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MEMORIES IN FOCUS:   How schools teamed up with sports

MARION HISTORICAL MUSEUM PHOTO

Before high school sports became popular, tennis provided an opportunity for prominent young people to show off the latest in sportswear. Among those posing for a photo before a match in 1900 were 1898 Marion High School valedictorian Homer Hoch (left), 1899 valedictorian Annie Trenner, and 1899 salutatorian Sadie Keller.

They seem inseparable now, but schools and sports didn’t always go together. Before 1904, officially sponsored school sports were rarely heard of in Marion County.

Children learned, adults played, and that was that. Even adults were discouraged from some sports, especially one that’s become quite popular today but at the time was considered too dangerous for all but uncouth daredevils.

In Marion’s early years, baseball was the most frequently mentioned sport. Newspapers reported on organized games as early as 1877. Two years later, Marion formed its own touring ballclub, the Coyotes, which the Record tongue-in-cheek predicted would be undefeated.

Teams didn’t feature students. Typical ballplayers were in their late 30s. Younger people began getting involved in subsequent years, but organized sports still were reserved mainly for adults.

Ball clubs were formed by businesses, civic groups, and churches. Star players would unite to form town teams, which then would challenge similar teams from neighboring communities.

Although not popular as a spectator sport, lawn tennis was a favorite participant sport, played by both men and women, typically of college age and older.

Matches might not have attracted crowds, but they did give participants — especially recent high school graduates from leading families — opportunities to show off sports fashion.

Newspapers of the era were filled with advertisements for the latest in tennis wear, and leading residents seemed to oblige by modeling elaborate costumes for friends and photographers.

In 1900, for example, Annie Trenner, Marion High School’s valedictorian from a year earlier, and her salutatorian classmate, Sadie Keller, were photographed in elaborate tennis attire with the valedictorian from the year before, Homer Hoch.

Both Hoch and Trenner had gone on to college and were home on summer break at the time. Like many of the best and brightest, Keller had opted to embark on a new high-tech career — as a telephone switchboard operator.

Eventually, Hoch became a congressman and state Supreme Court justice, Trenner married a minister and moved away, and Keller remained in Marion, serving as a longtime postal worker.

Although baseball and tennis appeared to be the main sports of the 1890s and early 1900s, newspapers were filled with a growing fascination for sports that had become increasingly popular on college campuses.

There was talk of a new sport, basketball, which attracted both male and female athletes on college teams. But the main interest was reserved for a growing collegiate trend to participate in what most often was portrayed as a barbaric blood sport: football.

Barely a week went by without newspapers publishing some cautionary tale of college football players being maimed or killed in contests across the nation. News stories highlighted other communities that were considering banning the sport.

The Record even printed poetry, supposedly written by a former college student, urging young people to avoid football’s temptation:

Ah me, I will not, cannot, tell

The struggle, savagery and yell,

The battered ribs and broken nose,

The victory and its hundred woes.

Young men, be wiser at your school.

Don’t play football and be a fool.

Still, there were flirtations with the sport. Athletic clubs loosely affiliated with schools began staging occasional football contests as early as 1893.

Until 1904, however, the year in which President Theodore Roosevelt insisted on establishing rules to make the sport less bloody, football was not sanctioned by schools and instead was portrayed as a less civilized version of bare-fisted boxing.

What was announced as the first official Marion High School football game was played Oct. 14, 1905, in Herington and was attended by “a score or more of rooters and some of the sweetest girls.”

Unlike baseball stories of the time, football stories typically included descriptions of young women in attendance.

The team did not fare well, giving up three touchdowns and a field goal in the first half and another field goal in the second.

One Marion player suffered a sprained ankle, and another complained to the Record: “From the start, the game went against us. They were too heavy in the rear.”

The high school team won its first game Nov. 10, 1905, against a Peabody city team, scoring the game’s only touchdown after a 65-yard run.

In those days, only one referee was employed at a time. To ensure balance, a referee supplied by the home team handled the first half and one from the visiting team handled the second.

“The game was free of unmanly conduct of any kind,” the Record wrote at the time, as if relieved.

Football contests continued well into December, and Marion soon thereafter became a state power both in football and in girls’ basketball. Leagues were formed, and the rest, as they say, is sporting history.

Last modified Nov. 27, 2019

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