Brown University Logo

Office of University Communications
38 Brown Street / Box 1920
Providence RI 02912

401 863-2453
Fax 863-1650
[email protected]



From Martha Mitchell’s Encyclopedia Brunoniana:


Athletics were not always held in high regard at Brown. President Caswell, in his annual report in 1870, expressed his fear that “the College is ... losing scholarship by the very great interest ... in boating and baseball.” He concluded that public applause for excitement made inroads on studies and “our business will be to reduce the evil to its least practicable limits.” An Athletic Association was founded on November 30, 1875, but was inactive until it was revived in the fall of 1878, when the first field day was held. Another field day was held on May 22, 1879 after several postponements caused by inclement weather, with the result that, according to the Brunonian, “the attendance was diminished from a probable two thousand to six or seven hundred.” The events were the 100-yard dash, shot put, running high jump, sack race, running broad jump, five-mile run, standing high jump, quarter-mile run, hammer throw, potato race, standing broad jump, hurdles, and tug of war. The New England Intercollegiate Athletic Association was organized in 1886, and Brown began to send representatives to the meets. When President Andrews wrote his annual report in 1895, he hailed physical exercise and competition as healthful for the body and also morally and mentally uplifting. Football had come under attack for unsportsmanlike violence and the incidence of painful and permanent injury. To these charges Andrews replied, “A measure of risk in playing a game nurses courage and adds to the moral value of the game. Moreover, it is precisely these stern sports in which young men can engage only at their best that do most to repress vices in those participating in them. On this account I cannot but think foot-ball, despite all that is said against it, an invaluable game. Rowing, which some have compared with it, I place far beneath it in worth, vastly less interesting, enlisting fewer men, and allowing much smaller scope for the cultivation of moral traits. The asperities of which bitterest complaint is made attach almost solely to football. I believe that a perfectly adequate remedy for the evils alleged lies in better work by umpires and referees.”

The Brown University Athletic Association was organized in September 1895. The Board of Directors of the Association represented the various factions of the University with two members from the faculty, three from the alumni, two from the senior class, and one each from the junior and sophomore classes. The faculty members were appointed by the faculty, all others by the Association. There were six standing committees; on grounds, on baseball, on football, on track, on tennis, and on membership. One mission of the new association was to control the finances related to athletics, which were thought to have been mismanaged. In February 1898 Brown was host to a conference on intercollegiate athletics, with representatives of Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania in attendance.

In January 1904 the board of directors of the Brown University Athletic Association repealed by a 7-2 vote the rule which barred students who had ever engaged in athletics outside the University for money from representing Brown in intercollegiate contests. In the controversy which developed the members of the board who revoked the amateur rule resigned and the executive board of the Corporation reinstated the rule. Alumni were divided on the subject, having a suspicion that the baseball team that year would suffer from this decision. In 1906 undergraduates were given more responsibility. While the faculty continued to decide requirements of scholarship and attendance of student athletes, the conduct of the games and rules of play were given over to the students, who proceeded to abolish the rules against playing for money on the summer teams, but continued to bar athletes who had played in professional leagues from collegiate competition. In the Faculty Rules and Regulations for 1895 are included rules of the committee “On Athletic and other Student Organizations,” governing eligibility. In 1906 a new constitution of the Brown University Athletic Association put the organization in the hands of the students. The officers were the varsity managers and assistant managers together with a Board of Directors composed of five seniors, three juniors, and one sophomore.

In 1907 Brown and Dartmouth severed athletic relations. The action was prompted by events at the Brown-Dartmouth baseball game on April 24, in which the Dartmouth captain, dissatisfied with the umpire’s decision, took his team from the field. In an exchange of communications he offered Brown another game, but the student athletic association concluded that, because of earlier incidents involving Dartmouth spectators, severing relations was the appropriate response.

In 1904-05 athletics showed a profit of only $168.08 after expenses had been subtracted from receipts of $14,306.57. By 1923-24 sports were making money as the receipts of $98,449.99 minus expenses left a profit of $19,949.63. The largest attendance at a football game prior to the opening of the stadium in 1925 was 8,000 at the Brown-Colgate Thanksgiving game in 1916. The Faculty Rules of 1914 called for the appointment by the Faculty of a Supervisor of Athletics to oversee the schedules, managers, and finances of athletic teams. A rule barring freshmen from intercollegiate competition was passed in 1922-23. In addition to the faculty committee on student organizations to whom the Supervisor of Athletics reported there was also an accessory committee of three members of the faculty committee and five alumni who would advise in the selection of coaches and other matters. The final decision still belonged to the faculty committee. In December 1923 the advisory committee to the coaching staff recommended to the accessory committee that football coach Edward N. Robinson and his assistant coach, Reginald W. P. Brown, should not be rehired. In January 1924 the football advisory committee resigned and was nonexistent in 1924 and 1925. In December 1925 the accessory committee reconsidered continuance of Robinson as coach and recommended the removal of both Robinson and Brown. According to the Brown Alumni Monthly, Robinson was criticized for his attitude that “after all football is only a game” and for failing to instill fighting spirit in his teams.

