Monday, October 17, 2016

Sports at State Normal

While competitive athletics are a major part of campus life at UNCG today, early students had to fight for their right to play ball. From its founding, the school (known at the time as the State Normal) emphasized physical activity and personal health. Curriculum in the first year of the school’s existence (1892-1893) included the Department of Physiology and Heath, which had two objectives: instruction in hygiene and an individualized program of exercise. A course in Physical Culture was actually required of all students. The work included gymnastics, calisthenics, and other exercises that were meant to promote the student’s general health and strength. 

Letter from a student to President McIver asking permission
to start a campus Athletic Association, 1898
Students, however, wanted opportunities for athletic competition, not just physical activity. The graduating class of 1900 convinced school president Charles Duncan McIver of the need for a campus Athletic Association and purposefully-built athletic grounds. The campus Athletic Association was formally established in 1900 (15 years before the students established their own student government). By 1902, it had adopted the motto “Athletics and active college work go hand in hand.” In a space that is now the site of the Petty Science Building, the women of the Athletic Association cleared and prepared playing grounds, marked the fields, and installed nets on four tennis courts and basketball goals.

The early Athletic Association, however, was purely intramural, with sponsored tournaments between the freshmen, sophomore, junior, and senior classes. As a student noted, “We were taught very strongly the evils that would come from interscholastic sports. This emphasis on winning at any cost was the worst.”

But, in spite of potential evils, a “College Team” was created in 1905 to bring together the best athletes regardless of class. That team, however, didn’t play outside of campus until 1907. Then, they traveled across town for basketball and tennis match-ups against teams from the Greensboro Female College (now Greensboro College). According to the student newspaper, “Fine playing was done by both teams … [but] both the games of Basket Ball and of Tennis resulted in victories for our teams.” This, however, was a one-time event.

Freshman hockey team, 1913
For the most part, team sports were limited to on-campus competitions between the classes. And the Athletic Association led the way in sponsoring these activities. By 1914, the group offered events in basketball, tennis, field hockey, baseball, cricket, golf, camping, and gymnastics. They also sponsored May Day, Field Day, and various sports tournaments throughout the year. Through their dedication and persistence, the women of the Athletic Association ensured that athletics would be a strong component of their college life.

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