Toward the end of the nineteenth century into the early twentieth century, sports grew as a popular form of out-door play and entertainment for students at Davidson College. Many new teams and activities arose with the growth of the student body from 120 students in 1888 to 650 students in 1940. College athletes entered the arena of intercollegiate play in 1898 after decades of intramural play. The first organized teams played baseball in the 1870s, followed by rugby in 1889. Even with the rise of varsity sports, intramurals remained an integral part of student life and leisure time. Stiff competition between classes gradually shifted to fraternity-based teams and club sports.
Baseball was brought to America by early English settlers and spread rapidly as an early form of outdoor play with a ball and bat. These early games had no formality: “no regular teams, no accepted rules of play, no scheduled contests” (Dulles 186). The Civil War sparked the spread of baseball as it was played throughout base camps and behind the lines (Dulles 189).
However, not until the late nineteenth century did baseball officially become America’s pastime. By this time, “in every part of the United States, on Saturday afternoons and holidays, even in some localities on Sundays, there were in progress baseball matches among teams representing the town, the factory, the athletic club, the high school, or the Y.M.C.A.” (Dulles 263). This was definitely the case at Davidson College in the small town of Davidson, North Carolina.
Baseball is first mentioned in September of 1870 as a form of casual recreation. Members of literary societies on campus were often excused from Saturday morning meetings to play ball (Shaw 244). Many academic and religious conferences, such as the Southern Students Conference of the Y.M.C.A. in the Blue Ridge Mountains, offered baseball tournaments and other forms of recreation for participants (Davidsonian May 15, 1924). Other games consisted of groups of students dividing into two teams and playing for fun in their free time.
One former student, Dr. E. M. Summerell (class of 1876) recalled coming to Davidson in 1872 just after the Civil War when the college had few students and instructors due to the post war ravages.
He had a “fondness for town ball.” He joined the club baseball team established that spring after he arrived. This team played other club teams from local towns such as Concord and Mooresville. Since no official rules existed at this time, Dr. Summerell remembered playing “every position on the field, including pitcher, catcher, and infielder.” With bare hands, home-made bats, and new rules established at each game, the game of baseball was very different at this time (Davidsonian May 15, 1924).
By 1888, plenty of unofficial sports teams existed at the college, including baseball. Each class had a team, and rivalries between the classes were common (Lingle 50). Upper-class hazing of freshmen, an established tradition, only heightened these rivalries. In 1903, the sophomores played the freshmen as usual, but due to the class of 1905 being half the size of the class of 1906, the freshmen defeated the sophomores. After the devastating loss, the sophomores announced their intentions “to beat up the freshmen after a banquet on February 13” (Blodgett 89).
The freshmen, however, prepared themselves and were ready for the attack, settling for a compromised punishment. Unfortunately, the conflict continued as the sophomores wanted to exact more punishment. The freshmen, in fear of their lives, fled to the train station to leave campus. This news spread quickly as professors came just in time to the train station to stop the class from leaving by promising to protect the students. After a few days without classes, the campus calm returned, but the college and town still had to bear the impact of negative accounts of rioting at the college in newspapers across the state (Blodgett 90).
In addition to class teams, a varsity baseball team was established to play against other colleges in 1902. The college also formed a freshmen “scrub” team, known as the “Wildkittens.” This team gave the freshmen a greater opportunity to play since mostly the upperclassmen made the varsity team. Each year the “kittens” were expected to uphold their fine athletic standing in order to be prepared to carry on the varsity team in the coming years. The kittens played other junior varsity and freshmen teams from colleges in the area on the same field as the varsity which was located beside the football field.
In 1930, the Department of Physical Education took over intramural sports, headed by Capt. N. G. Pritchett (Physical Education). Prior to this, all sports teams had been student organized. This intramural program adopted the inter-class baseball games as well as adding inter-fraternity baseball tournaments. At the end of each tournament, trophies were awarded to the class and fraternity winners based on the results of all sports, including varsity athletic participation. Kappa Sigma showed constant domination in the inter-fraternity competitions, winning the baseball tournaments as well as other sports for several years in a row. In 1940, softball replaced baseball inter-fraternity and inter-class intramurals.
Allison, Ben, O’Neill, Coleman and Tobe, Courtney. “Athletics and Community Service” Davidson Encyclopedia April 21, 2011. http://libraries.davidson.edu/archives/encyclopedia/athletics-community-service
Blodgett, Jan, and Ralph B. Levering. One Town, Many Voices: A History of Davidson, North Carolina. Davidson, NC: Davidson Historical Society, 2012. Print.
Chapman, John-Michael. “Football” Davidson Encyclopedia October 2003. http://libraries.davidson.edu/archives/encyclopedia/football
Davidson College Wildcat Handbooks, 1896-1940. Davidson: Davidson College Office of Communications.
Davidson Special photograph. c1919. DC0237s. Edward B. Hale Scrapbook. Davidson College Archives. Davidson College, NC.
Dulles, Foster Rhea. A History of Recreation; America Learns to Play. 2nd ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1965. Print.
“Earliest Days of Davidson’s Baseball History Are Picture By Former Player.” The Davidsonian. 15 May 1924: 1.
Lingle, Walter L. Memories of Davidson College. Richmond, VA: John Knox, 1947. Print.
“Physical Education at Davidson College.” Davidson College Bulletin. 15 June 1930. Print.
Shaw, Cornelia Rebekah. “Davidson College.” New York: Fleming H. Revell Press, 1923. Print.
Wilson, Rob. “Baseball.” Davidson Encyclopedia October 2003 <http://libraries.davidson.edu/archives/encyclopedia/baseball/>
Authors: Kendall Thomas, Max Bazin and Emily Morgan
Cite as: Thomas, Kendall, Max Bazin and Emily Morgan. “Intramural Baseball, 1880-1940” Davidson Encyclopedia. May 2016. <http://libraries.davidson.edu/archives/encyclopedia/intramural-baseball>