I’ve done a lot of research on a lot of schools and here are some interesting facts on early Wisconsin high school football. So, let’s start at the beginning. These are notes on various programs.
In 1884 Delafield St. John’s Military Academy opened. It’s founder, Rev. Sydney. Smyth had played football while studying at Racine College. Of course, the game was really more of a rugby style sport but the locals there called it “foot-ball”. The next year, 1895, using a book he obtained from somewhere, he taught his students the newest rules of the game. The team went 2-1-0 in 1885 against local “Town teams”. Smythe made sure ahead of time that their opponents knew what the new rules were all about. They were the first high school team in Wisconsin to play the sport and are accredited as the first school west of the Allegany Mountains to play by the newest rules.
The second high school to play football was Wayland University (Now known as Wayland Academy). Granted that Wayland and St. John’s were not formal public schools but the earliest Academies to play school sponsored sports, in particular foot-ball. Wayland had both a university and a high school. In 1889 some men, who had played at the University of Michigan, came to Wayland in Beaver Dam and taught the students of both the high school part of the school and those part of the university the game. There were two dorms at the school…The Cottage Boy’s and the College Hall Boy’s. The two dorms played several intermural scrimmages that year. The first formal high school game was played in 1891 against Ripon College a frequent opponent of Wayland, St. John’s and Oshkosh High School, Oshkosh Normal and Lawrence University. The Wayland team may have had some university players on its team. Their star player was Fred Hulbert, the “father of Green Bay football” who started the Green Bay Team (Town team), a forerunner of the Packers in 1894. When Fred, born in Chicago but considered a Racine native, arrived in Green Bay at age 25 he brought with him the first football the town had ever seen. Besides taking a job as a clerk for the Union Laundry he joined the West Side Athletic Association first as a trainer and then as captain of the fledgling foot-ball team (Football was often spelled foot-ball in newspapers and other stories of the day). As captain he really was the coach and he instructed others on the tactics of the sport and was the driving force behind the sport there.
Milwaukee’s first high school opened in 1857, nine years after Wisconsin became a state but closed its doors in 1860 as the Civil War was approaching. A school housing with an enrollment of 100 boys and girls in a primary setting finally reopened in 1868 and a year later Milwaukee High School formally opened. The location was on the corner of N. Van Buren and E. Juneau Ave. but the school was moved to N. Cass and E. Knapp Streets where it would become East Side High School, sometimes called “Old Eastside” and is now Riverside. A gym was built in 1890 and the school club sports of baseball and football were played. A newly formed Athletic Society was formed to regulate the sports for the school.
On February 22, 1893, the school leaders of Milwaukee High, Delafield St. John’s Military Academy, and Fond du Lac High School formed an alliance and the first WIAA was formed. Soon, Wayland Academy of Beaver Dam, Lawrence University of Appleton and Ripon College joined the group and the seeds of the future WIAA was formed. The Milwaukee City Conference was also formed that year as well with South Side (South Division) joining in 1893 and West Side (West Division, which closed and would later become The Milwaukee Academy of the Arts) joining in 1895 to become part of the conference.
The school’s name was changed to Milwaukee East Side in 1893 and they played their first football game against athletes of the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance, a game East lost (No score known).
Teacher, coach and later long-term principal of East Side High School is George A. Chamberlin is in the top right of the team photo…from the 1915 Commencement Annual.
Against NW Mutual coach/teacher George A. Chamberlin played left end and according to the Milwaukee Journal made a key tackle to prevent a score. The commencement annual noted that their “coach and faculty member” was quite a promising youngster.
The two teams again played in several games during 1894 and it seems that, although the scores aren’t known, East was 2-1-0 against the Mutuals. In 1895 East Side played South Side for the first time and in two games tied 12-12 and won 14-6. For some reason East didn’t play football in 1899, the only year they had no team. Against the powerful South Side teams of early high school football East posted only a 4-13-2 record over a twenty-year period (1895-1914).
1893 appears to be the beginning for many schools. Oshkosh high school played their first game but as a combined squad with Oshkosh Normal (UW-Oshkosh). One score I found from that season was a 42-0 loss to Lawrence University, a game played in Appleton. The next season the high school played without Normal players as their own team and posted a 3-0-0 record.
Again, in 1893 Madison high school (Closed in 1968, playing their last game in the 1967) played its first game. This would be a school that posted one of the best early records from 1893-1929 (181-44-16) and its name would be changed to Madison Central. In 1897 Madison would play North Tonawanda (NY) for the first mythical high school national championship in Detroit on Christmas Day, winning 14-4.
This was also the year, 1893, that a football team was formed at Darlington and began to train. They would play their first games in 1894 going 2-3-0, beating Dodgeville twice and losing twice to Mineral Point and once to Platteville Normal.
In 1894 the students at Eau Claire high school formed an athletic association. The group was made up of numerous students’ activities beyond athletics. At the time the school had the second largest enrollment of any high school in the state, 337, with Madison High’s 354 being the biggest. In 1894 the city population of Eau Claire was 17,000+ while Madison’s population was 15,000+. That’s only about 2% of the city’s populations. Today, about 6.5 % of the population in these two cities attend high school. In the 1890’s-10940’s many school age children dropped out of school early, many around the sixth grade so they could work and help their family. The EC Athletic Association also created the school yearbook, financed through gaining a large amount of local business advertising support. They published 3-6 a year seasonal edition that were usually a 40+ page editions each. The yearbook covered poetry, stories, history, music and more besides sports. The yearbook was titled “The Kodak”, named after the first personal camera that was developed around 1892. The books were a snapshot of student lives. The name Kodak remains the title of Eau Claire Memorial’s yearbook. Eau Claire would go 3-2-1 in their first football season, 1895, and become a powerful program in the northeast part of the state.
The Fox Lake Representative newspaper printed an article on how the game of football is played on October 25, 1895.
Fox Lake had played a game earlier the week before, having beaten Mayville 14-8, when they met Waupun on November 9th for what was Waupun’s first game. Fox Lake won 12-6 even though Waupun scored the first touchdown of the game.
From an earlier story in the Representative, I’m including the first names of the Fox Lake team:
Baker was one of the stars but unfortunately his first name is unknown as there is no yearbook from that time and his first name wasn’t mentioned anywhere else in the paper.
More early football stories next time in Part 2.