Saturday, February 11, 11 a.m.
Rock Island Public Library Downtown Branch, 401 19th Street, Rock Island IL
A track-and-field Olympian who was also an NFL player who was also a 1915 graduate of Rock Island High School will be celebrated on February 11 in Sol Butler: The Greatest Athlete You've Never Heard of, a Rock Island Public Library presentation by local author David Sebben on the Quad Citian who played for the Rock Island Independents football team and competed in the long jump in the 1920 Olympic games.
Solomon Wellings “Sol” Butler was born in Kingfisher, Oklahoma, in 1895 before he and his family moved to Hutchinson, Kansas, in 1909. "Sol," as he was known, made the varsity football team as a starting halfback during his freshman year and led the school in football and in track and field, and during his sophomore year, he helped Hutchinson to a runner-up finish at the state meet after setting state records in the 100-yard dash. In 1913, as a junior in Hutchinson High School (Kansas) at a district meet he won six firsts, broke five meet records, and unofficially broke a world record in the 50-yard dash. Along with his older brother Benjamin, Butler followed his high-school coach to Rock Island High School for his senior season in 1914. Facing 300 of the best track stars of the Midwest in Chicago, he competed in the regional interscholastic meet held at Northwestern University, and went on to place in the 60-yard dash and hurdles, the 440 yard dash, and the broad jump. He broke one meet record, tied a world record, and won fourth place overall, competing against entire track teams.
After earning 12 varsity letters competing in football, basketball, baseball, and track and field at the University of Dubuque, Butler was rated as a heavy favorite for championship at the 1920 Olympic games. His winning jump at Paris, 24 feet 9.5 inches, was two inches from the Olympic record and was considered a strong possibility for a new Olympic record. Butler went to Antwerp for the 1920 Olympics, but misfortune nailed him quickly. On his very first jump in the Olympic preliminaries, he pulled a tendon and was forced to withdraw. The injury-hampered effort was a shade under 21-8. He won the U.S. National Amateur Athletic Union championship that same year, however, by jumping 24 feet eight inches.
Butler went on to sign with the NFL in 1923 with the Rock Island Independents, which local accounts raved about during his first appearance in the victory over the Chicago Bears. His contract from Rock Island was sold to the Hammond Pros in November of 1923 for the remainder of the season for $10,000. In 1925, Butler also briefly played baseball for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro leagues, and later, returning to football, played alongside Jim Thorpe of the Canton Bulldogs, where he was named starting quarterback in 1926. In 1926, the New York Giants refused to let its all-white team on the field in front of the largest crowd ever (40,000) to watch an NFL game until Canton withdraw Butler as starting quarterback. On December 1, 1954, after being shot by a patron at Paddy's Liquors, a Chicago tavern where he was employed for seven years, Butler died of his injuries at Chicago's Provident hospital. He is buried next to his sister, Josephine Butler, at Maple Grove Cemetery in Wichita, Kansas.
Author David Sebben, who has written a new book on Butler, will present Sol Butler: The Greatest Athlete You've Never Heard of at the Rock Island Public Library's downtown branch on February 11, participation in the 11 a.m. program is free, and more information is available by calling (309)732-7323 and visiting RockIslandLibrary.org.