‘The Mick’ and America
Roberts, former student collaborate on second sports history book
in their class. So there are a lot of pieces that
you can mine, I think, very effectively.”
Despite his influence within the
profession and among readers, Roberts is
at his essence a classroom teacher. He has
entertained and informed generations of
Purdue graduates, enlightening them on the
graft of the Gilded Age or on the significance
of American boxer Joe Louis’ landmark
matches against German Max Schmeling in
After three decades, Roberts still has a
reputation among undergrads as a must-hear lecturer whose popular courses attract
students from a broad range of academic
“He really holds my attention throughout
class, and I think that is because of those
two elements: the enthusiasm and the
knowledge. I think truly he is at the top,”
said Mary Kate Ramker, a senior visual
communications design major and student
in Roberts’ “History of Sports in America”
course. “Some of the other teachers I’ve had
that I’ve enjoyed, it’s the same thing. You
can tell that they know what they’re talking
about and they’re enthusiastic, but I think
Randy is just on a whole other level.
“It’s almost intense the way he talks
about it that he invokes emotions in the
audience, which is crazy because our lecture
is at least 100 kids, and no one talks. We’re
all just dead set when he walks through.”
Again, Roberts emphasizes that his
passion for the material is what strikes the
correct note with his pupils. It helps to have
an encyclopedic knowledge of the subject
matter – and students and former TAs alike
will confirm that he does – but Roberts
also regularly reminds himself to seize the
moment as he determines how to deliver the
knowledge he hopes to impart.
“I think several things help,” Roberts
said. “Number one, I teach great courses.
I teach American history, and to me it’s
all storytelling – telling the history of the
20th Century of America. It’s great. My
most popular course is World War II. I
mean, it has every human emotion that
you can imagine. It has the best of people,
the worst of people. The story is just utterly
“I teach the history of sports, which I
find really interesting. So that’s part of it.
And the awareness, literally every class
period, of saying, ‘OK, I’ve got this class
period to teach this subject to these students.
I’ll never have another chance to teach this
subject, this lecture.’”
The good news for Purdue students is
that they will have many more opportunities
to hear those lectures.
With his lengthy list of publications
and teaching recognitions, Roberts would
not have much left to cross off a history
professor’s bucket list if he viewed his career
in such a fashion
The reason he’s still at it? His work
remains his passion.
“I really feel like I’ve lived a privileged
life. It’s been a privilege to do what I do, to go
in a classroom and try to get students excited
about something. I can see it when they’re
(busily typing what I say) and I can see it on
the other end, when they’re on their iPhones
and other gadgets. But I’m not ready to retire
yet. I enjoy what I’m doing,” he chuckled.
“And now that they gave me this incredible
(150th Anniversary Professor) honor, I feel
like I’ve got to stay around at least a few
Randy Roberts never felt like he had a handle on Mickey Mantle until he visited the baseball legend’s hometown, Commerce, Oklahoma.
The old zinc and coal-mining center is now a ghost town, run down by years of pollution and depression.
“If you’ve ever shoveled snow, you do it about a half-hour and you’re tired, you’re exhausted. Well, if you’re doing it in the lead mine, those
shovels are 75, 80 pounds that you’re lifting and you’re doing it eight hours a day. These guys wore out fast and they died young. They came back
150th Anniversary Professor CONTINUED FROM PAGE 5