SI Vault
'Mr. Rockne Would Have Liked That'
Esther Brown
September 21, 1959 South Bend, Knute Rockne took up dancing, one Live Wire prot�g� recalls fondly
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
September 21, 1959

'mr. Rockne Would Have Liked That' South Bend, Knute Rockne took up dancing, one Live Wire prot�g� recalls fondly

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5


That was soon after the dancing teacher, Miss Montgomery, started coming around once a week. She went to other playgrounds, too, like Mr. Rockne. And Miss Montgomery said we had to learn some dances for a pageant. We didn't know exactly what a pageant was, but a few of us girls would go down to the dank, smelly basement of the school, and Miss Montgomery would teach us the Highland fling and the sailor's hornpipe and other dances she got out of a book which she kept looking in as she shouted instructions. Then she would sit down and pound out the music from the same book on a tinny, off-tune piano, as we struggled and perspired and got all out of breath over something that didn't seem to make much sense. This went on for several weeks until Mr. Rockne came down to watch us one day.

"Say! That's great!" he exclaimed, and immediately joined the class. We giggled and squealed as he bobbed up and down, flinging his leg around and getting his arm movements all mixed up. At first we thought he was just kidding. But there was a look in his face we had never seen before. I realize now how earnestly he was trying to master that first step of the Highland fling. Quickly he moved us all outdoors into the sunlight, getting some of the older boys to help move the piano near the window where it could be heard.

"Now, then," he said, "let's go back to that first step again. How did you say it goes?" And taking the beginning position, with his elbows out to the sides and his knuckles turned under on his hips, he fitted his movements to his words as he spoke, "The left arm goes up when the right foot goes out..." and first thing we knew, we were all—the older boys along with Mr. Rockne and the rest of us—concentrating on the intricate steps of the Highland fling.

"This stuff speeds you up!" said Mr. Rockne, exhilarated and breathless, mopping his forehead with a large white handkerchief. "Makes you think fast with your body! Makes you light and quick on your feet!"

We all began practicing those first three steps of the Highland fling like mad every chance we got, until Mr. Rockne's little car pulled up at the gate the following week. We saw at once that Mr. Rockne had somebody with him, somebody all dressed in plaid. When the man stepped out of the car, wearing a pleated skirt, and followed Mr. Rockne through the gate, we were quite startled, especially the boys, who took one look and ran back to the far corner of the playground where, without a backward glance, they started shooting baskets. We clung close to Mr. Rockne.

"This is my friend, Mr. MacLeod, and that's a kilt he's wearing," said Mr. Rockne, in answer to our silent question. "Care to hear him play his bagpipes?" Mr. MacLeod started in to tune up his bagpipes and then, pacing back and forth in front of us, he began playing, while Mr. Rockne sat down on the steps beside us. It sounded like a lot of crazy loud noise at first, but we looked over at Mr. Rockne to see what he thought. And Mr. Rockne's face began to beam with a strange excitement that must have been catching, because we, too, began to feel excited by the bagpipe music.


When Mr. MacLeod rested, Mr. Rockne began questioning him about everything Scottish—the Highland games, the fling and the Scottish sword dance. We kids couldn't understand Mr. MacLeod very well, but that made no difference. What really absorbed us was the way Mr. Rockne was listening. When Mr. MacLeod told him how the Scots thought their war dances "aroused the power of concentration and brought skill and courage in battle," we thought Mr. Rockne was going to jump right out of his skin, he seemed so excited. But he kept right on listening, harder than ever. Then, just when we were beginning to get fidgety after all their talk, Mr. Rockne suddenly burst out into the gayest, jolliest mood. Grinning with all his might right at us and reaching out to take our hands, he cried happily, "Let's all dance to the bagpipes now!"

Mr. MacLeod began playing his mad music again as we all scrambled to our feet and tried hard to catch the tricky rhythm. The bagpipes sounded more and more like the intense nasal voice of Mr. Rockne. Away we went. We hopped up and down, stamping down with both feet astride as if to awaken the very earth beneath us, then spinning round and round in fearless abandon. All of us—Mr. Rockne and the boys, and even Miss Montgomery, whose long bell-shaped skirt whirled merrily in a way we had never noticed before.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5