Every boy in S.C. an athlete during World War II

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A pilot program begun in 1942 when the United States was in the early stages of World War II was concerned with preparing the country's young men for the armed forces. South Carolina entered a national program designed to prepare "100,000 high school and college boys for the hardships and dangers of war."

In August of 1942 an article written by Davenport Steward was published by the National Education Association outlining a nationwide program designed to prepare youth for entry into military service. It was noted that South Carolina was the first state in the Union to establish a physical hardening program for its young male population. The director and the initiator of this program was A. Paul McLeod, head football coach at Furman University in Greenville.

Coach "Dizzy" McLeod held a clinic at which 43 coaches and physical education instructors from across the state "underwent two weeks of intensive schooling in the famed toughening system originated for the Navy by Lt. Comdr. Thomas J. Hamilton. McLeod, who outlined South Carolina's War Emergency Program, was an ardent admirer of the Hamilton system, which instilled the "coordination, balance and timing so necessary for flyers, in particular."

One of the mistakes made in the past, according to McLeod, was developing football players and basically ignoring the remainder of the male student body. According to McLeod, "from now on we're going to take care of the 100 percent, not the 10 percent interested in football and other competitive sports. ... I don't think football ever again will be what it was before the war. I may be talking myself out of a job as football coach boosting this program, but I'm interested in getting our boys ready for whatever lies in the future. The 100 percent, not just the 10 percent, will win the war."

"McLeod does not refer to the program as compulsory, but the fact is (that) all physically sound Palmetto State male high school and college students, white and black, are going to be given a modified dose of the Navy's pre-flight training. Like it or not, they'll engage in competitive sports. They'll learn the elements of tumbling, boxing and man-to-man combat. They're going to play football, for example, not just because it's a good sport but because this sport, like many others, instills the will to win."

McLeod stated that the ultimate objective of the program devised by the Navy's pre-flight schools was to instill both mental and physical toughness and engage the will to win in sports and war. The program was designed to be integrated into school curricula and to utilize existing facilities. The high school would soon expand class offerings to include military clubs, civil defense activities and sports such as boxing. Shaw Field began to take an active role in providing materials and instruction to the fledgling military program. McLeod also pointed out that the director and his assistants would receive no extra pay. Plans were to offer the conditioning program to each of the 46 counties of South Carolina. The committee hoped that other states would soon follow the example of South Carolina.

Some photos on this page illustrate some of the activities recommended to high schools for self-conditioning in preparation for military service.

The information and photos for this article were obtained from The Sumter Item archives as well as the public.

Reach Sumter Item Archivist Sammy Way at waysammy@yahoo.com.