The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Educational Athletics

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EDUCATIONAL ATHLETICS. At the outset it must be borne well in mind that athletics in an educational institution is not an end but a means to an end. The end in view is to furnish a healthy habitation for a healthy mind, for without a sound body to carry out its work the mind certainly cannot do what nature intended it to do. Certain minds incorporated in crippled bodies, it is true, have risen to remarkable heights in the various fields of human activity, but not on account of deformities, but in spite of them. Perhaps there is nothing so detrimental to a good healthy body — not even the use of stimulants — as excessive sedentary pursuits. When a young man is bent on winning scholastic honors, he unconsciously falls into this excess. Of course the natural result follows. Good rich blood is denied the parts; they become starved, and in a short time degeneration sets in throughout the entire body. Then it is that we have a terrible spectacle of a strong intellect unable to do even ordinary work on account of a pain-racked body.

It is to counteract this tendency to starve the body in order to feed the mind, that school authorities have encouraged physical as well as mental training among students. Thus we see that to-day the gymnasium is as important a part in a group of school buildings as a hall of science or of arts.

Although educational athletics is found at its best in the university, and there is little difference between the systems employed in our leading institutions of learning, the question is far from settled as to the best way of exercising the boy in the elementary and high school. It is a generally accepted fact that the exercise — we can hardly dignify it by the name “athletics” — in the elementary school is the one which, apparently, has the least system about it

Athletics reduced to a system is for the first time found in the high school. The games played are much the same as in the college, namely, baseball, football, track sports, tennis and basketball, while in some of the high schools we find indoor baseball. As a rule all interscholastic competition is under the control of the school principal, or a member of the teaching force appointed by the principal.

All over the country there are interscholastic associations made up of high schools in adjacent counties. The winners in the respective meets compete in larger meets under the auspices of the athletic associations of some nearby university. In many of the Western States, State high school track meets are held annually by the various State universities. Beside the rivalry between high schools located in the same section, there have been contests between the champion football teams of the Middle West and those of the East.

Generally speaking, every university in the United States has the same routine. Each student is required to undergo a physical examination, so that a correct knowledge of his bodily condition is obtained and proper exercises prescribed. Regular classes are formed for drill in ordinary arm, body, leg and wand calisthenics, and then on the various gymnasium appliances and apparatuses. During the freshman year at least, gymnasium work is compulsory. Exceptions, however, are made in the cases of those who make athletic teams. Besides the exercises themselves, lectures are given on personal hygiene. If the oollege is a co-educational institution, the female students take physical training under a competent woman instructor. In several institutions young women have taken part in basketball, and in rarer cases in track athletics, and on several occasions have made enviable records.

All competitive athletic games are given under direct faculty supervision, and examination is required to show that the membership on any team will not cause injury to the student, but will tend to improve his physical condition. No student, whose class work is unsatisfactory, is allowed to play on a university team. No student is permitted to play on an athletic team more than four years. All those who take part in collegiate sports must be amateurs.

Of all intercollegiate sports the most popular and the one most distinctively a college sport is football. The football season begins in the middle of September and ends with Thanksgiving day. Intercollegiate contests begin about the first of October, since the last half of September is taken up with the training and conditioning of the players. Football, as it is played in colleges to-day, is a modification of the Rugby game. This country first saw it at Harvard in 1875. A match was arranged with Yale that year, and the latter was beaten. However, the lesson seemed to have been a good one, for since then Harvard's victories over Yale have been few and far between. To Walter Camp, Yale 1880, sometimes called “the father of football,” do we owe much for football as it is played to-day. It was due principally to Mr. Camp's efforts that the number of players on a team, and positions were fixed in their present condition. Without going into a discussion, on the roughness of the game, let it be considered that what is rough — nay, brutal — for a man in no condition to play, is merely a trial of strength, courage and cleverness, in which all unnecessary roughness is eliminated, for the trained athlete.

After the football season is over, beside work in the gymnasium, there is nothing done in the way of exercise until after the holiday vacation, when the various indoor or gymnasium sports are taken up. The principal winter sport is basketball and gymnasium work. It is very important, among other things, in that it brings out a part of the student body which takes no part in the other branches of sport. Gymnasium teams practise in tumbling, trapeze, horse and bar work. Many of the students also take special interest in wrestling, fencing and boxing. Although there is none or little intercollegiate competition in handball, this beneficial exercise is the principle mode of recreation for a great many of the student body.

