The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: The rise of Baylor Athletics in the early 20th century

By Erica J. Urban

Baylor’s athletic successes during the 2011-2012 school year, otherwise known as the “Year of the Bear”, are a stark contrast to the early years of struggle a century earlier. The rise of Baylor Athletics in the beginning of the 1900’s did not come without many challenges. Limited resources and lack of support from administration led to an uphill battle for students. But even through the ups and downs of the initial athletic programs there was student support. This initial investment was crucial in the Baylor community and the transformation of student life at Baylor. Even through the athletic successes and failures during the 1900- 1920 era, the popularity of athletics was not effected. The increased popularity has a direct correlation with the increased student investment in the Baylor community. The following overview of the good, bad, and ugly moments of Baylor athletics through the first 20 years of the 20th century are used, as evidence, to show the positive impact that athletic popularity had on student’s investment into Baylor during this era.

Start of Baylor Athletics

Creation of Football            

            The official start to Baylor football in intercollegiate play was in 1899 (Freeman). But football at Baylor began in 1895 as a drastic counterpart to baseball, which was played in the spring. Interest in football on campus grew and men from each class regularly practiced (Freeman, 1975, p.11). Intracollegiate games included games between the two ends of campus and the different classes (Freeman, 1975, p.14). A pivotal moment in Baylor football history was the defeat of the senior team by the Sunbeams (freshmen) in 1896 (Freeman, 1975, p.14). The seniors were placed at a five-touchdown favorite over the Sunbeams (Freeman, 1975, p.14). The game consisted of two- 30minute periods in pouring down rain (Freeman, 1975, p.15). After the loss of two essential senior players the seniors accepted defeat to the Sunbeams (Freeman, 1975, p.15). The game was highly attended and increased student’s interest in football (Freeman, 1975, p.15). The creation of teams created a new way for male students to become a part of something outside of the classroom. These students investment allowed other students to not only be entertained by the game but to have a source for school pride in addition to baseball. This game is considered the true birth of the exciting game that is Baylor football (Freeman, 1975, p.15).

Early Success and Failures

The first season of intercollegiate play was in 1899. A photo of the 1899 football team.(Henry and Bishop, 1996, p. 9) The first game was a disappointing shut out loss to Texas A&M 33-0. The season continued with two wins against Toby’s Business College and a tie with Texas Christian giving the Bears a 2-1-1 record. Baylor’s success grew with their only undefeated season in 1900 with a record of 3-0 (Register of Baylor University, Vol. 3). Student support also grew and became highly encouraged. The Lariat began to run articles before each game to break down the starting line up and after the game to give an overview of the game. The articles also included messages to students, inviting them to the game: “We hope that every student in the University will be present at Saturday’s game, as there is nothing that encourages a team more than to have a lot of enthusiastic rooters on the side lines to cheer them on to victory” (Dawson, J.M., 1900, 4). The bears ended up winning 17 to 0 against Trinity University that weekend (Register of Baylor University, Vol. 3). The undefeated season  fired up Baylor students and started the football legacy.

        The coach for the 1900 season was R.H. Hamilton (Register of Baylor University, Vol. 1). Baylor’s football program was on a coach-a-year situation. Each year a new coach would be brought in and then removed for either disagreements on wages or ill performance of the team (Vance, 1961, p.125). Not only were there limited funds for coaching staff but also the administration did not support spending funds on athletic equipment or facilities (Vance, 1961, p.125). Samuel Parker Brooks had a large influence on the football program during his presidency leading to the abolishment of Baylor football in 1906. The changing of the coach every year created a large challenge for the team. Every year the football program had to be redone and the players had to adjust to the new coach. The inconsistency in leadership caused an inconsistency in performance. In the first 5 years of Baylor football, the team had two winning seasons and three loosing seasons (Register of Baylor University, Vol. 3). Even with this fluctuation in performance and coaching staff more students began to attend games. The students following response shows the growth of football and the connection students had made to it as part of the institution.

Cancellation of football

            In 1905, one year after Theodore Roosevelt was elected president, he addressed growing concerns about the violence of football games. President Roosevelt used his bully platform to discuss the increasing number of injuries and deaths during games. He called together 13 institutions to discuss rule changes to prevent future injury. Some teams through out the country were playing to the death. After the lead of New York University, Baylor legalized the forward pass and outlawed the flying wedge to reduce the number of injuries (Henry & Bishop, 1996, p.13).

            In 1906, Samuel Palmer Brooks and the Baylor Trustees decided to abolish football for at least one season. The decision was posted in the June 5, 1906 issue of The Lariat. The decision was made unanimously by the Board and has been apart of discussions for several years prior to the 1905 rule changes. The initial reaction from the faculty and staff was mixed. The staff looked toward the positive to determine where the institution can do without football (Rosborough, C.B. (Ed.), 1906, 1).

