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History Learnin': The State of Georgia Athletics in 1897

This is the final series of 3 posts from the 1897/1898 era of Georgia football. In my first two posts, I studied the tragic set of circumstances and aftermath of Von Gammon's death. For this edition of History Learnin', though, I'm lightening the mood a bit and sharing a few articles that outline the state of Georgia athletics during this time.

I'll just go ahead and give you the primary takeaway from today's lesson: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I'm so excited about this first item that I can't wait to share it, so let's just jump right in:

As always with these segments, I have made every effort to faithfully recreate the articles as they appeared in the newspapers at the time. Any comments I've added are in italics. (And usually in parentheses, as well.)

The following song appeared in the Song And Yell Supplement of The Red and Black before the Vanderbilt game on November 29, 1898. First time in print? First time in print. (That I've found, at least.)

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Vanderbilt's colors will be deep, deep blue;
Vanderbilt's colors will be deep, deep blue;
Vanderbilt's colors will be deep, deep blue;
As Georgia goes playing on!
Glory, glory to old Georgia,
Glory, glory to old Georgia,
Glory, glory to old Georgia,

------------- (End excerpt) ---------------

There is also this little curiosity on the same yell sheet:

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Vanderbilt yap!
Vanderbilt yap!
Vanderbilt yap, yap!
Yap, Yap!
(Repeat indefinitely)

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Now, I'm turning the clock back a year to 1897. The following article appeared in The Red and Black on June 16, 1897:

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THE FACULTY REFUSE (Well, that blows the ending, doesn't it?)

The Faculty is in receipt of the following petition:

To the Honorable Faculty of the University of Georgia ---

Gentlemen: We, the undsigned (sic) students of the University of Georgia, respectfully petition you to allow Messrs. Sanford, Foster, Johns, and Dougherty to play under the name of the University against Virginia (in an upcoming baseball game) in consideration of the following:

We recognize the justice of the Faculty's ruling in the case, and also that these gentlemen were at fault in not standing finals. But we also reco recognize (sic) the fact that it will be impossible to put up a creditable showing against Virginia without these men, and that, should we cancel the games, we will win a reputation for breech (sic) of faith which would prove disastrous to Athens and to the University at large.

We likewise recognize the wisdom of the Trustees in their ruling heretofore upon athletics, but in consideration of the fact that this is the first year of its enforcement, we appeal to you to exercise clemency in this particular instance.

In answer thereto, the Faculty begs to reply that in October, 1895, the following rule was promulgated:

"Any candidate for the athletic teams whose standing in any school is unsatisfactory to the professor in charge, shall be reported to the Chancellor as on probation, and shall be debarred from participation in any intercollegiate event or contest with outside club, until satisfactory improvement is reported by the school concerned."

This rule was enforced with great leniency during the first year after its adoption, because of its novelty, but with the distinct understanding that thereafter it would be strictly enforced; such strict enforcement being necessary, in the opinion of the Faculty, in order:

First, to encourage the manifestation of interest in athletics on the part of all studious young men who come to the University of Georgia to take regular courses from their Freshman year to their graduation: and second, to discourage the coming or importation here of young men who come primarily -- not to study, but for the purpose of participating in athletics.

The Faculty has endeavored, during the present session, to enforce the rule, and must remain of the opinion that its continued enforcement will be to the interest of the University both in scholarship and in athletics.

We view with unfeigned surprise the intimation of the petition that during the session of 1896-97 only ten men have been developed out of the five class base ball teams, capable of playing a game of base ball in the name of the University. We regard athletic development as far more important than athletic victories.

The Faculty regrets its inability to grant a petition so courtiously worded and presented.

For the Faculty,
W.D. Hooper, Secretary.

-------------- (End Article) ---------------

So, the first year after academic eligibility standards were introduced at the University, four of the best players on the baseball team blew off Spring finals and were declared ineligible. The students raised a stink about it, and the Faculty collectively said, "LOL NO." Color me unsurprised. (The little dig at the students saying, "What, you don't have any other players good enough to play on the Varsity team?" is kind of funny, too. Not to mention all the typos in the students' petition.)