Although it is long before the season of competition, the training season of both the baseball and track teams start immediately after the Christmas holidays. Baseball brings out more candidates than any other branch of sport, and the reason for this may readily be seen. Although there are many boys in college who have never played football, or sprinted, there is hardly one, physically able, who has not played the national game. The indoor work in this branch consists of batting, throwing, picking up grounders and pitching. The squad, which in some instances numbers more than a hundred men, is gradually cut down, so that when they are able to play out of doors, in March, there remains probably enough men to make up two teams, beside the men who are trying for pitching positions.

In the East, Brown, Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Georgetown and Holy Cross have always been among the leading schools in baseball. The baseball squads in almost all of these colleges are coached by professional players. In the West, Illinois and Michigan have divided all the diamond honors in recent years.

Training for a track team starts in the winter. Almost every university gymnasium is fitted up with a running track. There, day after day, the candidates for the team get out and run under the eye of the trainer. Intercollegiate indoor track matches begin as early as February. They take place in the gymnasium, and consist of short dashes, hurdle races, middle and long distance runs, shot put, pole vault and high jump. To this list is often added a relay race. As soon as the weather is warm enough the track candidates are taken out on the athletic field. During the spring dual meets are held, and in June, at the end of the collegiate year, a meet is held to which all the track teams of the colleges of a section are invited to compete.

Harvard, Pennsylvania, Yale and Georgetown do the best work on the track in the field among the Eastern colleges. In the West Michigan and Chicago usually fight it out for leadership.

The following are the best records made in the respective events by the college track athletes of the country in collegiate meets:

100 yards — 9 4-5 s. — W. W. May.

220 yards — 21 1-5 s. — B. J. Wefers, Georgetown.

One-fourth mile — 47 2-5 s. — J. E. Meredith, Pennsylvania.

One-half mile — 1 m. 53 s. — J. E. Meredith, Pennsylvania.

One mile run — 4 m. 14 2-5 s. — J. P. Jones, Cornell.

Two mile run — 9 m. 23 4-5 s. — J. S. Hoffmire, Cornell.

120 yard hurdles — 15 s. — F. S. Murray, Leland Stanford.

220 yard hurdles — 23 3-5 s. — A. C. Kraenzlein, Pennsylvania.

Running high jump — 6 ft. 4½ in. — W. M. Alex, Yale.

Running broad jump — 24 ft. 4½ in. - A. C. Kraenzlein, Pennsylvania.

Pole vault — 13 ft. 1 in. — R. Gardner, Yale.

Putting 16 lb. shot — 48 ft. 10¾ ins. — P. Beatty, Columbia.

Beside the sports already mentioned, rowing takes an important place in the athletic catalogue of many universities. Perhaps a man has to train longer and more strenuously to make a college crew than if he went into any other branch of sport. Often the man on the crew starts to work in September and continues throughout the entire college year. The swimming tank in the gymnasium leads to many water games, such as racing, diving, water polo, etc., all of which tend to mould a man along healthful lines. Lawn tennis occupies a very important place in college athletics. It is one of the most beneficial sports we have, but as it is not a game which is very interesting to spectators, it will never rank with football, baseball, rowing or track athletics as an intercollegiate sport. Golf is being taken up more and more by the colleges and this most excellent game will increase in popularity, and we will hear of many intercollegiate matches where now there are but few.

The good of athletics in institutions of learning is incalculable. Between classes and lectures, when there is nothing to take up the student's mind, the temptations are manifold. If he is of a studious disposition, there is the danger of excessive sedentary life. If he is not studiously bent, there are many temptations to attract the idle. If he is of a weak constitution, disease and its consequences soon follow; if he is robust, although he may stave them off longer, the consequences are the same. Then again, the athletic field is a place where all classes of students can meet on a common ground. It is the place where they can get rid of a superabundance of youthful enthusiasm. As a result, the town and gown riots, which formerly characterized every college town, are things of the past. One is thus inclined to agree with an eminent college president when he said, “the athletic field does more toward keeping order in the student body than all our rules and regulations combined.”