Go Jumbos!

A History of Tufts Athletics

By Mark Herlihy, A88, with contributing reporting by Paul Sweeney

The 1870 baseball team participated in the first intercollegiate athletic contest when they played a game against Brown in 1869.

Sidebar: Raising the Bar: Rudy Fobert A50, G51

Sidebar: Just Vera: Vera Stenhouse, A91

As Tufts celebrates 150 years, one thing is clear: athletics have been and remain an integral, defining part of the Tufts experience for the thousands of students, alumni, faculty and staff who have taken pride in their accomplishments. After a modest start, athletics at Tufts grew steadily over the years, weathering, like the University itself, world wars, economic downturns and periods of intense civil discord. Programs came and went, but over time, athletic opportunities for undergraduates expanded. Today, nearly 800 Tufts students participate in sports each year. For these student-athletes, and for their predecessors on the Hill, athletics have complemented academics and taught valuable lessons about the importance of preparation, teamwork, poise, discipline, and the ability to win and lose with dignity.

In an age in which the line between big-time college athletics and professional sports has blurred, and scandal taints the reputations of many prominent programs, Tufts athletics have remained relatively pure through a steadfast commitment to the amateur ideal. As a Division III school, and charter member of the New England Small College Athletic Conference, Tufts has accorded sports an important but not necessarily privileged place in the life of the University. While Jumbos have sought glory on athletic fields of battle, the University has refused to lower academic standards to fill rosters with blue-chip players. As former president Nils Y. Wessell wrote in his memoir, "In all its intercollegiate athletic history, Tufts followed a policy of amateurism. Participants were drawn from a student body which included no members seduced by athletic scholarships."

"The history of athletics at Tufts is student-initiated, student-centered and community-oriented," said Rocky Carzo, athletic director at Tufts from 1974 to 1999 and currently coordinator of "Jumbo Footprints," which traces the history of Tufts Athletics. "The purity of sport in our particular program is that it's voluntary. There's no requirement. You choose to do it and the reason you choose to is because it's fun. There's fun in moving your body, running, training and seeking the reward that comes with it."

Yet despite an emphasis on participation and the amateur ideal, the history of Tufts athletics is marked by many impressive individual and team accomplishments. The history of Tufts athletics is almost as long as the history of the University itself.

Intramural and club baseball and rowing teams made a home at Tufts soon after the college was founded. The first intercollegiate athletic contest in which a Tufts team participated, a baseball game against Brown, occurred in 1869. Prior to that time, groups of Tufts students participated against each other on an intramural level and against local town teams. Evidence suggests that Tufts students in the mid-1860s played football under rules that made the game resemble what we today call soccer. In 1874, informal track and fencing teams were organized. Two years later, students formed a rifle club that competed against other college teams.

Easier to document is the contest that took place on June 4, 1875, when a group of Tufts students played Harvard in what several historians consider to be the country's first college football game played under American football rules-featuring catching and running with the ball. Tufts, coached by student captain Lyman Aldrich, A1876, won this historic event 1-0. Another member of this inaugural event was Austin B. Fletcher, A1876, for whom the University's School of Law and Diplomacy is named. Eugene Bowen, A1876, served as the manager of the first Tufts team, and he later detailed the event in a letter to Tufts football coach Fred "Fish" Ellis in 1949.

"For the game at Harvard, the students 'borrowed' horses and the hay wagon, the students climbing on the wagon, driving down North [Massachusetts] Avenue, with a growing number of urchins and others at leisure calling us farmers and hayseeds, jeering our progress toward Cambridge to play mighty Harvard," Bowen wrote.

During Tufts' first 30 years, sports teams were student-run, fledgling enterprises, and interest varied from year to year. Baseball enthusiasts had to cajole classmates to play in order to field a team. Students financed their own uniforms, equipment and transportation to away games. There were no paid coaches. In this era the University did not sanction or support athletics financially. Indeed, many administrators and faculty members believed athletic competition and intellectual contemplation were incompatible, that good athletes could not be good students.

