Monday, February 12, 2007

Geography Baseball at Sears School

While casting around for subjects to write about some time back I thought that I would write about a game that we played in Jr. High, Geography Baseball. I did the obligatory Google Search and was surprised to find that exists and further that the proprietor of the site claims to have “invented” the game and has trademarked the name. I was a little shocked by that because the man who “invented” the game of Geography Baseball has been dead for some time now. The bio of the alleged “inventor” of the game,” Robert A. Pierce says that he started his teaching career in 1969. The Social Studies teacher I had during both seventh and eighth grade was the late Robert Karp and we played Geography Baseball during the ’71-‘72 and ’72-‘73 school years. Mr. Karp had been playing the game with his students at Joseph Sears School for over a decade by the time I came along. While searching for anything concerning Mr. Karp on the web I found that my Sears School classmate Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) (here’s Mark’s blog) had submitted Mr. Karp’s name as his most memorable teacher for the National Educational Association’s National Teacher Day last May. Mark’s quote is great:

"Mr. Karp invented 'Geography Baseball' and turned it into a right of passage in our town. We memorized the locations of Georgia (then in the Soviet Union), Goa (in India) and the Gobi desert (in China). It sparked an interest to see each of these places and to understand America's role in the world. I have seen each one and am now working to expand language and exchange opportunities for all American students. Mr. Karp has passed away, but I carried his legacy as a nursery school assistant, middle school teacher, and now as a congressman."

I’m glad that Mark got Mr. Karp’s name out onto the internet as the inventor of the game although it is probably something that Mr. Karp would not have taken credit for. Anyways, here is how we played the game Geography Baseball At Joseph Sears School starting sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s.

The game was played on Fridays in Mr. Karp’s classroom, the classroom contained large pull-down maps on three walls; all of the maps were pulled down on game day, after school and during lunch time for studying. Each class was divided into two evenly matched teams and each class was given two lists of geographical points (city, town, mountain, river…) and as the season progressed different classes got differing lists each week. The first list was for “Singles”, an obvious play on the “baseball” theme of the game and consisted of 50 relatively easy places to find on one of the maps. The second list contained 50 spots representing “Doubles”, another transparent riff on Major League Baseball and those were more difficult places. Both lists got more difficult during the two years that we played the game, some “Doubles” migrated to the “Singles” lists but both required study each week.

When the game started each team divided into sides of the classroom and sat according to the “order” that the week’s “manager” had written on their “scorecard” and turned in to the “Umpire”, “Commissioner” and all around Grand Poobah, Mr. Karp. It is worth noting that the randomness of baseball was introduced into the game by Mr. Karp through his “on the field rulings” that were often arbitrary; for instance one could be called out for touching the map too hard or by not touching the map and both were potentially arbitrary. Just like in the game of baseball the rulings sometimes stole a line smash.
To begin the game the “visitor” team would send their first “batter” to “the plate” by having that student walk up in front of the class and behind Mr. Karp’s desk. When the student was in the “batters box” Mr. Karp would ask a question from the singles list and the student had a limited amount of time to walk over to a map and point at the place in question. Another bit of randomness was that the better students had much less time on the easy ones. At that point the “batter” has a choice of taking “first base” or going back up to “the plate” to try their hand at the “doubles” list. The same rules applied to the doubles questions except that “rulings on the field” were likely to be even more stringent. I think that the player is out if the “doubles” attempt is a failure. If the “batter” is successful at “the plate” again the student has another choice of taking second or attempting a “triple”. A “triple” could be attained by standing in front of the classroom and accurately reciting a report on a current event without verbally stumbling. The “Homerun” consisted of bizarrely out of the way spots that were both obscure and difficult to find on a map, these “homeruns” came from a “secret list”, parts of which were occasionally “left” on Mr. Karp’s desk so that we could see what we were up against. Naturally the normal rules of baseball applied as far as advancing runners, scoring runs, outs per side and the number of “innings”.

