Rollins Football: A History

The Rollins College Archives is pleased to share this post from our student assistant, Morgan Mueller ’18. Thank you, Morgan!

FirstFootballTeam1904First football team, 1904.

Rollins College, as Florida’s oldest post-secondary institution, is famous for its strong academics, beautiful campus, and many of its more successful Division II sport teams. However, many do not know that for 45 years, Rollins bragged of a fairly successful and popular football team. The Rollins Tars football team began in 1904 and played (with the exception of a few years missing here and there) until their final season in 1949. Though the program was ended many years ago, football programming has fought to make a comeback on campus ever since. This article will discuss what you might not know about Rollins College football, including its history, it success, its decline, and its more recent status on campus today.

The Road to Victory (1904-1908)

The Rollins Tars football team came to be in 1904. Only one game was played in that first season, and it was against South Florida Military College, who scored 3 touchdowns while the Tars scored nothing. The following year they played a total of three games, losing all three. It was not until 1906 that the Tars finally won their first football game against the University of Florida with a score of 5-0, and that was the only win of the four-game season.[1]

firstfootballteampage2The first football team at practice in 1904.[2]

However, by the 1908-1909 season, the Tars football team had become the State Champions, alongside Rollins’ baseball and basketball teams. The football team finished that season with a total of four wins and a tie against Havana YMCA (0-0). The greatest victory of the 1908-1909 season was the game against Orlando City’s Team, in which the Tars scored a whopping 33 points, while Orlando City failed to score anything. For the overall season, Rollins scored a total of 53 points and shut out every opponent, leaving them with a final season score of 53-0. [1]

StateChampionsof1908State Champions of 1908.

 The Effects of War and a Victorious Comeback (1909-1925)

Although the Tars had a rough beginning, they pulled through for the 1909 State Championship and continued to play well (except for 1911, when there was no team) until 1915, when they lost the only two games played that season. The following season was just as rough, and no football was played from 1917 until 1919, most likely due to the draft and war efforts. However, even with two seasons of absence, the Rollins Tars came back fighting and ended the 1919 season with a total of three wins, with their final and fourth game against the University of Florida cancelled. They continued their winning streak and ended every season until 1925 with a winning record.

The Slow March to Victory Over a Southern Rival (1925-1942)

However, the 1925 season was less than spectacular; the Tars lost all seven games played, only scoring a total of 2 points for the entire season. The next five years seemed to be just as bad for the Tars. However, they reclaimed victory in 1931, when they finished with an overall tally of 6-1 wins; the one and only loss was against Miami, a major rival at the time. But increasingly the Tars began to challenge their southern opponent, finally defeating the Miami team with a score of 6-0 in 1932. The Tars ended that season undefeated, with six wins and one tie game. The following ten years were equally kind to the Tars, yielding victorious seasons (excluding 1935).

ImagesofFootballTickets Images of football tickets from 1931 and 1932, featuring different styles through the years and different seat sections.

The Effects of WWII and (De)Segregation (1943-1947)

Football was cancelled after the 1942 season due to the war effort and a lack of male enrollment as a result of the draft.[3] The Tars’ return to football in 1946 was less than stellar, yielding a 4-4 record. However, the Tars became victorious again in 1947 with an overall of five wins, two losses, and one cancellation against Ohio Wesleyan. This game against Ohio Wesleyan was meant to be the final one of the season, and the school’s Homecoming game.[4]

This cancellation was a big disappointment to the student body of both schools, and the reason behind it was nothing short of controversial. As a result of desegregation in Ohio, there was an African American player on Ohio Wesleyan’s team, Kenneth Woodward, but since segregation was still a hotly contested issue in the southern state of Florida in 1947, the Rollins Board of Trustees feared for Woodward’s safety and what might happen if the College allowed the game to take place. President Hamilton Holt himself remarked that since the game was “a community affair” and “Rollins is situated in the deep South” the College “could not be responsible if any untoward event should take place over which it might have no control.”[5]

To further complicate things, if the team were to bring along Woodward, not only did they risk the problem of hate crimes, but Woodward would have to stay in a separate hotel from his teammates, use a different locker room, and even a different bathroom. Many ideas were tossed around between the two schools, one them being for Ohio Wesleyan to play without Woodward, but the trustees of Ohio Wesleyan voted only to play the game with the whole team, refusing to let race be a conflict.[6] Fearing for the player’s safety, the Rollins student council voted to cancel the game instead of risk further dispute.

In a response letter to the Student Body President at Ohio Wesleyan, President Hamilton Holt reflected on this decision, and his words were revealing: “. . . it is personally humiliating to me that we even had to suggest the course we did in the present case. It goes against my grain, but sometimes prudence is the better part of valor.”[7]

OhioWesleyanArticleArticle from Ohio Wesleyan University discussing the circumstances behind the choice to cancel the Homecoming game.

