Lander University assistant professor of history Dr. Kevin Witherspoon has presented scholarly papers and topics at international conferences, such as The Legacy of 1968 in Philadelphia, Pa., and the North American Society of Sports Historians (NASSH) Annual Conference. He was the keynote speaker at the Speed City 40th anniversary celebration of Tommie Smith and John Carlos' Olympic medal stand protest in October 2008. His first book, "Before the Eyes of the World: Mexico and the 1968 Olympic Games," was released by Northern Illinois Press in July 2008.
These and other efforts by the young historian have not gone unnoticed. This spring he was honored with Lander's 2008 Young Faculty Scholar Award. The award recognizes a new faculty member with the best record of scholarship who exemplifies the qualities the Lander faculty values in its colleagues as teacher-scholars.
Most recently, however, Witherspoon won the 2009 NASSH Book Award in Sport History, an award given to a distinguished book written in English on any aspect of sport history, without chronological or geographic restriction.
"This is a very prestigious award from a national organization that puts Dr. Witherspoon very near the top of the field in sport history, and it casts a considerable amount of reflected glory on Lander University," said Dr. William Ramsey, chair of Lander's Department of History and Philosophy.
Witherspoon's interest in sport history did not begin with his research of the '68 Olympics. He has also written about "Red" Barber, the '36 Olympics and Jackie Robinson.
As soon as he finished his current book, he began looking for his next point of interest. He is currently tackling the broad topic of sports and diplomacy during the Cold War.
Witherspoon said that as he researches a topic he generally hones in on the story that hasn't been told and the one that's most exciting or interesting to him. He recently became excited about the basketball exchange between the United States and U.S.S.R in the early 1970s.
"If you look at articles from 1971 and 1973 they are like night and day," said Witherspoon. "The 1971 articles make light of U.S. basketball defeats by the Soviet Union. The U.S. was not using its best players at the time, and in general, people were just not too concerned about it. By 1973 it is literally front-page news with huge stories. There is so much emphasis placed on the manliness of it and the physical nature of the play. We weren't just beating the Soviets, we were humiliating them."
With his interest sparked by the shift in the national opinion of basketball exchanges with the Soviet Union, Witherspoon began researching the catalyst for the change. He presented his findings at the NASSH annual conference in May.
Witherspoon explained that through a Lander faculty development grant, he has been able to share his excitement about this topic with Lander history students by getting them involved in the research. He has had up to three students at a time combing news archives and other resources for Cold War era sports news.
"I think it has been a great opportunity for the students. It definitely opens their eyes to the immense amount of research that goes into writing a book. These students will eventually work on their history thesis, which is a 20-page project. That task doesn't look nearly as daunting when you work on research like this. The students have done a fantastic job."
After his students provide him with collections of articles arranged by decade, Witherspoon culls through the documents to find his next point of interest. He then delves deeper with further research via direct and original sources. This process of unearthing tidbits of the past keeps him interested in all areas of history.
"My research endeavors keep me enthusiastic about the whole of historical scholarship," said Witherspoon. "In and out of the classroom I can be more excited about various parts of history because I'm actively working on my own projects."
Witherspoon not only carries this enthusiasm with him into the classroom at Lander, he has also shared his knowledge of history with South Carolina teachers through the Teaching American History program. As a Master Scholar in this program, Witherspoon has provided refresher courses for public school teachers for the last three summers.
Witherspoon holds a bachelor's degree and Ph.D. from Florida State University and a master's from the University of Maine.