Jim Bradshaw: First football game had pompoms and poetry
It probably wasn’t a Super Bowl, but it did get the program off to a good start when the Southwestern Louisiana Industrial Institute (UL Lafayette today) won what was said to be the first football game to be seen in Lafayette.
A high point of the day was the poetry reading after the game, something that I’m sure you’ll want to work in at your next tailgating party.
The Times-Picayune gave the complete report, but no box score, on Jan. 18, 1902:
“The football game announced in these columns last week between the Institute and the boys of St. Landry High School was played on the Institute campus last Saturday afternoon. The Opelousas team brought with them many friends to yell and ‘root’ for their eleven. Lafayette was ablaze with vermilion, the Institute color. Buggies, horses, harnesses, as well as walking sticks, lapels, and bosoms were bright with the flaring ribbons.
“The town had never witnessed a football game within its limits, but there was no lack of interest among young and old. The attendance numbered several hundred, the large majority of which were in sympathy with the home team.
“The ball was kicked off promptly at 3 p.m. and for twenty minutes the Lafayette boys showed their superiority over the Opelousas team. During the last half the home team kept on scoring, shutting out the visitors altogether. The final score was 21 to 0.
“On Saturday evening the students of the Institute gave a reception in honor of the young gentlemen and ladies visiting from Opelousas, and the Literary Society rendered a programme … [that] consisted of readings, recitations, music, solos and parts songs, a debate, and a selection by the Institute Glee Club.”
That wasn’t the first-ever football game for SLII; a team from the Institute beat Opelousas High 45-0 in 1901, according to records in the UL archives. Nor was it the only game played in Lafayette in 1902. A handbill in the archives reads, “Don’t miss [the] FOOTBALL GAME between Institute Team and Louisiana State University tomorrow Thursday 3:30 p.m.at the Institute.”
Hand-written on the side of the handbill is “Thursday, Oct. 16, 1902,” but I can find no report of who won.
1908 appears to be the first full season for an SLII team, and it was a good one.
That team defeated St. Martinville twice, Crowley, New Iberia, Lake Charles and Vinton, for a perfect 6-0 re
cord. The coach was C. J. McNaspy, for whom the old football stadium was named, and he apparently got advice from a coaching legend.
The archive files contain correspondence between McNaspy and Glenn (Pops) Warner, who won 312 games during a 44-year career that included stops at Georgia, Cornell, Carlisle, Pittsburgh, Stanford, and Temple.
In the early 1900s he offered a mail-order course on how to coach football, complete with a book of plays.
McNaspy took the course in 1908 and wrote for an updated version in 1911, sending payment of five dollars for the full course and Warner’s new book of “plays and line shifts.”
It appears that poetry and pompoms were linked from the very beginning.
The 1908 football program began under the auspices of an Intercollegiate Athletic and Oratorical Association formed that year for “the advancement of Amateur Athletics and the fostering of interest in Oratory among the schools of Southwest Louisiana.”
The association’s big event each year came to be a Field Day each Spring that featured a track meet and an oratorical contest.
The best athlete got a gold trophy and the best orator was given a complete collection of Shakespeare’s works.
A collection of Jim Bradshaw’s columns, "Cajuns and Other Characters," is now available from Pelican Publishing. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.