Sport historian scores with writings on hockey
PULLMAN - The key to research treasure was given to John Chi-Kit Wong when he was a doctoral student.
He had planned to write his dissertation on sports organizations of the 1930s. When he contacted the National Hockey League, he got a surprise. The NHL granted him access to its archives of meeting records, letters and contracts.
"It took me three years to go through it all," said Wong, WSU assistant professor of sport management. "It was the first time they gave anyone access to their files, and I don't think anyone else has gotten access since then."
He switched gears and produced a dissertation that became "Lords of the Rinks: The Emergence of the National Hockey League, 1875-1936" (University of Toronto Press, 2005).
The widely quoted book was the first academic treatment of a sport whose history usually has been gleaned, Wong said, "from newspapers at best, and rumors at worst."
Wong has continued his explorations of hockey, most recently as editor of "Coast to Coast: Hockey in Canada to the Second World War" (University of Toronto Press, 2009) and as author of "Entrepreneurship and the Chicago Blackhawks," a chapter in "Sports in Chicago: An Anthology" (edited by Elliot Gorn, University of Illinois Press, 2009).
Wong is a naturalized citizen of Canada, where hockey is a national obsession and the NHL has its roots. He didn't pick up a hockey stick until he moved from his homeland of Hong Kong to British Columbia at age 19. He doesn't claim any talent on the ice and dismisses the notion that he's a hockey expert with a laugh: "Everyone in Canada is a hockey expert."
But Wong has become widely known for his research on the politics of sport organizations, particularly hockey, according to Cathryn Claussen, professor and director of WSU's Sport Management Program. He is also, she added, an excellent teacher.
"Graduating seniors often report that John's courses in organizational theory and behavior of sport organizations, and in event management, were the most challenging ones they took at WSU and the most helpful to them as they completed their internships," Claussen said. "He holds his graduate students to the same high standards."
Wong studied physical education at the University of British Columbia and earned a master's degree in business administration from Robert Morris University. His University of Maryland Ph.D. is in sport studies.
His career has paralleled a time of increased recognition of sport as a big business. The notion first gained traction in the 1970s, when professional athletes began drawing huge salaries and TV revenue skyrocketed.
"There's still a general feeling that sport is only play - it is pure, you don't need to study it," Wong said. "But the industry is slowly coming around. Managers want to hire someone who is trained, not just someone's kid who needs a job."
WSU's sport management program is part of the College of Education, having grown out of physical education/kinesiology studies in the 1990s. This fall, sport management faculty will begin talks about possibly moving the program to the College of Business.
There is plenty of demand for the courses, Wong said.
"Sports are so pervasive in society. Kids have played, watched, read about sports. A lot of them want to be in the business."
Wong's specialty combines sport, history and business, which he has taught along with courses in management, leadership and marketing. His research interests extend far beyond hockey. In fact, his latest writing project has nothing to do with rinks and gate receipts. Its topic: the marketing of martial arts expert Bruce Lee.