March 12, 2002

Student letters help make Thorpe cereal-box champ


Author: Karen Klinka, The Oklahoman

DALE — Students at J.D. Jackson Elementary School in Dale think they are among the hundreds of young letter writers who persuaded General Mills to put Jim Thorpe’s likeness on Wheaties cereal boxes.

Grace Thorpe, 80, daughter of the legendary Oklahoma-born athlete, says the Dale students may be right.

Thorpe of Prague said officials with Wheaties’ maker, General Mills, told her the large number of letters they received from Dale students was the deciding factor in picking her father to be a Wheaties champion.

Jim Thorpe’s Wheaties cover was unveiled Nov. 20 during a ceremony in Jim Thorpe, Pa., where the athlete is buried, she said.

“People have brought me boxes of Wheaties with his picture on it, but I still haven’t been able to get one at our grocery store in Prague,” she said. “But the store manager there said he’d call me as soon as he gets some in.”

Last year, Lyn Cox’s fifth-grade language arts classes in Dale — west of Shawnee in Pottawatomie County — decided to write to General Mills to ask the company to honor Jim Thorpe.

Cox said the class effort was part of a writing project she has students do each spring.

The 10- and 11-year-olds researched Jim Thorpe’s life and accomplishments, and some students attended a talk at the school by Jack Thorpe, the late athlete’s son.

About 50 students participated, and each wrote a letter May 7 to mail to the Minneapolis cereal company.

The students used various selling points in their letters.

“He may be dead, but everyone wants to be on a box of Wheaties,” wrote Drew West, who added, “I eat Wheaties!”

Toni Anderson used the direct approach: “I think he should be on a box of Wheaties, and everybody would probably buy the box to collect it. Maybe they would frame it.”

Misty R. Mills ladled on a little guilt: “You have put people on that haven’t accomplished as much as him.”

Kristi Burton was even more pointed: “And he was a great athlete, too, not just those phony bologna athletes.”

In closing, Burton dangled an incentive: “I’ll even buy two boxes.”

Cox said the children were thrilled when they received a response from General Mills in June.

“Selecting a Wheaties Champion has never been an easy task, especially in a country graced with so many outstanding athletes,” wrote Susan Leonard of General Mills Consumer Services.

“It’s through communications such as yours that we become aware of concerns and preferences of our consumers.”

Jim Thorpe, who died in 1953, joins more than 75 other “Breakfast of Champions” honorees, including Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Babe Didrikson, Jackie Robinson, Walter Payton, Muhammad Ali, Mary Lou Retton, Michael Jordon, Cal Ripken Jr. and Tiger Woods.

In 1912, Thorpe became the only Olympian ever to win the decathlon and the pentathlon. The Olympic committee later stripped him of his medals because he had played semiprofessional baseball.

In the early 1980s, the Olympic committee returned his medals and restored his name to the record books.

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