.mp3

Irwin Fenichel was born on March 13, 1937, in Brownsville, Brooklyn. In this interview with Brooklyn Historical Society, Fenichel talks about being a Brooklyn Dodgers fan in the 1940s and 1950s and described the response to Jackie Robinson joining the Dodgers team.

Susan Horowitz (0:38)

https://bklynhistory.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/BHS_Horowitz_2010.mp3

Susan Horowitz was born on October 18, 1949, and grew up in Brooklyn near Ebbets Field, the home stadium for the Brooklyn Dodgers. In this interview with Brooklyn Historical Society, Horowitz talks about her favorite Dodgers player, Jackie Robinson.

Mary DeSaussure Sobers (8:11)

https://bklynhistory.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/BHS_Sobers_2009.mp3

Mary DeSaussure Sobers was born on December 22, 1931 in Eutaville, South Carolina. She grew up with her parent and twin sister, Martha, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. Mary’s entry into her first track-and-field competition was unplanned. She finished first in the 40-yard dash, but when the medals were handed to the winners, Mary was given a silver medal instead of gold. This race would be the first of many for Mary.

Alan Fishman (2:41)

https://bklynhistory.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/Fishman_2008.mp3

Alan Fishman is a Brooklyn native. Born in 1946, he grew up on Washington Avenue, just across the street from the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, and played basketball at Erasmus Hall High School in Flatbush. During this interview, Fishman shared the life lessons he has learned from sports.

Albert King (3:13)

https://bklynhistory.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/King_2009.mp3

Albert King was born in Fort Greene, Brooklyn in 1959. He attended Fort Hamilton High School and the University of Maryland on an athletic scholarship before being drafted to play in the National Basketball Association.

Thanks to Our Partners

Bats, Balls, Nets & Hoops: Stories of Sports in Brooklyn and forthcoming curriculum kit have been made possible by generous funding from Barclays/Nets Community Alliance.

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