Carleton Jones

A STAR ATHLETE WHO GAVE HIS LIFE

April 14, 1991|By CARLETON JONES

Baltimore's sports heroes of long ago were a long way fro earning the seven-figure money of today's professional sports stars.

In many cases, earnings were zero, plaudits were limited to crowd appreciation and print hosannas. Funds had to be begged to support team trips and individual player competition.

It was that way in the early 1930s when the city's all-powerful college lacrosse teams and lacrosse clubs were known throughout the Ivy League circuit.

In 1929 a small, sturdy young grad of Baltimore Polytechnic Institute -- just under 5 feet 8 inches -- entered the Johns Hopkins University's engineering school. Because of his football and lacrosse record at Poly he was snapped up by Hopkins sports scouts. The name was familiar, too, for wasn't this All-American lacrosse star the younger brother of Doug Turnbull, himself an All-American in both football and lacrosse? Yes, Jack Turnbull was.

As a factory turning out great players in those days, the Baltimore area lacrosse teams and clubs, including mighty Mount Washington, were seldom equaled. Under that umbrella, Jack Turnbull, an ardent and aggressive attackman, would come to be called by some "the greatest lacrosse player of all time."

By 1932 there was an international stage to prove it. Jack went to the Los Angeles Olympiad that year as lacrosse team captain. There, a total of 145,000 people -- perhaps an all-time record -- watched lacrosse games between the United States and Canada. Jack's playing in the Olympic series, which the United States won 2-1, earned him a "special commendation."

One of his most famous collegiate lacrosse games came in the same year, with Jack scoring tying goals for Hopkins in a come-from-behind match against the University of Maryland. Hopkins didn't take the lead until the final three minutes of the game.

Another adventure, the most famous and controversial Olympiad modern times, was still ahead. By 1936, lacrosse had been struck from the Olympic exhibition schedule, but Jack was selected to join the American field hockey team as a halfback. To international attention and in full view of Adolf Hitler, Jesse Owens would overturn Germany's "master race" theories by winning three gold medals at the Berlin games. Jack Turnbull's field hockey team would place behind winner India.

During the 1930s, Jack turned his engineering studies toward aviation and education. He became a licensed pilot while still in college, a Maryland National Guard pilot in 1940 and then a U.S. Air Force pilot as the war broke out.

In August of 1944, after many flying missions, Lt. Col. Jack Turnbull was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for valor. Two months afterward, in October of 1944, he was killed in a crash near the Belgian border of Germany. Two years later the Turnbull Trophy, awarded to the outstanding national attackman lacrosse, was established as an annual award. In 1959, Jack Turnbull was inducted into the Maryland Sports Hall of Fame for three sports: lacrosse, field hockey and football.

In November 1947 the flier's body was returned to the United States and a memorial service was held at St. Johns Episcopal Church, Mount Washington. The family legend would live on. Jack's nephew, retired Army Maj. Robert Bruce Turnbull, would write a family memoir that noted when Jack Turnbull's father, Douglas "Dandy" Turnbull Sr., died in 1941, The Sun editorialized that the elder Turnbull had been a "free and gallant spirit whose days among us made his fellow man aware of how sunny life can be, if we let it."

"How like his father he must have been in many ways," Major Turnbull says of his uncle. *

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