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100 Years of Hope Football
The establishment of a permanent football program at Hope College was a somewhat irregular process as compared to other similar institutions of higher learning. Founder Albertus C. Van Raalte's school was a relative newcomer to the intercollegiate football scene when its first team with a "major" schedule actually made its debut in 1907, although it was not for any lack of trying by the students in years prior to establish a football program.
While many of the Michigan colleges and universities had been playing the game regularly in the 1890's as its popularity rapidly spread across the nation, Hope's students had been unsuccessful in lobbying the college's administrators to allow the formation of a regular football team. Even the newly formed Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA), of which Hope would eventually become a member, had sanctioned football as a regular league sport in 1894.
Some intramural scrimmages between the classes occurred in the years prior; however, it wasn't until 1895 that Hope students essentially made the first serious attempt at establishing a team to represent the college. This went to the extent of having uniforms made, a team photo and even receiving challenges for games from three other institutions, only to have their efforts disappointingly overruled by the college administrators for a variety of reasons (in part due to a ban on travel outside of the campus grounds and concerns as to finances, study time and potential injuries).
Despite this temporary setback, enthusiasm continued among the prep and college students attending Hope and several informal contests were held among the classes (i.e. intramural competition) each year thereafter, while still trying to convince those in authority at the college to relinquish their objections. Evidence exists to document a team consisting of Hope College Juniors having played three games in 1899 against the Holland High School team.
In 1902, intramural class games continued to be played and a formal team representing Hope College played an "away" game against Muskegon High School later that fall, losing 40-0. This was a significant event as it was the first time a football eleven of Hope students was allowed by the administration to travel outside the bounds of the campus. The Council of Hope College (i.e. the Board of Trustees) had rejected a petition in 1899 by the Student Athletic Association for the college baseball team to travel and engage in intercollegiate contests. Then in the following year, after daily practices and some practice games against Holland High School, a single game is mentioned as having been played by Hope's organized team (i.e. the Preps) on November 21, 1903 against the South Grand Rapids Independents. It is recorded in the student newspaper, The Anchor, that "a glorious victory of 51-0 occurred: and that ".Enthusiasm among the boys ran high, and manifested itself in a most practical way in the supper given both teams at the Hope College Boarding Club".
While the College's administrators acknowledged a relative support of intercollegiate athletics during this period, there was still some reluctance to do this on a more formal basis. It was not until 1907 that Hope fielded its first team with a "major" schedule, the men students having apparently been granted permission from the administrators. Evidence to explain exactly how this "monumental" decision eventually came about is lacking. There were, however, some positive influences that can be attributed as key factors in causing a reversal of the ban.
First, what is known is that there were no football teams for the years 1904-06 due to the construction of Hope's new Carnegie gymnasium to replace the aging old wooden structure (the former chapel converted to a gymnasium for the students) built back in 1862 and which prevented sports competition on campus due to the cluttering of construction materials on the original athletic fields (where the current DeWitt Student Center stands). This new building was most likely a catalyst in providing a favorable decision for the formal sanction of a "real" football team for Hope as well as the other developing athletic teams on campus. Aside from those positive effects, it was an important milestone in the college's history itself. This was due to the fact the Hope's President Gerrit J. Kollen had convinced renowned entrepreneur and millionaire Andrew Carnegie to donate funds for a college gymnasium for the first time ever instead for libraries as per the latter's usual philanthropic endeavors.
Aside from the apparent positive effect of Carnegie Gymnasium, some alumni were also quite vocal in expressing their support for the establishment of intercollegiate athletics during this absent time of football at Hope and apparent apathy by the college administrators (and some students), although admittedly, there were others that expressed support of the trustees position. Among the several editorials and letters to the editor printed in the 1905 October issue of The Anchor, one particular alumnus noted that "Some of the noblest men in the Christian ministry and missionary service were captains of athletics at Yale, Princeton and Rutgers during their student days".the "strong games of baseball and football helped make them the men they became."
Nonetheless, it appears and can be appropriately acknowledged that after several years of perseverance by its men students, Hope's first "major" season (or "official team") became a reality in the fall of 1907. To be sure, it must have been a festive event since the Hope authorities evidently came to acknowledge that intercollegiate athletics were indeed an integral part of the overall education of the students.if conducted under the proper guidelines and "not at the expense of education and morality, of course!"
Reversing the trend of a "year(s) without a coach, with faculty discouraging, with spirit absolutely dead, and students interested in other sports", two persons can be credited with tireless efforts in generating "enthusiastic interest" to organize the revival of football at the college in 1907. Student Henry George Roest (Roost), Class of 1909, who would be manager of and player on the 1907 and 1908 teams, led a contingent of Hope football students that convinced the local and very successful Holland High School football coach, Professor A. J. Helmers, whose teams had played the various Hope class elevens in recent years, to "generously consent" to coach the college team as well that year.
While games with Helmer's own Holland High team resulted in two losses (8-6, 6-0), Hope's gridiron stalwarts made more than a "fair showing" against its other opponents with two wins against the local Holland Independents (both scores of 8-6), two wins against Grand Rapids Central High School (8-6 and 5-0), and wins over Grand Haven High School (6-4) and Allegan High School (17-6).