Mark was correct to describe Geography Baseball was a right of passage in our town and frankly a pretty good one. The game made the rather dull task of memorizing geographic locales and turned it into a game that also included socializing as part of the studying process (all of us had an atlas but none of us had pull-down maps at home) and even included some public speaking. The game was eventually discontinued at Joseph Sears due to the complaints of some vocal parents that their children were spending too much time preparing for geography. Years later many of us learned that Mr. Karp had been a fighter pilot in the Pacific during World War II, that tidbit explained why we all had to know the name of damn near every island and atoll in that ocean. Flying Debris referred to Mr. Robert Karp here.

As to the gentleman who has trademarked the game I must ask you to take care of the game that so many of us played years ago, it is a great game and motivator.

Thanks to Dr. Sanity and her Carnival of Insanities for linking to this post about a great learning game.

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Blogger Robin Kirk said...

I'm Mark's sister and I also remember Geo Baseball. When my daughter was in 4th grade at EK Powe elementary school in Durham, NC, I taught it to her and her classmates -- what fun!

8:22 PM  
Blogger El Rider said...

Hi Robin,
Thanks for stopping by. It’s great that you have passed Geography Baseball on to your daughter and her friends and I am sure that they are enjoying the game and learning from it. I am glad that you and others are following the Hrant Dink situation; that is a path that Turkey should not go down. I live outside of Mark’s district but I have supported him, including putting a “Kirk for Congress” sign on my (former home’s) front lawn just outside of Wrigley Field. There were a lot of people stuck in traffic after games who may have realized that Mark had supporters well outside of his district. The only other times that I have posted on our hometown and its people was on the passing of WWII hero Art Barton. Best of luck to you and your family.

7:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I, too, am a veteran of the 71-72, 72-73 seasons of Geography Baseball at Karp Park. I, too, "was surprised to find that exists and further that the proprietor of the site claims to have “invented” the game and has trademarked the name." But not nearly as surprised as I was to see your blog, El Rider!
You've described the game well (A-). Herewith corrections to the more egregious errors.
We used six Singles Lists and two Doubles Lists, the same, both years. Each list had three columns of 33 or 34 names of places or geographic features. A student could "merely" memorize 33 or 34 Singles each week and let it go at that. (S/he'd be called on to find ("bat") maybe four or five of them on any given Friday.) Going for a Double was optional; it meant memorizing another column of places/features, but those 33/34 would be used for three consecutive weeks. Just to clarify.
What you've called "on-field rulings" were Automatic Outs. They had different functions. Being called out for touching a map when finding a place may seem arbitrary, but considering how many times particular places would get the finger, as it were, this rule saved a lot of mapstock. On the other hand, the one time good ol' Charlie Weber -- who always went for a Triple with his eyes closed -- gave a current event with eyes open and was called out ...
You didn't mention the "bases," which were at the corners of the rectangle formed by the chairs' layout (home, though, being the teacher's desk.) There'd be some excitement toward the end of the game (unlike baseball, there was the ubiquitous clock on the wall) when the bags would be loaded and a manager would tell his team, "Just go for Singles!" (Another point: only Managers could talk during the game, except for Batters.)
And let's remember, there was an All-Star game between the best among Karp's classes and the best from Goodson's.
And finally ... all of the places/features were outside of the Lower 48. (My dad served in the Pacific, and he, too, noticed how many atolls made the Lists.)

To get back to that geo-b-o-dotcom ... "The game that's sweeping classrooms across America and getting kid's [sic] interested in Geography," they say at their site. We had Custodians, we didn't sweep our stinking classrooms with Singles/Doubles Lists! They have appropriated the name, but not the format used by the Kenesaw Mountain Landis of Geo B-O. WHAT I WAS WONDERING when I googled your way was, is their a computer simulation of the original game? Can kids sit at a computer, be asked to find, say, Goa, and do so by calling up a map of Asia, bringing up India, and clicking on one of x number of cities shown -- within 15, 20 seconds? Can they study for this sort of thing (with Google Earth!) by "looking up" 33 or 34 places, pinpointing them on a computer map, removing the pins, going back and running a cursor over the correct locations?
There's probably something like that, eh? Well, I'll google on.

P.S. A "right of passage" is what permits ships to pass through the Strait of Malacca; geo b-o was, some might say -- and apparently do -- a rite of passage.

1:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Such fun. I played geogragphy baseball in Karp's social studies class in 1959-1960. I still love maps. Something though about Mr. Karp that it my mind surpasses geography baseball was the fact that for many years at the end of the term he took a group of boys on a canoe trip into the Quetico Provincial Park. Talk about a rite of passage. The boys went wild. I still go to the Quetico. That man was a saint, but with a temper.

2:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Robert Karp was my uncle. I remember his stories about being a Navy pilot in world war 2. He flew a Hell cat on bombing raids over Japan.

I remember the game also. What a great way to get kids to learn something they otherwise would never have an interest in doing. We need more like him today. Judy Jesse

4:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must stop my days' labors and also add my name to this list of people who very fondly remember playing Geography Baseball at Joseph Sears which I attended from Kindergarten through 8th grade. In fact my fondest memories of that school are playing that wonderful game- I think it was 1964 and 1965 as a 7th & 8th grader. I still have some of the original singles and doubles lists- have edited some of them and played the game with a large collection of young homeschooled kids a few years ago. I have my own collection of maps (not as good as Mr. Karps) and stand ready to ressurect the game for the pleasiure and profit of any young people who will play it.
I honor Robert Karps memory (who was a little gruff but very kind to me)by never failing to mention his name in connection with the game whenever the sunject arises.. and apparently it has not been lost to memory of a goodly number of people. Thomas D. Church

12:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happened upon your blog today, over five years since you posted it, so please pardon the very late comment.

I will always remember very fondly the Friday afternoon Geography Baseball games in Mr. Karp's social studies class during my 7th and 8th grade years at Joseph Sears School in 1967 and 1968. I won't repeat details of the game that you and others have already covered, but did want to mention that during those years Mr. Karp tought social studies to three 7th grade classes and three 8th grade classes, with something like 25 kids in each class. Each class had a game each Friday, and toward the end of the school year I recall that there was an All Star Game within each grade, pitting the best players from each of the three classes (1st period, 2nd period, 3rd period) against each other for braggin' rights as to which "period" had the best players.

There was also a World Series game which pitted the best players from the 7th grade against the best players from the 8th grade. I recall that in the World Series game all of the singles and doubles lists from the regular season became "singles" material, "doubles" were unknown ahead of time (equivalent to home runs in the regular season) and home runs were also unknowns, even more obscure than homeruns in the regular season. Because the 8th graders had been playing the game for a year longer, they typically had the advantage, however in my 7th grade year in 1967 the 7th grade World Series team that I was on beat the 8th graders in an upset and I managed to "hit" a home run. The next year we beat the 7th graders, thereby being undefeated, and I managed to "hit" home run in that Series game, too.

Geography Baseball was the most memorble occasion in elementary school in which I felt self-compelled to learn more than was expected, and I expect that was probably true for many other students. Mr. Karp deserved great credit for his inventiveness and creativity, his patience, and kindness.

I never was able to go one of Mr. Karp's annual canoeing/camping outings to Quetico, though many of my friends did, but do recall Mr. Karp coming to our home on several occasions to play poker for nickels and pennies with me and 6 or 7 of my classmates.

I kept in contact with Mr. Karp for several years after graduating from Sears (my younger siblings were by then also his students), and in my freshman year in college at Southern Illinois University I tutored his daughter Diane in algebra for a semester while she was also a freshman there.

For me there is only one true Geography Baseball, and it was Mr. Karp's.


Scott T.

10:11 PM  
Blogger LK said...

Coming across this blog more specifically this post has totally made my day! I attended Joseph Sears in '79, and Robert Karp influenced me in more ways than I can count! Another "game" he created and that I loved was News Teams...does anyone remember? I actually moved from Chicago after learning from Mr. Karp and I brought news teams to my 8th grade class in Connecticut! I gave Mr. Karp every ounce of credit, tho at the time, who knows what it meant. It meant a lot to me, I was so excited to share and remember Mr. Karp!!! I also developed a love of maps and world travel...thx for the memories El Rider and others, thanks for making my day!!!

11:47 PM  
Blogger Class of 1951 said...

The class of 1951 at Joseph Sears begs to differ with all of you. We played Geography baseball with miss Stryker Sr in 1949 and 1950. bob Karp took over the game when he arrived I after ?Miss Strykers retirement and we played the game on Friday afternoons with him for the 1950/1951 school year.

6:36 PM  

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