Early football in Greene County

By Joan Baxter

It does not matter what season is on us, someone in the area will be playing with a ball of one sort or another such as footballs, baseballs, soccer, tennis or golf balls. As a nation we move from one season to another with a different size and shape ball.

In the fall, football has for many years been the leading sport. Fans pay to watch their favorite teams while wearing warm clothing and even winter hats. It does not matter if it is chilly, rainy or sunny; the fans sit on the sidelines while cheering for their favorite teams. Then, of course, some sit in the comfort of their homes watching the games on television.

Football has been a popular sport in Greene County for more than 130 years.

I am not sure how long Antioch College players had been taking the field, but the first game foro Xenia players took place between the Xenia Central High team and the Antioch team.

It was not unusual for high school and college teams to play one another in those early days, and sometimes the players especially at the college were not even enrolled at the school.

The first football game played in Xenia was held on Nov. 10, 1894.

Hugo Schlesinger managed the Xenia team and served as the reporter for the game as well. It was surmised that perhaps he was the reporter because no one else understood the game enough to write about it. He did become a newspaper correspondent before becoming an attorney,

In those early days, the game had to be played during the daylight hours. Per Schlesinger “The game was called at 2:40 p.m. W. D. Patton of Yellow Springs acting as referee in the first half and Charles Walkley as umpire.”

The reporter continues: “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 see the game considering the weather and all left fully satisfied that they ‘had got their money’s worth.’”

The report continued with the description titled “Echoes From the Pigskin”.

“After playing for about 10 minutes Antioch succeeded by a series of downs to make a touchdown and Carr of the Antiochs 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 line when time 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 and Sheppard, Xenia’s fullback, carried around the left end 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 the second half.”

“Every Xenia player acquitted himself with glory.”

The game was not without injury, however. Charles McGervey, right end, received a blow on the head and was taken off the field. Patterson who was the right guard was knocked unconscious in the second half but went back into the game.

The account continues: “H.A. Sparks deserves special credit for his good work, there being hardly a scrimmage in which he was not 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 team’s success and much credit is due him for their fine showing.”

With all those injuries, it is surprising that they even wanted to continue but the team planned to begin practice for the next game “in a short time.”

Thanksgiving Day thirteen years later saw what had become a tradition in Xenia football. This was a game with the current high school players pitted against the alumni.

This engendered considerable interest from sports fans and many tickets were sold well in advance of the “big” game. The Xenia player kicked a goal, but the alumni failed to get a goal and so lost to the regular players.

However four years later, some of those 1907 players were allied with the alumni team and thigs were different then.

“A great deal of old-fashioned football, with a touch of pugilistic tactics, was resorted to, making the contest all the more exciting.” The Xenia Varsity team had lost only one other game in the season, and no doubt was surprised at the prowess of the alumni team which “held like a stone wall ad was very seldom shattered.” Only eight minutes into the game, the alumni scored. The 5-0 score held throughout the remainder of the game and the alumni went away feeling very proud of their win. They no doubt felt that this made up for the 1910 game when the varsity team defeated the alumni with a score of 15-0.

By Joan Baxter

Joan Baxter is a resident and long-time historical columnist.

Joan Baxter is a resident and long-time historical columnist.