In addition to academic eligibility (or lack thereof), there were other issues at foot that might not seem so out of place in 2012. The following article, authored Dr. Charles Herty (who, in addition to being the father of Georgia football, also was essentially the athletic director during that time), appeared in The Red and Black on October 30, 1897. (This was the same issue that had the Georgia/Virginia preview I reviewed on Sunday.)

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Just thirteen years ago I had my first sight of athletics at the University of Georgia. It was the morning before college opened. Charles Ed Morris was standing under the shade of a large tree between the chapel and the Moore building, on the same elevation the chapel is on, batting out flies to Cecil Willcox, the Mell boys, and others, standing near the top of a high hill on the same elevation Yahoo is now on. Between the batter and the fielders was a deep gulch (I use the word advisedly). So steep was the decline from the out-field to second base that it was dangerous for the fielder to run forward on a fly ball, and the ever-present small boy was utilized for returning to the batter those balls which fell short of the far out-field.

This sounds like exaggeration, but it is literally true.

What a change has been wrought since that time!

The first efforts to improve the field were instituted in December, 1890, by Captain W. W. Thomas, at that time a member of the board of trustees. By a fortunate coincidence, there was present in the treasury of the University a sum of about four hundred dollars, for which there was no urgent need; at the same time there was present in Athens a large force of railroad hands and teams idle for two weeks during the construction of the Georgia, Carolina, and Northern railroad to Atlanta. Taking advantage of this coincidence, the grading of the field was begun. What enthusiasm it aroused!

But this was only the beginning. The following year the Athletic Association, having some available funds, continued the work of grading, the work being in charge of the irrepressible Pat Sheehan. I wonder if any of the boys in college remember Pat? I know Nalley does. Pat was a "sooner." ("Boomer Sooner" heard playing out of nowhere.)

The field then was considered to be about as good as it probably ever could be made, and so remained until last December.

The many accidents, due to the roughness of the grounds and their unsuitableness for base-ball games, made us all long for a better field, but from whence were the necessary funds to come?

The fortunate financial outcome of the last foot-ball season and the enthusiasm arroused (sic) all over the State by the splendid play of the team suggested the sources for the funds.

We all know of the thorough canvass of the alumni by the students just after Thanksgiving day, the result of which was the beginning work once more on the grading of this field. When the first pick was struck only one hundred and fifty dollars in cash was at hand, though five hundred dollars more had been promised by alumni. Since that time nineteen hundred dollars have been spent on the work, giving us today one of the best athletic fields in the south. This amount was raised in the following manner: From the alumni and faculty nine hundred dollars, one hundred dollars of this amount being contributed by Mr. Samuel Spencer, from the Butterfly fete given by the ladies of Athens, one hundred and fifty dollars; from the Athletic Association, three hundred dollars, from the students, one hundred and fifty dollars, an from the board of trustees, four hundred dollars. This brings us up to date.

Probably nothing more will be done for several years as all are agreed that any funds in the near future would be best applied to the construction of a gymnasium. Yet we must not consider the work finished until the south-west corner is filled in to the present grade, until a bicycle and running track is constructed on the field, and grandstands and bleachers erected more in keeping with the honorable position we have gained in out-door sports.

There is another line of thought, however, in connection with the athletic field which it is well to keep in view. On the old field of thirteen years ago, was developed a base-ball team which many still think could hold its own with our latter day 'Varsity teams. In other words, perfect grounds do not necessarily make great teams. That famous old team of '86 owed its progress to the same "Georgia spirit" which has characterized our athletics throughout. True it was crude and unorganized, nevertheless it was present and powerful as now.

See to it boys that that spirit does not flag! Remember that the "G" on a sweater stands for "Grit" as well as for "Georgia."


-------------- (End Article) ----------------

So for the TL;DR crowd (who are probably not reading this, either), the baseball field sucked out loud back in the day, and the University was able to make a few improvements, but not enough. As soon as football had a good season, however, they capitalized on the attention (and money) to raise additional money through the football channels, and once that project was accomplished, saw more dollar signs and drew new designs on building all new facilities for other sports. All because of football money.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Go Dawgs!