By Lorrie Kyle Ramey ’70
[Through athletics] the old time student, a narrow chested, stoop shouldered wretch of humanity, has been changed into the modern well developed college man.
—The Sand-spur, 1894
Men's Basketball Team, 1904-05
The history of Rollins athletics in its early years is a story of disorganization, fair play vs. foul, and “mad determination.” From the beginning, physical exercise was a key part of the Rollins program. Early catalogues called attention to the excellence of the climate for outdoor sports.
With the completion of Lyman Gymnasium in 1890, classes in gymnastics were offered. Light gymnastics was composed of dumb-bell drill, wand drill, fencing, running, ring exercises, and fancy steps. By 1900, the “Physical Culture” available to Rollins students had expanded to include baseball, football, tennis, basketball, bicycling, boating, and golfing.
The lakes were central to the social and sports life of Rollins. Boating and swimming provided exercise and opportunity for competition. By 1914, passing a swimming test was mandatory. (Those who could not swim were instructed to bring water wings.)
As far as intercollegiate sports were concerned, Rollins faced two major problems: there were no teams and there were no eligibility rules. More than once, Rollins could claim itself state champion because no other school had accepted its challenge. City, Y.M.C.A., and high school teams often provided the only competition for early Rollins squads.
In 1914, the College launched a campaign to place more emphasis on sports. Raymond W. Greene, who became director of athletics in 1913, organized gymnastic exhibitions, a track-and-field meet, and a water-sports meet. Greene’s goal was to have every Rollins student involved in some athletic activity.
At the same time, the Faculty Committee on Athletics recommended Rollins’ withdrawal from intercollegiate competition. The cause was the lack of regulation in Florida’s collegiate sports. Professional athletes who were not bona fide students were being brought in to play on college teams. It was felt that use of the “‘tramp athlete’” prohibited other students from participating in athletics and gave the student body an unwholesome perception of the importance of winning. The faculty advised dropping football in favor of water sports.
The Florida Collegiate Athletic Association was formed at Rollins on May 5, 1917. Composed of the University of Florida, Stetson University, Columbia College, Southern College, and Rollins, the Association agreed on a definition of “amateur” and established eligibility requirements. In 1918, at their annual meeting, the alumni requested that Rollins abstain from fielding teams unless the membership was truly representative of the College.
The 1917 Tomokan probably summarized Rollins’ plight best: “[W]hereas in the old days our semi-pro teams have held their own well, the baseball teams winning the state championship for seven successive years, now that we are holding rigidly to a clean standard, we cannot compete successfully with other institutions which are still using the imported and paid athlete ... ”
As early as 1894, Rollins boasted an Athletic Association, but sports seem to have experienced their real organization in 1919, with the creation of the Athletic Council. With its motto, “Fit for Life” or “Fit to Fight,” it was a direct response to World War I and was echoed in Rollins’ announcement that it was adopting a “Study-Hard, Play-Hard Program.” Men were encouraged to participate in team sports, but women were restricted to “the aesthetic type of sports.” They were required to exercise three times a week and were urged to participate in swimming, gymnastics, and hiking. By 1923, activities available to women included basketball, baseball, war canoe races, and “aesthetic dancing.”
In 1924, as part of the effort towards the Rollins Union, the alumni stepped in to assist Rollins athletics by assuming supervision of intercollegiate sports. Rollins was governed by the University and College Athletic Association of Florida, organized in 1924, and then by the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association. S.I.A.A. mem bership was an alumni goal, and was achieved in time for the 1925 football season.
The campaign for truly amateur athletics was successful, even if the teams were not overwhelmingly victorious. “Because of their fighting spirit, their clean playing, their thorough knowledge of the game, and their uncanny ability to overcome great handicaps, the Rollins Tars are the pride of Florida football fans” (The Alumni Record of Rollins College, 1924).
Three of Rollins’ most popular sports during its first 40 years were aquatics, baseball, and football.
From the beginning, Rollins social life took place as much on water as it did on land, and the first crew races were social events. Two groups, A.R.S.H.A.R.S. and the Viking Crew, were formed in 1903 for the sole purpose of racing each other, and the following year saw the Alabamas facing the Missourians.
The South Florida Fair invited Rollins to present an exhibition race on November 23, 1903. The Tampa Morning Tribune and Tampa Daily Times provided uniforms, advertising, and management, and the Atlantic Coast Line railroad assumed the cost of shipping the shells from Winter Park to Tampa. Although the two crews had only five weeks to practice, the “Herald Regatta” was a great success and the Rollins students’ efforts were applauded by Central Florida. The tradition was revived in 1921, when Col. T. J. L. Brown, president of the Fair Association, donated the Brown Racing Cup for an annual race by Rollins crew.
Rollins’ first aquatic contest was held in 1894, and included a boat race, tub race, and swimming race. By 1920, Rollins had 10 canoes, four rowboats, and two war canoes. Two sailing canoes, nicknamed Tortoise and Jack-Rabbit, and two sailing launches, Kangaroo and Tiger, met in weekly races. An annual regatta was a much-anticipated feature of Alumni Day, and there was great disappointment when the regatta had to be cancelled one Founders’ Week because of cold weather.
The first non-intramural baseball game was played in 1895. Rollins’ archrival was Stetson University, but unfortunately the Rollins-Stetson game could not be completed. Much to Stetson’s chagrin (they were losing by one run), team captain Rex Beach ’07 had to order his team off the field so they wouldn’t miss the train back to Winter Park.
Baseball appeared and disappeared as an organized sport over the next few years, but Rollins was state baseball champion in 1903, and again in 1908, 1909, 1910, 1911, 1913, and 1914. Intramural teams were also popular and the Rollins diamond hosted games between teams like the Red Peppers and the Ginger Snaps, and, during World War I, the Allies and the Germans—played in costume.
By 1920, baseball was the predominant sport at Rollins and it again won the state championship in 1921. A vote of the faculty discontinued the team in 1924: “The season carried out through [six games] was not highly successful [176 points won, 191 points lost]. This fact, coupled with poor averages of some of the players, inspired the faculty to direct the energies of the Tars to intramural activities” (The Alumni Record, 1924).
Rollins introduced football to Florida in 1904. The first season was without victory, but by 1909, Rollins had garnered the state championship and beaten the University of Havana—in Havana.
In 1912, football was abandoned. There had been objections to the sport’s roughness and the faculty was questioning the wisdom of playing football in the Central Florida heat, not to mention the fact there was no coach! Later teams played with less than spectacular results, but Rollins became known for its good sportsmanship.
Football was again abandoned during World War I, and in 1919, Rollins men played on a Winter Park team known as the “All-Star Miscellany.” An attempt to field a team in 1920 was given up, but the 1921 team finished the season with a total of 121 points won to 39 points lost, with only one defeat.
Football fever raged. A brass band and scores of fans accompanied the team on a special train to Gainesville for the game with the University of Florida in 1923. (Unfortunately, Rollins lost.)
On January 1, 1923, Rollins played the University of Havana in Miami. The Tars won the game 80-0. A rematch was scheduled in Havana on Christmas Day, 1923, and Rollins again defeated the Cuban team, but this time by a score of 46-0. (The University of Havana basketball team fared better, beating Rollins 45-16 and 45-10.) While in Havana, the Rollins football team also triumphed over the Havana Policia and the Cuban Athletic Club. Rollins became the only American college to play international football.