 The End of an Era (1948-1949)

The last season of football for the Tars was in 1949. The fact of it was, the football team required more money than the school could devote to scholarships, uniforms, fields, equipment, and other critical costs. President Wagner discontinued the sport for financial reasons, even with the offer of financial help from support organizations like the Tar Boosters, Inc., who proposed to take over football team costs through the 1954 season. However, many financial records and plans supported that fact that the school could not afford to keep the program, and it was officially ended before 1950. President Wagner offered to host one more season for the 18 senior players with scholarships, but the team voted against this, since many of the players would likely transfer to other schools with strong football programs, and the final season boasted of many wins. Charlie Wadsworth, a writer for the Orlando Morning Sentinel, reflected about the end of the program thusly: “And Rollins will get along just as well or perhaps better without football. It won’t be the same, but the school will get along.”[8]

LastRCFootballTeam1949Photo of the last Rollins football team in 1949.[9]

 Going Behind Enemy Lines and Other Alternatives (1950-2010)

Though football was officially cancelled at Rollins, it did not completely disappear. There were many new ideas throughout the following years about how to continue the tradition of football on campus. One idea came from Myra Brown in a letter to President McKean, suggesting Tars become “Part-Time Gators”[10] and join the University of Florida in Gainesville for a set number of games at student prices. It also involved participating in UF’s homecoming in an attempt to boost school spirit in the fall, seeing as most of the spirit-boosting games were played during the spring, such as baseball and the more popular water sports. However, many strongly opposed the idea, claiming that students coming to Rollins already knew that there was no football team, and that “Part-time Gators” would only boost morale for UF. Either way, the idea never became a reality. But football continued on campus in the form of intramural men’s and women’s flag football teams, which played intermittently with varying levels of support throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s[11], as well as co-ed teams later on. As recently as 2009, Rollins fraternities and sororities picked up the torch, successfully reviving the flag and touch football tradition, but never the full-contact version of the sport.

Football1974TomokanImage from the 1974 Tomokan of a flag football game between Rollins teams. (Fraternity TKE can be seen on some of the shirts).

 The Mysterious Club Years (2011-2014?)

Football started to make a comeback officially in 2011 with the establishment of the Rollins Football Club. Though as only a club officially, they battled many Junior Varsity teams from other Division II schools. The team was established by Jeff Hoblick ’14, who thought Rollins was missing something in its social-sports life. Hoblick not only established the club and began all the fundraising, but was the team president and quarterback.[12] Will Graves ’77 helped establish the Founder’s Program for the young club team, comprised of the initial 10 donors willing to sponsor $5,000 to support the team needs and activities. However, as the club’s members graduated and disappeared from campus, so did the Football Club. Without anyone to continue its leadership, the excitement for the football club fizzled out, and after 2013 all mention of the club stopped entirely. Most assume that it is no longer in existence, but it is possible that the club could enjoy another renaissance should the right group of students come along in the future.

FootballClubFootball club logo from the team’s website in 2011.

 The Spirit of Football at Rollins

Although Rollins may not be currently known for its football team, for 45 years the sport was cherished and supported by the whole of Winter Park and the surrounding Orlando area. And more recent history has proven that Rollins has not quite given up on football; intramural, organized co-ed, flag football games, and a budding club team are all proof that football has remained important for Rollins students’ campus morale and school spirit.

Written and Researched by Morgan Mueller ‘18
Marine Biology and Environmental Studies Double Major
Student Worker in Archives and Special Collections

Note:  a list of the football team’s record from 1904 to 1950 is available at http://bit.ly/1t6KhCB .

[1] Football at Rollins College 1904-1950 (Timeline), Sports at Rollins, Series 5, Box 1, Folder Football: General, Archives and Special Collections, Olin Library, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida.

[2] Players Standing: Chas Swain, Carl Moble and George Phillips. Front Row: Berkeley Blackman, Ralph Benedict and Stewart Ankeny. Not all players are identified.

[3] The Sandspur, Vol. 50, Number 10. Page 11.

[4] Mary Seymour, The Ghosts of Rollins (and Other Skeletons in the Closet) http://bit.ly/ZQZr0a.

[5] Hamilton Holt, “Remarks by Hamilton Holt at the Annie Russell Theatre on the Cancellation of the Ohio Wesleyan Football Game. Friday, November 28, 1947 (Speech)” Sports at Rollins, Series 5, Box 4, Folder: Ohio Wesleyan University: Football 1947 Game, Archives and Special Collections, Olin Library, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida.

[6] Mary Seymour, The Ghosts of Rollins (and Other Skeletons in the Closet) http://bit.ly/ZQZr0a.

[7] Hamilton Holt to Mr. John P. Adams, 11 November 1947, Sports at Rollins, Series 5, Box 4, Folder: Ohio Wesleyan University: Football 1947 Game, Archives and Special Collections, Olin Library, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida.

[8] Charlie Wadsworth, “Rollins College Decides to Drop Football Too Expensive to Operate on Even Terms it Means Small College Football is Doomed.” Orlando Morning Sentinel, Thursday March 23, 1950. Sports at Rollins, Series 5, Box 5, Folder: Football 1950, Archives and Special Collections, Olin Library, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida.

[9] 1st Row: G. Barrington, J. Bryson, J. Bedortha, L.D., Bochette, D. Brinegar, H. Brumley, D. Daugherty, P. Fay, G. Franklin and B. Gordin.

2nd Row: M. Gruelke, B. High, K. Horton, T. Hudgens, J. Imand, G. Johnson, S. Justice, J. Kelly, C. Knecht, D. Matchett

3rd Row: G.W. Mooney, F. Natolis, F. Polak, B. Rodenbaugh, B. Riggs, S. Smith, J. Swicegood, B. Tate, J. Vereen and D. Work.

[10] Myra Brown to Hamilton Holt, 2 July 1953 Sports at Rollins, Series 5, Box 5, Folder: Football 1953-1954, Archives and Special Collections, Olin Library, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida.

[11] Dick Cohen, “Rollins Takes on Miami in Orange Bowl” The Rollins Sandspur September 24, 1964. Sports at Rollins, Series 5, Box 5, Folder: Football 1960’s 1970’s, Archives and Special Collections, Olin Library, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida.

[12] “Rollins Football Club-Webber International JV 48, Rollins 17” October 24, 2011. http://www.rollinssports.com

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One Response to Rollins Football: A History

  1. erika espinet says:

    It’s time to bring it back

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