            In reaction to the announcement the student body decided to host a funeral for Baylor football. Students buried items on the football field and held a service. Flowers were placed on the “gravesite” and softly blown “raps” were said at the conclusion of the service. A large stone was placed at the foot of the grave and an inscribed board at the head (Rosborough, C.B. (Ed.), 1906, 1). In the 1906-1907 Round Up the athletic section was shortened to a brief overview of the abolishment of football and the student’s reactions; overview of the rise of other Baylor athletics and a poem titled “ The Foot-Ball Falls”:

            The foot-ball falls on funeral pails,

            And gridirons, famed in story,

            Have by trustees, themselves to please,

            Been robbed of all their grand- stand glory,

            Beat, drum, beat, set the sad death wail flying,

            Beat, drum; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.

            O hark, O hear, how dead and drear,

            And deader, dearer, since its going!

            And plain and clear from every sphere

            Of Baylor, Discontent is growing,

            Beat, let us hear the powers that be replying,

            Beat, drum; answer echoes, dying, dying, dying.

            Echoes, ne’er die in yon rich sky,

            Nor faint on hill or field of river;

            And may you roll from soul to soul

            And bring our foot-ball back forever,

            Beat, drum, beat, set the wild echoes flying,

            And answer, echoes, answer, dying, dying, dying.

The above poem is one of many recorded student reactions. The poem discusses the anger towards the board of trustees, the sadness the students feel without football, and the rise of the students to bring back football. They repeat the theme of the drum beating and the answers echo then the sound dies. This can be interpreted to describe the reaction of students and how it fell on deaf ears within the administration. Overall, this poem expresses the students dire connection to football and the outrage of its loss caused.

        The loss of football sent ripples through out the athletic program and the university. The spirit of the institution decreased significantly. This degradation was especially seen in the lack of upkeep on the athletic field. The ripples extended to the track meet at Southwestern University when Baylor Athletes appeared untrained and were overwhelmingly defeated. Shift for athletic support transitioned from football to basketball but the season was also destined to failure. Few games were played at home and there were no away game victories. A glimpse of hope came in the form of the victory over Texas University. The next week Baylor defeated Texas University again eliminating the long string of defeats at the hands of the Texas University. These victories provided the proof to the student body that basketball should be seen as a major sport at Baylor. After the fall semester basketball success continued along with hosting a regional tournament. Track and field also improved in the spring including a record-breaking high jump at Baylor’s home track meet leading to greater support (Baylor Athletics Thesis). The ban did not affect the playing of any other sports including soccer (“Socker” football) (Rosborough, C.B. (Ed.), 1906, 1).  With the reaction to the loss of football, student investment in Baylor did not cease. The growth of other athletics allowed students to still attend sporting events and to grow in their support of Baylor.

         Baylor Trustees decided to only abolish football for the 1906 season. Some members of the community felt that Baylor could not be without football. The reaction by community and pressure from other universities caused the reinstatement of football. The announcement of the resurrection of football lead to a gathering of faculty, students and alumni to celebrate football’s return at the football gravesite. Faculty and alumni players spoke on the influence of football on Baylor’s campus and the accomplishments of past teams

          “Then Mr. Dodson, one of the old player, who knows what the game will do for

           a man and his college, in the straight forward manner which always characterizes

           him, spoke of the past and future history of football in Baylor” (Wilson, O.V. (Ed.),

           1907, 4)

Then a professor spoke on the influence playing the game had on the individual players:

           “Then Prof. Hamilton, the student’s friend, and an ever loyal supporter of all clean

            college sports, came forward and in stirring words showed to us how football

            develops man both mentally and physically, and aids him in overcoming obstacles

             which will confront him in after life” (Wilson, O.V. (Ed.), 1907, 4)

The initial reaction of the resurrection of football was a positive one but as the school year approached and the season began the Baylor community still had reservations about the safety of the athletes. Large bodies of students were not alright with the return of football. Students stated that they do not want to be considered “knockers” of the game but they would not support the events. (Colman, A.T. (Ed.), 1907, 1). The Lariat article encouraged students to go out and support football because it is once again a Baylor game.

         The 1907 season brought a Baylor graduate in as head coach for the first time, Luther Burleson. Burleson brought Baylor their first winning season since the undefeated season in 1903. The season included wins against both Texas Christian University and University of Texas (Henry & Bishop, 1996). Baylor football was back, leading to the upward momentum for the entire Baylor Athletic program.