A committee to provide better athletic facilities was formed in 1921 and made recommendations, which led to another committee, with Clinton C. White 1900 as chairman, charged with raising funds to build an amphitheater. The stadium and the baseball field at Aldrich Field were built in 1925. Nine new tennis courts were constructed on Thayer Street, and a two and one half acre field on Thayer Street was graded and enclosed for intramural baseball. To keep the attention of alumni and friends, the News Service began in 1925-26 a magazine called Brunotes, which brought out news of athletics three times a year. In June 1926 new regulations were adopted by the Advisory and Executive Committee of the Corporation, organizing in place of the Athletic Association the Brown University Athletic Council. The Council was composed of eleven men, who were the President, the Treasurer, four members of the Corporation, four members of the faculty, and two alumni members who were not members of the Corporation. At this time there were four full-time coaches who were members of the faculty. The funds of the Athletic Association were taken over by the Treasurer of the University. Matters concerning eligibility of players and absence from class to participate in athletics were handled by the Faculty. An undergraduate committee was formed to provide student advice and support for athletics. In 1938 the Advisory and Executive Committee of the Corporation defined the duties of the Athletic Council as purely policy-making, and made the Director of Athletics directly responsible to the University administration.

More changes were made in 1944, when it was decreed that the Director of Athletics would be designated an officer of administration responsible to the University rather than to the Athletic Council. In keeping with the new policy, the name of the Council was changed to Brown University Athletic Advisory Council. The budget and financial activities related to the athletic program were merged with the general budget and financial activities of the University.

Athletic directors at Brown have been Fred Eugene Parker from 1895 to 1903, Frederick W. Marvel from 1903 to 1938, Thomas W. Taylor from 1938 to 1942, Walter H. Snell, acting director from January to June 1943 and director until 1946, Paul F. Mackesey from 1947 to 1962, Edward R. Durgin from 1962 to 1963, Philip R. Theibert from 1963 to 1968, John M. Heffernan from 1968 to 1971, Ferdinand A. “Andy” Geiger from 1971 to 1975, Robert A. Seiple from 1975 to 1979, and John C. Parry from 1979 to 1990. Stephen Gladstone was acting director in 1990. David T. Roach became director on July 1, 1990.

Two well-known athletic trainers were Charlie Huggins and Jack McKinnon. Huggins came to Brown in 1901 as a trainer for the football team, and later added the other sports teams to his duties. He started intercollegiate swimming at Brown, and helped to coach baseball, taking over the 1924 team during the illness of coach Wally Snell. McKinnon, who came as an assistant to his brother-in-law Huggins, worked for seven Brown football coaches from 1909 to 1959, taking over as head trainer when Huggins died in 1924, on the day of the football game with Yale. Late that afternoon, on being told that Brown led 3-0, Huggins uttered his last words, “I knew they would,” and died without knowing that Yale came back late in the game to win. When McKinnon died in 1962, Frank Lanning, Providence Journal cartoonist, said of him, “He eased more than physical aches and pains on the hill” for troubled students.

Women students, too, were involved in athletics. Basketball, bowling, field hockey, and tennis were popular sports for women students at the beginning of the century. Class teams vied for the college championship in basketball and bowling, and there was a college tennis tournament. In 1905 the newly organized Athletic Association awarded six “BW” letters to women athletes. Baseball was being played by the women as early as 1920. An apparatus team was added in 1924, and a pyramid squad in 1925. There was a swim team in 1924-25. A Providence Journal article in 1928 reported “rapid strides ... in women’s athletics at the university, with the recent addition of Danish gymnastics, archery, horseback riding, and swimming.” In the fall of 1928 a new sport called field-ball became popular with the Pembroke students, who promptly formed class teams. The game, which had originated at Sargent College a year earlier, was described as a cross between field hockey and basketball. The field hockey formation with eleven players was used, but goal posts replaced the cage, and the ball was passed as in basketball. A game was played in thirty-minute halves. Scoring was one point per goal. Rules for fouls were as in basketball, but penalties were as in football. In 1929 an “honorary” varsity field-ball team was selected. Field hockey was reintroduced in 1930. In the 1930s fencing, coached by Lois Campbell, was also a popular activity, and there was a woman’s lacrosse team. The field hockey players attended a field hockey and lacrosse camp in the Poconos.

