Football in America started as early as 1869, but was not the game which is played today. Over the years, many changes have taken place, until this has become a major sport. Players begin playing the game in elementary school and some continue on to play with professional teams. And those who don’t play love to watch. Friday high school games, Saturdays collegiate games and Sunday professional games are all part of the fall schedule of events.
The sport has been around for over 120 years here in the county. The first game in Xenia was played on Saturday afternoon, November 10, 1894.
Hugo Schlesinger was the manager of the team as well as the correspondent who published the report of the game in the Xenia Daily Gazette on Monday.
“The first game of football that was ever played in this city took place last Saturday afternoon at the old baseball park on Dayton Hill. The majority of people in Xenia have heretofore had no idea what a real football game was and were surprised to find out what a scientific and exciting game it is. There was a fair crowd out to dee the games considering the weather and all left fully satisfied that they ‘had got their money’s worth.’”.
Schlesinger goes on to report “After playing for about 10 minutes Antioch succeeded by a series of downs to make a touchdown and Carr of the Antioch’s kicking the goal, counting them six points. About 10 minutes later they again repeated this, thus netting them 12 points.
“It was then that the Xenia boys girded their loins’ and ‘grit their teeth’ and began to play for keeps. Our boys by means of center kicks and side plays advanced the ball within 10 yards of Antioch’s goal when tie was called.
“Xenia started the second half by kicking off the ball and following it up with a rush. Twice the ball was gotten within five yards of Antioch’s goal, but Xenia failing to make the necessary 10 yards, the ball was given up to Antioch. The third time the ball was within three yards of Antioch’s goal ad Sheppard, Xenia’s fullback, carried around the left and across the goal line making a touchdown for Xenia, giving Xenia four points. After this neither side swerved and when time was called the score stood 12 to 4 in favor of Antioch. Antioch failed to score in second half”
In spite of the loss, the reporter/manager continued his remarks “Echoes from the Pigskin.”
He reported the fine play of Fred Ralls, a halfback and noted that “every Xenia player acquitted himself with glory.” It was reported that the team would practice for the next game “in a short time,”
That first game was as tough as today’s games. “H. A. Sparks deserved special credit for his good work, there being hardly a scrimmage in which he was not in it. He had to be in it. He had to be removed during the latter part of the second half, having received a terrific blow in the face…which cut his lips and made the blood flow, but he continued to play until he had his wrist dislocated in the second half. Harry, who is captain of Xenia, worked hard for the teams’ success and much credit is due him for their fine showing.”
“The game was called at 2:40 p.m., W. D. Patton of Yellow Springs acting as referee in the first half and Chas. Walkley as umpire.”
The team did play another game that first season, this time against a Dayton team. This time the Xenia team fared a little better with a win, though the win was disputed. The final game of the season was played on November 29.
Apparently the Xenia fullback bulled across the goal line and yelled “down.” The referee agreed that it was indeed a touchdown, but the opposing team argued that it was not.
Xenia agreed to try again, but the other team walked off the field, claiming that Dayton had won.
That first team consisted of Shepherd, fullback; Claude Lewis, quarterback; Fred Ralls, at half; Harry Sparks, Ray Chalfant, R. S. King, Archie Dean, Harry LeSourd, Harry D. Smith and Earl Smith, Ed John, Earl Eavey, Carl Beal and Ralph Dodds.
Charles McGervey, right end, had to be carried off the field after a ferocious tackle. Patterson, who played guard, was “knocked senseless” and of course Sparks continued to play in spite of a cut lip.
Interestingly enough, during that second game, The Rev. Charles T. Walkley rector of Christ Episcopal Church was the coach. He had played some football in the east, and also served as the only referee for the game.
When football first began in the United States, the field was 140 yards long. In 1879, the field was reduced to 100 yards and then in 1912 the 100 yard field was set, along with the six-point touchdown.
The first professional football team was the Canton Bull Dogs. Paul “Tuffy” Fuller, a former Xenia High School football star, played with that team.
Since that time, Greene County has been well represented in football, including but not limited to Woodrow “Woody” Hayes who for many years coached The Ohio State University football team to many wins. He was born in Clifton February 14, 1893. During his tenure at The Ohio State University, he earned five National Championships and thirteen Big Ten Conference titles.
Joan Baxter is a local resident and weekly historical columnist.