would not understand. He once wrote: "Games played with the ball...are too
violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind." Of course,
Jefferson could not have anticipated the gentleman coming into the White House
this January. Besides being an avid fisherman and bird shot and having wrestled
during his Navy days, George Bush has played soccer, tennis, baseball, squash,
golf and, most recently, horseshoes (see box, page 146)—all with considerable
skill and, above all, enormous enthusiasm.
Many of our
Presidents have had athletic specialties. Abraham Lincoln was described by one
historian as "hard as nails, a good horseman, swimmer, crowbar heaver, and
master jumper." He reportedly could hold a heavy ax out at arm's length for
an astonishing length of time, which he did as a kind of parlor trick. Teddy
Roosevelt enjoyed hunting and collecting game, and came back from one of his
African safaris with some 4,800 hides, heads and horns. Harry Truman, who was
ambidextrous, pitched horseshoes lefthanded and threw out Opening Day baseballs
righthanded one year, lefthanded the next—with the puzzling explanation that it
was for the benefit of photographers. The Kennedy era is often remembered for
its touch football games, though JFK himself, because he had a bad back, was
restricted to sailing and an occasional game of tennis or golf.
bowling on the lanes in the basement of the Executive Office Building, very
often alone, in shirt and tie, watched by a coterie of Secret Service men. He
once rolled 20 games in a row; his average score was 152, and his high game was
a formidable 232. Gerald Ford's game was golf, and his rounds were
distinguished by errant shots, which more than once conked a spectator. Bob
Hope has remarked that his partners in his favorite foursome were Ford, a
faith-healer and a paramedic. Jimmy Carter jogged, played softball and tennis,
fished and hunted quail. Ronald Reagan rides horses, and was miffed when he
discovered that the riding trails at Camp David had been paved over during the
however, can match Bush's absorption in sports, not to mention his sporting
heritage. His mother, Dorothy, was a fine tennis player and a fierce
competitor; his father, Prescott, who represented Connecticut in the U.S.
Senate from 1952 to '63, hit cleanup on the 1917 Yale baseball team and played
on the golf team. According to family legend, Prescott sometimes played a golf
match in the morning and a baseball game the same afternoon. "The baseball
players would stand around and worry that he wouldn't finish his golf round in
time for the game," says Nancy Ellis, the President-elect's sister. Bush's
four maternal uncles all played for Yale: Herbert Walker was a member of the
'25-27 baseball teams; Louis pitched on the '36 team; John played both golf and
baseball in '30; and James ran track in '31. Bush's grandfather, George Herbert
Walker, was president of the U.S. Golf Association, and upon leaving office in
1921, he donated the Walker Cup, the trophy given in the biennial competition
between British and American amateur teams.
President-elect even married into a family of athletes. Barbara Bush's uncle
Joseph Wear won the U.S. court tennis doubles championship with Jay Gould six
times. Her father, Marvin Pierce, was a standout running back at Miami of Ohio
from 1913 to '15. "Everyone called him Monk," says Jonathan Bush, the
third of the four Bush brothers. "By the time we get through glorifying
Monk Pierce's career, he'll be the greatest back who ever played there, if not
in the entire Midwest!"
Nancy Ellis, athletic education in the Bush family begins "at birth."
Intrafamily competitions have included not only the obvious ones, like touch
football, tennis and Ping-Pong, but also tiddledywinks, fishing tournaments,
indoor putting (with plastic cups set about the house) and knee football
(played, as the name implies, on one's knees). A prime knee-football performer
was Bucky, the youngest Bush brother, who at Hotchkiss School weighed more than
250 pounds. Standing lamps were forever being toppled. It's a wonder, says
Jonathan, that the family's houses in Greenwich, Conn., and Kennebunkport,
Maine, stood up under all the punishment.
In the forefront
of this athletic commotion was George, a Pied Piper figure in those early days,
according to Jonathan: "He was a queen bee around which everything
revolved." Jonathan recalls a famous tennis match between George, then 16,
and his mother, who had offered $5 to any of her sons who could beat her.
"You must remember that she was a remarkable athlete," says Jonathan.
"The day her first son, Prescott, was born, she hit a home run in a
Softball game at Kennebunkport, and after she circled the bases she announced
it was time to go to the hospital. Pressy weighed 10 pounds."
Asked if the
children had rooted for their mother at the tennis match, Jonathan says,
"Actually, they rooted for George. Everyone wanted him to win, and he
finally did. She was at the top of her form. It was a brutal match, both of
them wringing wet when they finished."
competitiveness was tempered with puckish good humor. One Kennebunkport legend
involves Bill Truesdale, who was as competitive a youngster as the Bush kids,
and the best sailor in the 11-footer class. "That's a small catboat,"
Jonathan says. "Two sides, a bottom, a mast, and a center-board. Truesdale
was the perennial winner. One night George went down and tied a bucket to
Truesdale's centerboard. The next day the boats, about 15 of them, were towed
out the Kennebunk River to the starting line offshore. The warning gun went
off, and everyone put up his sail.
"There was a
light breeze, and Truesdale's boat barely moved," Jonathan continues.
"At first he thought something was wrong with the boat, and in frustration
he began to beat it with a paddle. Whack! Whack! When he got ashore he found
out what George had done. He chased him for days. George would be sitting on
the porch, and we'd hear, 'Here comes Truesdale!' and off he'd go. That was a
shout we heard all summer: 'Here comes Truesdale!' "