Football Banned!

When football arrived on southern college campuses in the late 1870s, it was not without controversy. Some in the South resented the sport’s northern roots, while many others–especially religious leaders–feared that it put players and spectators in unnecessary physical and moral danger. In 1890, the administration of UNC was starting to agree, and after just two seasons of intercollegiate football, the Board of Trustees banned competition with other schools, citing the disorder and injury the game encouraged.

A football game in the early 1900s (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Image Collection #P0004, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archive)
A football game in the early 1900s (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Image Collection #P0004, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archive)

UNC organized its first intramural football teams in the 1880s, and by the end of that decade football was one of the most popular sports on campus. In 1888, UNC competed against Wake Forest in the first documented intercollegiate football game in the South. Spectators reported that the game was disorderly and confused, as neither team had a firm grasp on the rules of the game, and UNC lost 6 to 4. Competition was largely unregulated–there were almost no limits as to who could join the team on the field, and games sometimes dissolved into fights. Within the span of a year, three students suffered serious injuries on the football field–the team’s captain, Steve Bragaw, broke his leg in a game against Trinity (now Duke), and in the following season, student George Graham broke his collar bone and another student broke his wrist. In 1889, the university called for all games to be played on college grounds, hoping that greater supervision might rein in the disorder. When this failed, the faculty recommended a ban, and it was passed by the Board of Trustees on February 20, 1890.

The Board explained that while intercollegiate games were said to encourage exercise, foster inter-institutional relationships, and encourage “the boys of the country” to pursue a college education, the “necessary evils” of the sport “over balanced the benefits.” The Board argued that the sport’s impact on exercise was limited as only a few actually played, while many more neglected their studies to sit and watch. Citing player injuries, they argued that the game was physically dangerous and expressed fear that “the furious rivalry engendered by contests in presence of numerous spectators” encouraged brutality, conflict, and “hatreds” between schools. They not only feared for the students’ physical safety but also their morality, citing the “great deal of betting” that accompanied intercollegiate contests and expressing worry that the ” unusual excitement” caused by games might encourage “drinking and rowdyism.”

UNC’s football team in 1891, the first season after the ban was lifted (The Hellenian, North Carolina Collection)

Ten months later, a group of students led by football players George Graham, Samuel Blount, Alexander Stronach, Drew Patterson, and Perrin Busbee circulated a petition to end the ban. The faculty formed a committee to discuss the issue (an early incarnation of the Faculty Athletics Committee) and an agreement was reached. Intercollegiate sports were revived, but under the governance of an advisory committee. This committee, originally composed of a faculty member, a graduate student, and an undergraduate, would be instrumental in the administration and regulation of campus athletics in the coming years. UNC’s 1891 season was discouraging, as the team came away with a 0-2 record. However, over the next few years, the Tar Heels developed into one of the best teams in the South, winning the 1895 Southern Intercollegiate Athletics Association championship and going undefeated in 1898. For two of UNC’s rivals, however, the controversy over football continued. In 1895, both Wake Forest and Trinity, motivated in large part by their religious affiliations, banned the sport. Trinity did not field another team until 1920, while Wake Forest returned to the field in 1907.

Eighty-Nine Years of Championship Basketball

1959 program from the Southern Conference’s Dixie Classic. (Records of the Athletic Communications Office, #40308, University Archives.)

Eighty-nine years ago this past Monday, the Tar Heels basketball team won the first championship tournament of the then newly formed Southern Conference. The men’s basketball team went on to win seven more SoCon tournaments before joining the Atlantic Coast Conference, which it helped to form, in 1953. Collegiate sports regulations have changed over the decades but the reputation of Tar Heel athletes remains stellar across myriad sports.

First page of President Graham’s statement to faculty. (Records of the Office of the Vice President for Finance, #40011, University Archives.)

College athletics has long played an important role in the university’s history. President Frank Porter Graham addressed faculty in 1938, extolling “the spirit of youth in the democracy of sports.” He believed that sound regulations and codes would allow a stadium to become a rallying place full of “high devotion expressed in music, songs, cheers, struggle, and drama, deep with loyalties called forth by the precious meaning of the alma mater.” Graham notes that codes of sportsmanship, like academic study, carry over into “human relations, industrial, inter-racial, and international.”

A new conference is born. (Records of the Office of the Vice President for Finance, #40011, University Archives.)

In 1953, UNC–Chapel Hill founded the Atlantic Coast Conference together with six other schools. In a copy of a letter to Dr. Oliver K. Cornwell, the temporary secretary of the as-yet unnamed conference, Chancellor R.B. House confirms the university’s withdrawal from the Southern Conference. Today, N.C. State, Duke, Wake Forest, Clemson, and Maryland, along with UNC, are still members of the ACC. Thus began an illustrious history that continues to the present.

Mia Hamm at UNC

As the college soccer season gears up, University Archives staff have unearthed some records from a golden era of women’s soccer at UNC.

Mia Hamm playing for UNC in 1992. Photo credit: Sports Illustrated Magazine, December 1992

Mia Hamm was at the height of her powers while playing for coach Anson Dorrance on the UNC women’s soccer team from 1989-1994. Hamm led the Tarheels to four NCAA championships, and finished her collegiate career as the Atlantic Coast Conference’s all-time leading scorer in goals, assists, and points.

Although we may remember Brandi Chastain’s jersey-stripping antics at the 1999 Women’s World Cup, it was Mia Hamm’s earlier goal that propelled the team toward victory. Through that and subsequent tournament wins (including Olympic gold medals in 2000 and 2004), Hamm helped change the way the world viewed women’s soccer. Hamm continues to be remembered as one of the University of North Carolina’s greatest athletic alumni.

The following memoranda were written by Associate Director of Athletics Beth Miller and Director of Athletics John Swofford, regarding some of Hamm’s achievements at UNC.  These documents form part of the Records of the Department of Athletics (#40093) in the University Archives in Wilson Library.

Memo from Beth Miller to Mia Hamm, January 21, 1993. Records of the Department of Athletics, #40093, University Archives
Memo from John Swofford to Coach Anson Dorrance, March 28, 1994. Records of the Department of Athletics, #40093, University Archives

Pat Summitt Letter in the University Archives

In 1987, Pat Summitt coached the University of Tennessee women’s basketball team to the first of what would be eight national championships for the school.  Frances Hogan, the associate athletic director for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, wrote a note of congratulations to Coach Summitt.  Summitt responded thanking Hogan for her demonstration of support and also taking the opportunity to congratulate UNC for its decision to hire Sylvia Rhyne Hatchell as the head coach of the women’s basketball team.  Coach Hatchell had just completed her first season at UNC, and Summitt predicted Hatchell would be successful.

Pat Summitt Letter
Letter from Pat Summitt to Frances Hogan, May 5, 1987, Records of the Department of Athletics, #40093, University Archives

And she was correct, as Hatchell has become one of the winningest coaches in women’s basketball history, being one of only four head coaches in Division I history to win 800 games, and earning coach of the year honors in 1994 and 2006.  Since coming to UNC in 1986, Hatchell has led the women’s basketball team to a national championship in 1994, eight ACC titles, and six 30-win seasons.

The professional interactions of these two began in the 1974-1975 season, when Summitt was in her first season as the coach at Tennessee and Hatchell served as the junior varsity coach.