Creation of the Southwestern Conference

            On May 6, 1914 the seven charter members of the Southwestern Conference met in Dallas to discuss the creation of the conference to include Baylor, Texas A&M, Texas, Southwester, Oklahoma, Oklahoma A&M and Arkansas. The seven met again in December with the addition of a representative from Rice Institute. The eight schools became the Southwest Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which was the nation’s fifth Division 1 conference. Conference play officially began for the 1915 season. This season was proving to be trying year for the bears (Henry & Bishop, 1996).  Entering into the new conference resulted in challenges for the team but increased the sense of competition between the conference schools. Propaganda about beating Texas University and Texas A&M were seen through out the Round-Up and The Lariat. These rivalries added to the idea of Baylor pride and the importance of being the top team in the southwest. The following was an image from That Good Old Baylor Line: Baylor Football (Freeman, 1975, p.28). 

Baylor Success with in the Conference

            The Southwest Conference set a serious of rules and regulations for each of their teams and respective players. Baylor learned quickly that they would be strictly enforced. Baylor 1915 season was turning into their best since 1910 with a record of 7-1 record and perfect within conference play. As Baylor moved toward the first championship game the Bears had to with draw from competition. The bears did not feel it was fare to compete because they had been playing with an ineligible member on the team. The student, Thomas E. Stonerod, had played for another institution previously to Baylor, which was against conference rules. This student is seen to have cost Baylor their first shot at a championship and increased doubt of the private institutions place in the Southwest Conference (Henry & Bishop, 1996). The loss of the Baylor championship was a black mark on Baylor’s history. Baylor did not reach the championship again in this era.

Coach Mosely

            As Baylor entered the 1914 season their new coach, Baylor Alumni, C.P. “Bubs” Mosely started his six-year long career as coach. The season recorded ended at 3-5-2 after tough losses to both Texas and Oklahoma A&M. The 1915 season was the first year in the Southwest conference and produced a winning record of 7-1. In 1916, Baylor had its best season since the undefeated season of 1900. Baylor finished first in the conference with a record of 9-1. No championship was awarded because each team in the conference had lost at least one game. But this marks the first year were Baylor finished ahead of Texas in the conference standings. The 1917 season started with five victories with scoreless opponents until the Aggies shut out the Bears. The Bears finished out the season with a record of 6-2-1 and Baylor finished second in the conference to Texas A&M (Henry & Bishop, 1996).

          The 1918 school was the roughest in Coach Mosely’s seasons as head coach having a winless season. Moral was low all around the conference because no conference champion or conference team was chosen. Mosely’s final season was a winning one. The Bears finished off with a winning record of 5-3-1. In Coach Mosely’s time he won 30 games, lost 18 games and never won a championship. But his influence on the start of the Southwest conference was key and created the model of having longer standing coaches for the football team (Henry & Bishop, 1996). With the new idea of having long standing football coaches, the constancy of the teams began to come to fruition. Coach Mosely’s overall winning recorded encouraged students to see the continued rise of Baylor athletics. The consistency carried over to continued support by the administration. Students recognized the efforts put in by faculty and staff, and matched it with growing enthusiasm for Baylor.

Conclusion

            Using the ups and downs of the 1900-1920 era of Baylor football as a way of determining student investment during the same era we see increased number of supporters and growth of the football team directly correlated with the student’s willingness to attend games. Students began to publicly react to the ups and downs of Baylor football by hosting a funeral for football after its cancelation, and continued support when Baylor became part of the Southwest conference. Student’s investment in the institution was a direct result of the rise in athletic popularity. Through the good, the bad and the ugly moments of Baylor Football, student support grew and is the foundation for the strong presence athletics has as part of Baylor tradition

References

A Register of Baylor University 1845-1935 (Vol. 1). Waco, Texas: Baylor University.

A Register of Baylor University 1845-1935 (Vol. 3). Waco, Texas: Baylor University.

Colman, A.T. (Ed.). (1907). Football. The Lariat, 7 (51), 1.

Dawson, J.M. (1900). Athletics. The ‘Varsity Lariat, 1 (2), 4.

Freeman, D. H. (1975). That Good Old Baylor Line: Baylor Football (pp. 11-27). Huntsville,

Alabama: The Strode Publishers, Inc.

Henry, R.A. and Bishop, M. (1996). Bears Handbook: Stories, Stats and Stuff about Baylor

            Football (pp. 8-19). Wichita, Kansas: The Wichita Eagle and Beacon Publishing

Co.

Price, J.O. (1948). The History and Development of the intercollegiate athletic program at

            Baylor University: A thesis submitted to the faculty of Baylor University in partial

            fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts (pp. 7-55). Retrieved

from The Texas General Collection. (call number 378.764 P5697 P945).

Rosborough, C.B. (Ed.). (1906). Football Knocked Out. The Lariat, 6 (37), 1.

The Round-Up, (1906-1907). Waco, Texas: Baylor University.

Vance, W.S. (1961). Portrait of a College President: S.P. Brooks of Baylor University. The

            Journal of Higher Education, 32 (2), 124-125.

Wilson, O.V. (Ed.). (1907). Football’s Return. The Lariat, 7 (38), 4.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.