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A century ago – reinstating football

Written By: Phillip Stone - Oct• 28•14

It’s a well-known story at Wofford that the Terriers played the first intercollegiate football game in South Carolina, defeating Furman University’s team on December 14, 1889.  So, our game against Furman this fall will mark the 125th anniversary of that first meeting, though not the 125th time the two teams have played.  I’ll have more to say about that first game later this fall.

Wofford's 1914 football team, the first varsity team since 1901

Wofford’s 1914 football team, the first varsity team since 1901

Football, as many sports historians know, was a pretty dangerous and violent sport back in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Broken bones, severe wounds, and even deaths occurred with some regularity.  The Methodist Church was quite critical of football, and the Southern Christian Advocate had this to say in November 1914:

“The papers of last Thursday carried this news item from Columbia: After putting up a stubborn fight, Wofford College was defeated by Newberry College by a score of 36-0. Swanton, left half for Newberry, broke his leg and was rushed to the hospital. Wofford lost the game but apparently did not have any member killed or maimed…  We are told that when Wofford played in Greenville some time ago that practically every member of the team carried off bloody faces.”  “It is difficult to understand,” the Advocate wrote, “how any parent can give consent for his or her son to engage in games that so often result in death or broken limbs.  The fatalities are nearly as great as in war.  They call it ‘college spirit!’  Deliver us from such!  How long will it be before some mother’s son in South Carolina will be carried from a glorious game of football a mangled corpse to the mother’s embrace?”

In 1896, the Methodist Conference recommended that college authorities entirely prohibit football at Wofford, and from 1897-1899, there was no team.  In the fall of 1899, the prohibition was rescinded, with the regulation of football and other sports left in the hands of the trustees and faculty.  Wofford played about 9 total intercollegiate games in 1900 and 1901, according to sports records.  Then, there was no intercollegiate football for some dozen years.  While class football – what we might today call intramural football, flourished, the college did not schedule any games against other colleges.

But, pressure built, from students and alumni alike.  President Snyder received communications from alumni who wanted to resume playing, and in 1913, the student body unanimously petitioned the trustees to resume intercollegiate games.  And so the trustees gave in on November 26, 1913, with play to resume in the fall of 1914.

It took a few years before the college’s varsity team got some experience, and only in 1917 did they post a winning record.  The 1914 Terriers, in fact, put up a 1-6-1 record, scoring 32 points in all of their games together, compared to 219 for their opponents.  Their only win was a 7-0 defeat of Presbyterian, and their worst loss was an 88-6 stomping at the hands of Davidson.

So, this fall marks the centennial of the resumption of football as well as the 125th anniversary of football at the college, and I think that’s worth recognizing.

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