By Lorrie Kyle Ramey ’70
Upon his arrival at Rollins College, Hamilton Holt cleaned house, and sports was no exception. By the fall of 1929, Rollins had no graduate manager of athletics, no recruiting program, and no alumni “slush fund.” Rollins had firmly endorsed the “abolishment of the ‘ringer’ system in athletics and the substitution therefore of the ideal that Rollins should play the game cleanly, even though she loses” (Rollins College Bulletin, 1926).
Lack of genuine amateur competition continued to plague the coaches and administration alike—to the point that President Holt was led to declare: “I recognize that this is academic and athletic heresy. But if any college such as Rollins finds it impossible to secure genuinely amateur competitors, then I submit there is no honorable alternative except to espouse professionalism. What I object to is this hypocrisy in pretending to one thing and doing another” (The Sandspur, 1929).
The relationship among the small colleges in Florida was constantly changing. The “Little Three” of 1925—Stetson, Southern, and Rollins—added Tampa and Miami to their ranks and became Florida’s “Little Entente.” When Rollins’ on-again, off-again rivalry with Stetson was off-again, Miami “ascended to the enviable position of the team the Tars most desire to lambast” (The Sandspur, 1935). Stetson withdrew completely from intercollegiate competition in 1941, but Rollins and Stetson continued their rivalry unofficially with the initiation of a Play Day—first for women, and then for all students.
If it is impossible to find enough colleges geographically proximate to play with under purely amateur conditions ... I am ready to suggest that we abandon our pretense of amateurism and come out open and above board for professionalism. I would be perfectly willing to print in our catalogue just how much we pay our pitcher, our quarterback, and high jumper.
—Hamilton Holt, The Sandspur, 1929
Rollins discovered even further obstacles in locating acceptable competitors when it introduced new sports to Florida. In order to find appropriate competition in sports such as crew and fencing, Rollins had to take its teams on the road. Crew was inaugurated as an intercollegiate sport in 1927 and it was not until 1937 that the first intercollegiate race was held in Florida.
Rollins fielded intercollegiate football teams until 1944, but varsity basketball and baseball had much rougher going. With the loss of Lyman Gymnasium, the basketball team was forced to practice on the tennis courts. Intercollegiate basketball was abandoned in 1933, reintroduced in 1939. In 1938, there were not sufficient players to field a baseball team, so interested men formed the “Independents” and played outside Rollins and the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association. Some questioned if football should be continued, given the expense. It was decided, however, that football was played at Rollins for morale, not for income or publicity value.
Tarpon Club, 1948
Unlike the varsity teams, intramural sports thrived. New activities were constantly being added to the intramural roster: cross country, diamond ball, volleyball, and speedball—a combination of hockey, soccer, and football. Women’s physical education, which was limited to intramural games, centered on the activities of the Women’s Athletic Association, formed in 1928. Under the New Curriculum, all women were required to participate in one individual sport, one team sport, one term of dance, and swimming and canoeing. The best women athletes were chosen to play on the intramural teams, the “Odds” and the “Evens.”
During World War II, with 39 men on campus, the women picked up the athletic slack—even playing football “just to uphold old Rollins tradition.” Their team, the Tarlettes, was so successful in its encounters with outside opponents that the possibility of intercollegiate competition for Rollins women began to be discussed.
A review of Rollins’ record during Prexy’s reign:
Prexy’s first football season was not spectacular. The Tars did not win a single game. It was decided to change the team’s name—from the “Fighting Tars” to the “Orange Typhoon.” The rationale: “This departure from the old order of things was perhaps one of the best things that could happen to Rollins—in accordance with the new upheaval of spirit manifesting itself on the campus” (The Sandspur, 1925). But old habits die hard and the Tars were Tars again in 1926.
Rollins worked on improving its football team and on building a football tradition, but the College was hampered by lack of material. Following a triumphant performance by the 1930 freshman team (“Undefeated!”), the 1931 varsity racked up 126 points to their opponents’ 39. The Tars suffered one defeat—at the hands of “a philanthropical referee.” Even the opponents’ fans booed the ref’s call! Rollins’ winning ways continued in 1932 (no losses, one tie), and in 1934, the College claimed the unofficial small college championship of Florida. Two Rollins players were chosen for the first AP all-state team, and five for the second.
By 1937, athletics in general had slipped into decline, in part because of lack of facilities and in part because of loss of enthusiasm. The football season was mixed: “A graphic rating would be likened to a jittery stock market” (The Tomokan, 1938). The following spring, a straw vote indicated students were split almost 50-50 on the issue of keeping football as an intercollegiate sport. Two years later, Coach Jack McDowall had the Tars back on track with an 11 win-1 loss season. The team was credited with “the ‘trickiest’ offensive in this state.” The 1940 Tars boasted Rollins’ first Little All-American, end June Lingerfelt, and the College captured the S.I.A.A. championship and the state championship (though the University of Florida refused to play).
World War II claimed Rollins’ best players and its best coaches. The team of ’44 managed games against Florida Southern, Winter Park High School, and the Orlando Air Base. Because of the “indefinite and small enrollment of men,” no varsity team could be mustered until 1946, when a schedule was thrown together at the last minute. To fill the gap, the Kappas and Thetas staged the Bloomer Bowl Classic.
Men's Crew with woman coxswain, 1935-36
The rebirth of crew at Rollins was fueled by the gift of two shells, from Cornell University, in 1926. The College rallied to the team’s assistance with a Navy Night benefit to raise funds to transport the shells to Winter Park. Rollins was the only college in Florida with a crew. In 1936, the Rollins crew won its first intercollegiate race.
Rollins was invited to row against the New Orleans Rowing Club during the Sugar Bowl Carnival and competed regularly in the annual Dad Vail Regatta. In 1936, the Tar crew won its traditional race with Manhattan College on the Harlem River, but Manhattan threatened never to meet Rollins again when they discovered the coxswain was a girl. Coach U.T. Bradley promised no more girls in the varsity shells and started a women’s crew—the only one in the South.
Like crew, Rollins’ fencing team received its start with a gift: sabres from Princeton and foils from the U.S. Naval Academy. In its first competition, Rollins tied for fourth place. Four years later, Rollins was meeting Harvard, Yale, Princeton, M.I.T., Annapolis, and West Point, and was unofficial champion of the Southeast. In 1937, the College was shaken by the death of two team members in a bus accident on a northern trip. Intercollegiate fencing was discontinued in 1940 to save the expense of the extensive travel involved.