In time, sports became more accepted and institutionalized at Tufts. Recognizing the increasing importance of sports to the overall undergraduate experience, the University in 1894 constructed an outdoor sports complex on the lower campus which included the Tufts Oval (present site of the outdoor track), a football field and a baseball diamond. In 1899, Tufts President Elmer C. Capen endorsed athletics by speaking publicly of his "conviction that good wholesome athletics had a large place to fill in the education of the future." While supporting sports both financially and rhetorically, the University also began to exercise greater control. Administrators in 1899 ruled that participation in athletics would be a privilege to which only students in good academic standing would be entitled, and that athletes would henceforth not receive special treatment on campus. These ideas have informed the philosophy of Tufts athletics to the present day.

The turn of the century marked the first signs of the formalization of athletics at Tufts. An athletic association manned by faculty and students drafted a constitution to develop guidelines of participation and administration for the young program. During the same time, T. S. Knight, A1903, was the first Tufts football player named to Walter Camp's All-America team. The son of a Tufts theology professor, Knight later became a trustee at the University in 1927.

George Angell, A1915, a member of the 1913 football team, was reputed to have thrown the first forward pass in football history.

In the early decades of the 20th century, athletics continued to evolve on the Hill. The beginning of a Jackson Athletic Association for women was demonstrated by women competing in a freshman-sophomore baseball game in the annual Jackson Field Day. The 1913 football team, led by Clarence "Pop" Houston, A1914 (who would later become the first athletic director), Bill Parks, D1916, Bill Richardson Sr., A1915, H1940, Ollie Westcott, D1917, George Angell, A1915, and Moze Hadley, E1915, was one of the most dominant in the East, posting a record of 7-1 and outscoring its opponents 174 to 22 along the way. A team noted for its passing, uncommon at the time, Angell was reputed to have thrown the first forward pass in football history. The team's only loss came to Army by a score of 2-0 (the Cadets scored on a safety) in a game in which Army sophomore halfback Dwight D. Eisenhower suffered a broken leg. Eisenhower later wrote to Tufts president Wessell in 1955, declining an honorary degree invitation due to his busy schedule, but also confirming his injury at Tufts. "No wonder that my knee has never quite recovered from that tackle," Eisenhower wrote. "At the very least, I find some consolation in blaming all my poor golf shots on my bad knee."

The 1920s saw the emergence of arguably the greatest athlete to have ever worn the brown and blue. Fred "Fish" Ellis, E29, quarterbacked the undefeated football team, coached by Arthur Sampson, A21, in 1927 and earned All-New England honors in football, basketball, baseball and track, the first Tufts student to do so. While "Fish" was the big man on campus, his wife-to-be, Dorie Loughlin, J31, was a member of the Jackson baseball team.

"I recall a game against Pembroke at Tufts at which several of the football players wandered over after practice to give us support," Dorie said. "As to the score of this game, my memory does me no favors. However, I have one recollection of a very sore, bone-bruised hand, even though I stuffed a bulky handkerchief in my shortstop mitt to soften the impact of a line drive."

That same decade witnessed tremendous growth in Tufts athletics. Thanks to a donation of lumber from an alumnus, the University was able to build new stands at the Oval. "In a show of school spirit, the construction of these stands was completed not by contractors but rather via an inter-fraternity competition of sorts, with each fraternity building a different part of the structure in order to hasten its completion," writes Christina Szoke in an essay on Tufts athletics. Golf, hockey, swimming and wrestling teams were formed in this decade, dramatically increasing the number of sports that men could pursue.

Opportunities for women increased as Jackson students for the first time competed in tennis, golf, volleyball and horseback riding. Despite the Great Depression and its effect on the country in the 1930s, new athletic programs and facilities were added at Tufts during this decade. Lacrosse became a varsity sport in 1930. Bill Hersey and Luther Child, both Class of 1932, will be recognized this spring as members of the first lacrosse team at a Tufts game versus Williams. Soccer gained formal recognition during the 1934-35 academic year.

The most notable development in athletics in that time was the construction of Cousens Gymnasium in 1931. President John Cousens, A1898, a former football player at Tufts, built the gym during the Depression, an indication of the importance he placed on athletic facilities and adding life to the campus. Upon completion, it was recognized as the best indoor facility in the greater Boston area.

