A newsmaker you should know: Professor uses mapping skills in sports history society

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Tom Mueller has been interested in sports all his life. A professor in California University of Pennsylvania’s department of earth sciences, Mr. Mueller, who has a doctorate, said he loves to follow sports and finds that they help him relax. Little did he know that his sports interests would become a link to a new professional relationship.

In December, he finished reading a book on the Negro baseball leagues and decided to search the Internet for related subjects. One link he found connected him to another book titled "Black Ice: The Lost History of the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes."

The book caught Mr. Mueller’s attention and when he tried to get a copy, he began a back-and-forth email correspondence with George Fosty, the book’s co-author, with his brother Darril, and president of the Society of North American Historians and Researchers.

The society was founded in June 2004 in New York City by a group of historians concerned by what they perceived as a failure by traditional historians and educators to recognize the role and importance of globalism and multicultural influences in sports history. Currently made up of sports historians, filmmakers, researchers and journalists in seven countries, the society tries to fill that gap through the dissemination of sports relevant books, films and articles.

Because of Mr. Mueller's interest in sports and his scholarly focus on geographic information systems, or computer mapping, Mr. Fosty thought Mr. Mueller would be a good addition to the society's executive board, a position made official in January.

Computer mapping allows governments, businesses, organizations and individuals to visualize, question, analyze, interpret and understand data to reveal relationships, patterns and trends. In class, Mr. Mueller has had his students create crime maps for local police departments and create maps of recreational areas for the Hempfield recreation department. At the university, one of his students mapped alumni locations to see where the university might want to organize an alumni chapter.

"I’ve been doing GIS mapping my entire career," Mr. Mueller said. "I find it very useful for doing research for many different applications because it helps you understand patterns and relationships."

One of the applications he’s looking at starting is a pilot study focusing on players who have been selected through the Amateur Baseball Draft. He compared this study to the widespread notion that Western Pennsylvania is a "cradle" for National Football League quarterbacks, producing such notable passers as Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, Dan Marino, Joe Namath and Jim Kelly.

"Montana, Marino and Kelly were star quarterbacks from Western Pennsylvania in the 1980s," he said. "It might prove interesting to see where today’s quarterbacks are coming from using GIS."

"With the baseball players, we will look at where their high schools and colleges have been over the past 40 years and determine if we see a concentration of players coming from a particular state, a particular region or a particular part of a state, and how that may have changed over the past four decades. Perhaps they’re now coming from the South, where they can play baseball year-round"

Mr. Mueller has just started networking with members of the historical research society's executive board and hopes he can help other members with their research by providing maps and collaborating on their projects.

"One project I’d like to start is to create maps that show the diffusion of hockey throughout the world using data from the book ‘Tribes: An International Hockey History;’ another book co-authored by George and Darril Fosty," he said. "The maps would incorporate the cultural differences and politics of the various countries and include photos and images of things such as various hockey teams. It’s always good to augment the relevance of the maps with related images.

"I feel that future society projects will be very interesting," he said. "The hope is that, as I move into these projects, I can involve my students, which should certainly broaden their horizons."

Details: 724-938-4255.

Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer; suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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