However, new research has recently uncovered documentation of a ninth game that the Hope football team played in the 1907 season. The November, 1908 issue of The Anchor mentions ".Benton Harbor College is stronger than last year, when they defeated us by a much larger score"; while The Sunday Herald of January, 1908 relates that for the 1907 ".Nine games in all were played last year, with but three defeats." Following up on those clues, subsequent research has uncovered an October, 1907 article in the Benton Harbor News-Palladium which provides a full accounting of this ninth game. The importance of this discovery is that it not only confirms the playing of a ninth game, but also documents the first football game that a Hope squad played against a true collegiate football opponent!
The Benton Harbor school had been founded in 1886 by Dr. George J. Edgecumb, former Superintendent of that city's public school system and offered degrees in teaching, music and the arts. By the mid 1890's, it had steadily grown in size and boasted an enrollment of some 476 students, twice the size of Hope, which had a total of 253. Having established a rather solid football program by the turn of the century (Benton Harbor's powerful 1900 team apparently had defeated a strong Notre Dame University club team and other collegiate eleven's such as Alma and Kalamazoo, Dr. Edgecumb's gridiron eleven met Hope's young team in 1907 and a return match the year later. The 1907 game was played on Saturday, Oct. 26 at Benton Harbor's "home field" at Eastman Springs, a renowned and popular Victorian era park and health springs resort for southwest Michigan, northern Indiana and Chicago areas, and which later became a famous American Israelite community known as Mary's City of David.
The Benton Harbor newspaper recounted the game's action with the usual hyperbole characteristic of the journalist style of the era. The opening caption of the article in the sporting news section proclaimed."Was a Slaughter.Locals Are Strong" in relating Benton Harbor's crushing of Hope's eleven by the score of 54-0.
That Benton Harbor College has a football team that is a credit to Dr. Edgcumbe's noted institution was demonstrated Saturday afternoon at Eastman Springs when the local college met and defeated a heavy eleven from Hope College of Holland. In two halves of 30 and 35 minutes each the locals trounced their opponents to the tune or 54-0.The college lads simply slaughtered the visitors who were heavier and older than the locals. At the end of the first half the score stood 37 to 0. In the second half the college scored another three touchdowns, kicking goal twice and missing once.
The locals played all around their opponents. Hope's line was pierced for consistent gains, her ends were circled for long runs and the forward pass was used once or twice with good results.
Though there was only a small crowd at the game there was considerable spectacular work on the part of the locals. Bakeman of the college kept enthusiasm going with a 60 yard run for a touchdown early in the game. From then on the college boys traveled up and down the field making touchdowns. Mitchell, F. Gore, C. Gore, Aylsworth, in fact every man of the B. H. C. eleven played well.
Lineup of the Teams
It is also interesting to note the names of those in Hope's lineup for the Benton Harbor game. An in-depth review of these players shows a mix of students from Hope College and prep schools, as well as former Hope graduates who were then enrolled at the adjacent Western Theological Seminary. This in not surprising as the aforementioned Grand Rapids newspaper noted that during Hope's 1907 season of "three occasions (i.e. the losses), the locals were somewhat crippled by the absence of several regulars". This also reflects the lack of universally enforced or yet established regulations in both high school and college football as prep students were allowed to play on college teams, colleges allowed to play both high school, independent club teams as well as collegiate squads. Although the NCAA had been established in 1906 and the Michigan State Athletic Committee (forerunner of the present-day Michigan High School Athletic Association) a few years earlier to regulate collegiate and high school athletics respectively, especially football to assist in rules governing eligibility and decreasing injuries, these organizations were in their infancy and definitive regulations had not yet been established and/or even adhered to by the various colleges. This again, was one of the concerns that Hope College administrators had originally expressed in their reluctance to fully authorized "their blessing" for the implementation full collegiate athletic programs at the school as previously mentioned.
In all, these new discoveries have not just "added one for the record", nor only preserved memories of Hope's long ago (and perhaps forgotten) former gridiron heroes for posterity. Rather, just as importantly, they have provided additional information to further complete the story regarding the establishment of intercollegiate football at Hope College, again a rather irregular yet interesting process of events as prior noted.
Despite the crushing "slaughter" in 1907 by the Benton Harbor College team, and wins against teams that "were scarcely as strong as state college elevens", that Hope's team managed a fine 6-3 season in essentially its inaugural year in 1907 with an "expanded" schedule encouraged the students and public in the Holland community to already begin "planning for a successful campaign in 1908.(and) lead to public belief that the local school will boast something of championship caliber when the season of "the yellow and sere' rolls round once more" as the Grand Rapids newspaper reported. After all, that is part of the Hope College Football Tradition!
Information for this article provided by Gordon M. Brewer, Professor Emeritus and author of two volumes on the history of Hope College athletics, and from the files of the Joint Archives of Holland and the Benton Harbor (Mich.) Public Library.