Until World War II interrupted life on campus, the 1940s promised to be a memorable decade in the annals of Tufts sports. In 1940, Edward "Eddie" Dugger, E41, turned in one of the most impressive performances by a Jumbo ever when he won the NCAA 120-yard high-hurdles championship. Dugger's time of 13.9 seconds established a new NCAA and U.S. record in the event, one that stood for five years. As the country mobilized for war, however, interest in athletics waned. While Tufts fielded teams in the war years, sports, like many aspects of American life, lost some luster. The 1942 Jumbo Book captured the transformation when it asserted that, "The world conflict in which our nation is involved at this eventful time has changed the character of Tufts. For, while depicted here is a normal year at Tufts-a pleasant place to work and play-war and worse, an end to democracy, may end such years for centuries to come." Many student-athletes adapted to war-induced changes.

"The Jackson Athletic Association arranged a field hockey game with some sailors from the British Royal Navy," said Harriet Gaffny Palmieri, J45. "To our astonishment, it was an all-male team. Our team, captained by Maxine Lybeck, J45, made a valiant effort, but the Englishmen won, 3-1."

After years of privation, Tufts students in the postwar era (more than 3,000 students, mostly from the armed forces, the largest student body to date), indulged in athletics with renewed vigor and enjoyed some spectacular successes. The 1950 baseball team, after compiling a 16-4 record, played in the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. The 1949-50 basketball team, led by Jim Mullaney, A51, Al Perry, A50, and Don Goodwin, A51, posted a 19-4 record-the best ever for a Tufts hoop squad- and was considered to be the best team in the area. Cross-country runner Ted Vogel, A49, placed third in the Boston Marathon in 1947 and represented the United States in the 1948 Olympics. The, men's track team, featuring Charlie Kirkiles, A49, Alan Wolozin, A48, Charlie Johnson, A49, Eddie Palmieri, A46, Bob Backus A51, and Tom Bane, A51, enjoyed undefeated seasons in 1948 and 1949. Backus went on to compete in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, where he placed 13th in the 16-pound hammer throw. Of all the talented athletes at Tufts in this era, none was more versatile than Rudolph J. Fobert, A50, G51. Fobert earned 12 varsity letters, four each in football, baseball and track.

Despite the impressive achievements of athletes and teams in the postwar era, an innocence and purity still pervaded the Tufts sports world.

In the 1960s, several teams had particularly strong campaigns and several individuals predominated. During the 1966-67 academic year, both the cross-country and indoor track teams, led by Bruce Baldwin, E68, Ron Caseley, E68, and Chris Kutteruf, A68, went undefeated, while the outdoor squad lost only one meet. The 1967 men's soccer team enjoyed one of its best seasons ever. Led by co-captains Dick Dietrich, A68, and Roger Mattlage, A68, Tufts won the New England College Division Championships and the Greater Boston Championships. Rich Giachetti, A70, was football's national leader two consecutive seasons in pass receptions. Pitcher Bill Richardson, Jr., A70, helped lead the Tufts baseball team to the Greater Boston League Championship in 1968. Richardson would later serve as a U.S. congressman, U.N. Ambassador and Secretary of Energy under President Clinton. Swimmer Craig Dougherty, A79, earned All-America honors in his junior and senior years, and established records in the 50 and 100 meters that still stand.

"[Men's Swimming Coach] Don Megerle would take a personal interest not only in our athletic contributions, but also in our personal lives," Dougherty said. "He had a way of raising the bar incrementally that allowed athletes like me to tolerate exhaustion and pain at a level we never thought possible. It was a process that taught us how to break through a barrier, knowing that you could continue to keep improving, to keep pushing the body and the mind to incredibly high thresholds. I do the same in the real world of business. It works."

Athletic opportunities for women increased dramatically after passage of Title IX in 1970, and women athletes at Tufts distinguished themselves through individual and team accomplishments. Maren Seidler, J73, competed in the javelin at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Women's sports at Tufts truly emerged in the 1980s. Cecelia Wilcox Paglia, J87, scored 156 goals for a powerhouse lacrosse team in the mid-1980s that lost only four games in as many years. The women's tennis team, which included twins Lisa and Nancy Stern, J86, captured four consecutive New England Division III titles between 1983 and 1986. Vera Stenhouse, J91, was an eight-time national champion and 23-time All-American in track and field.