Forty women students traveled to Connecticut College in 1933 to take part in a sports day competition. The competition was not competitive between the two colleges, but between teams composed of players from both colleges in field hockey, fistball, tennis, and archery. In February 1934 the Pembroke Athletic Association returned the invitation to a sports day which featured bowling, apparatus, ping-pong, and ring tennis, followed by a basketball game and a track meet. The athletic program was further expanded in 1934-35, when a modern dance group was formed, the first annual riding meet was held in November at Royal Riding School in Seekonk, and an intercollegiate telegraphic archery tournament took place, at which each college competed on its own premises and telegraphed its members’ scores. The dance group under the direction of Mrs. Flora Hopkins held its first public recital on May 8, 1935. In 1935 Pembroke students were allowed to play golf at Wannamoisett Country Club. They swam at the Plantations Club, which unfortunately did not admit blacks to its pool. Also in 1935 the Pembroke Physical Education Department branched out with the purchase of equipment for horseshoes, badminton, croquet, and deck tennis. Woman athletes acquired “points,” which entitled them to awards, as a white blazer with a letter “P” for 1600 points, and a class numeral for a lesser number varying from 600 to 750. The state of athletics at women’s colleges in 1937 was the subject of a Providence Journal article headed “They’re Giving the Men Back Their Athletic Sports.” The article noted that at Pembroke, as at other colleges, the emphasis had changed from team sports to individual sports, which were more adapted to after-college participation. Pembroke, the article went on to say, was one of a few colleges taking part in intercollegiate competition, but quoted the policy of the college that “Emphasis is placed on minimum travel, and a limited number of games, and on the social benefits to be derived from friendly competition.”

Bessie Rudd was director of physical education in charge of all athletic programs at Pembroke College 1930 to 1961. Women’s intercollegiate athletics, which had been funded as a student activity, began to share in the funds for all University athletic programs in 1973-74, following the Title IX legislation of the Educational Amendments to the Higher Education Act of 1972, and fifteen varsity level women’s teams were established. Arlene Gorton ’52, who succeeded Miss Rudd at Pembroke, was named director of physical education and assistant director of athletics at Brown in 1973.

President Swearer, speaking out about the need for reform in college athletics in 1981, suggested that major college teams might give up their amateur status and become professional farm teams. Swearer was appointed by the NCAA to the Select Committee on Athletic Problems and Concerns in Higher Education. The number of varsity sports at Brown, men’s and women’s, grew to 31, before four varsity sports were dropped in 1991 as part of the University’s budget reduction. It was hoped that private funding could be raised for men’s water polo, men’s golf, women’s gymnastics, and women’s volleyball, which continued as club sports.

The Broomhead Dinner

The first of what became known as the Broomhead dinners, held twice a year to honor the teams of the season, confer awards, and announce captains, was held on December 19, 1923 at Carr’s Restaurant. Fred Broomhead ’05 told his guests, the football team, that he was prompted to give the dinner by his son, who thought it would be a thrill to dine with a football team that beat Harvard. Fred himself had decided to give the dinner if Brown defeated Yale, Dartmouth, or Harvard.

Athletic Hall of Fame

The Athletic Hall of Fame began in 1971 with the induction of 97 athletes chosen from twelve varsity sports and 125 years of athletics at Brown. Twenty years later in 1991 the list had grown to include 381 individual athletes and two entire teams, the Iron Men of 1926 and the basketball team of 1938-39.

The Sports Foundation

The Brown University Sports Foundation was established in 1983 to help the Brown athletic program and the University by raising money for sports programs so that more of the University funds formerly spent on sports could be directed to other needs. Artemis A. W. Joukowsky ’55, the principal founder of the Sports Foundation, became its first president. The foundation was officially launched on September 30, 1983, with exercises at which a ten-foot sculptured University coat of arms on the Olney-Margolies Athletic Center was unveiled. Scott Thomson ’71, the first executive director, was followed by David J. Zucconi ’55. The Foundation holds annual winter weekend sports-related events, which have featured as guests Penn State coach Joe Paterno ’50 in 1984, broadcaster Howard Cosell in 1985, broadcaster Frank Gifford in 1986, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach in 1987, and Minnesota Vikings tight end Steve Jordan ’82 in 1988. In 1989 Chris Berman ’77, ESPN sportscaster, who got his start as the Voice of the Bruins on WBRU, spoke at the Sports Foundation Weekend Convocation in April.

The above entry appears in Encyclopedia Brunoniana by Martha Mitchell, copyright 1993 by the Brown University Library. It is used here by permission of the author and the University and may not be copied or further distributed without permission.

Return to Encyclopedia Index  |  University Home Page