Male athletes also continued to excel. In track and field, Fred Hintlian, A76, was a Division III national champion and three-time All-American in the 440-yard hurdles. Eric Poullain, E84, M84, came to Tufts from France and earned Division III All-America honors numerous times and was national champion in the pole vault. Mark Buben, A79, set single-season and career records for sacks in football and played for the New England Patriots for several years after his collegiate career.

The 1979 football team, quarterbacked by All-American Chris Connors, A80, posted the third and most recent undefeated season at Tufts. In 1986, baseball pitcher Jeff Bloom, A88, attracted national media attention by throwing three consecutive no-hitters.

Perhaps the most impressive development in Tufts athletics in the recent past has been the emergence of the sailing team as a national dynasty. Tufts' teams, which hone their skills and host regattas on the Upper Mystic Lake in Medford, have captured 22 national collegiate championships since 1976, while numerous former Tufts sailors, men and women, have gone on to win world championships. The team's "Hall of Fame" includes greats such as Betsy Gelenitis, J81, Dave Curtis, A69, Manton Scott, A74, Peter Commette A77, Magnus Gravare, A86, and others. Current Tufts president Lawrence J. Bacow raced against these individuals as a skipper for MIT.

While Tufts student-athletes have distinguished themselves individually and collectively during the last quarter century, the University, often with generous support from alumni, has kept pace with facilities. The Baronian Field House, raised by the generosity of many alumni and named for former Jumbo football player John Baronian, A50, was added to the Ellis Oval complex in 1986. Soon after, the football field was redone and named in honor of former player Harold Zimman, A38. The cinder track was replaced with an eight-lane synthetic surface in 1989 and named after legendary Tufts and Olympic track coach Clarence "Ding" Dussault. A press box was constructed and named in honor of Arthur Harrison, A42, by his family in 1991. In 1993, a comprehensive fitness center was built through the extended generosity of Steve Ames, the Peter Lunder Family, the Zimman Family, John "Jocko" Lee, A50, and John Bello, A68. The same year donations from former football captains, led by Bob Bass, A70, were critical towards building the Captain's Gate at the entrance to the Ellis Oval. The Cheryl Chase Family gave the lead gift for the construction of an intramural gym in 1995. Tufts Chairman of the Board of Trustees Nate Gantcher's family made the largest single donation to the athletic department for a state-of-the-art sports and convocation center, which opened in 1999.

Alumni interest in Tufts athletics is best represented by two leadership groups. The Tufts Jumbo Club, established in 1969, and the Board of Athletic Overseers, gathered in 1989, showed a loyalty and advocacy to Tufts athletics that was previously undemonstrated. The Jumbo Club initiated numerous gifts, equipment, facility renovations, and awards that weren't possible without their funding. The Board of Overseers, under the astute leadership of John T. O'Neill, A50, not only advocated, but planned and fund-raised for the greatest facility expansion since the 1930s. As a result, the Tufts Athletic Department now has facilities to accommodate the University community and compare with peer institutions. "The advocacy and support that they offered the athletic department enabled us to enter the 21st century with a great deal of confidence," Carzo said.

Tufts athletics continued to make history in the 1990s and into the new millennium. Along with the new facilities, the University's athletic teams, athletes, staff and alumni gained frequent recognition on a national level. Johnny Grinnell, A35, an All-American on the 1934 undefeated football team, was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1997. In January 1999, the NCAA bestowed the Teddy Roosevelt Award, its most prestigious honor, upon Richardson for his national achievements as a former varsity athlete. Richardson shares the award with four former Presidents of the United States (Eisenhower, Ford, Reagan and Bush). As members of the strict New England Small College Athletic Conference, Jumbo teams were finally permitted to play in NCAA Tournaments beginning in 1993. Several teams qualified, with women's soccer hosting the 2000 "final four" in Medford and advancing to the national championship game. Men's cross-country and softball are the teams that have enjoyed the most NCAA Tournament success during the decade.

Beyond competitive success, for many Tufts students, athletics enhance and help define the undergraduate experience.

"If it was not for the track team, I don't think I would be the person that I am today," said Kara Fothergill, J95. "All of the coaches at Tufts do their best to make the athlete's experience the best it can be whether you are male or female. Every school has its quirks, but I think Tufts works hard at providing equal opportunities for men and women."

The same spirit that was demonstrated by students riding a hay wagon down Massachusetts Avenue for a football game at Harvard in 1875 also inspired astronaut Rick Hauck, A62, to carry the Tufts flag on a space mission on the shuttle Challenger in 1983. The spirit remains today, evident when 2,000 students marched down to Kraft Soccer Field for the NCAA women's championship game in 2000.
Go Jumbos!


Raising the Bar: Rudy Fobert A50, G51

A discussion about who is the finest male athlete in Tufts history should center around Fred "Fish" Ellis, A29, and Rudy Fobert, A50, G51. Both excelled in four sports during their Tufts careers, but Ellis himself, who coached Fobert in football, once said that Rudy was more deserving of the title.

Fobert was a forefather to the Tufts philosophy of encouraging athletes to play more than one sport. He played two sports in a day. During the spring he was an outfielder for Jit Ricker's baseball teams, then he would run up to the Oval to jump and sprint for Clarence "Ding" Dussault's track teams. A recipient of 12 varsity letters in three years (freshmen weren't eligible), he also competed for the football and indoor track teams. He was a member of the 1950 baseball team that advanced to play in the prestigious College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.

Fobert was raised in East Boston during the Depression, one of eight children living in a three-decker. These humble beginnings were reflected in the man's personality. He was soft-spoken and modest, but clearly focused on making something of himself. His determination towards academics was equal to his athletic preparation.

"Rudy was a solid physical specimen," said John Baronian, a football teammate and friend of Fobert's. "He was only 5'8", 175 pounds, but no one had a better physique. He was the best coordinated athlete I ever saw."

Like Ellis, Fobert went into education professionally. He served as superintendent of the Lexington, Massachusetts, school system and was president of the Massachusetts School Superintendents Association. He remained dedicated to his alma mater, serving five years as a trustee of Tufts and as chairman of the Tufts Alumni Council.

Tragically, Fobert died young, at 51, due to cancer, in 1978. The Rudolph J. Fobert Award was established in his memory and is presented every year to the male and female multisport athletes with good academic averages and potential for leadership.

-Paul Sweeney


Just Vera: Vera Stenhouse, A91

When Tufts track coach Branwen Smith-King first met Vera Stenhouse in 1988, she could hardly contain her excitement. The coach could see right away that this elegant, six-foot athlete would be something special with some training.

As anticipated, Stenhouse evolved into the most decorated female athlete in Tufts history. She won eight NCAA national championships while competing indoors and outdoors: four in the triple jump, three in the 400 meters and one in the 200 meters. As a senior in 1991 she won four national titles and single-handedly led Tufts to fourth-place finishes at both the NCAA indoor and outdoor championship meets. Twenty-three times she recorded All-America efforts at the track nationals.

"Vera was not just gifted, she was very intuitive as far as knowing what she had to do," Smith-King said. "She did a lot of searching, always driving for more knowledge on how she could improve."

Stenhouse's ability was so superior to her teammates that Smith-King was challenged to come up with alternate ways to train her superstar. Despite this gap in talent, she was just one of the girls off the track. She had the potential to compete at the Division I level, but instead chose a more familial opportunity at Tufts. The magnitude of her accomplishments put her on a national stage, but she was unassuming all along.

"Vera was just Vera," Smith-King said. "She came from a wonderful family and it showed."

She was much more than a graceful runner and jumper at Tufts. An English and astronomy major, Stenhouse earned an NCAA postgraduate scholarship for her achievements athletically and academically in 1991. The Tufts Alumni Association also presented her with its Senior Award for outstanding academic and community accomplishments.

One of a few Tufts athletes who continued to compete after graduation, Stenhouse competed at the United States Track and Field National Championships a few years ago, rubbing shoulders with track legends such as Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

-Paul Sweeney






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