Football has more than 100 years of history in Evansville
Evansville's first high school football team began practicing in the fall of 1895. This was also the year, the University
of Wisconsin became one of seven charter members of the Western Conference, now known as the Big Ten. Under
the leadership of the high school principal, Edgar E. DeCou, the first team battled against other area high schools
within a distance that could be easily reached by horse and buggy or a train trip.
The first game was scheduled with the Oregon High School team. However, when the Oregon team arrived in
horse-drawn wagons, the visitors refused to play. One local reporter told the story: "when they (Oregon) got a
glimpse of our team, they made up their minds at once that they had no business to cope against such a team of
athletics as ours and positively refused to play unless our team would throw out four of our best players."
The rest of the season was more successful. Games were scheduled every two weeks. Home games were played on
Saturdays at the Evansville Driving Park, located on what is today the Evansville High School Grounds. The second
game of the first season was scheduled with Beloit for Saturday October 12, 1895. The local team lost. The
Evansville Enterprise excused the local team, "Some of the boys have never played foot-ball before and they played
this game mostly to get fully organized."
In their first season, the Evansville team played Janesville, Edgerton, and Stoughton. Evansville's team easily
defeated all three teams and the football players' skills were reported as improving as the season went along. Max
Fisher, Brewer, Hough and Clark were noted as strong players and the only ones to carry the ball. The line, Clayton
Hubbard, Nelms, Richards and Wilson also had improved as the season progressed.
The season lasted from late September to the end of November. The first team and their coach had their picture
taken and presented it to the high school. A copy of the photograph is part of the Fisher Family Collection at the
Eager Free Public Library.
The first football team's photograph includes the team mascot, Lloyd Spencer, and the High School Principal, E. E.
DeCou. The uniforms were quilted knickers; front-laced vests and laced boots that offered little protection during
what could be a rough and tumble game.
In 1896, the team began practicing soon after school resumed in September. The football team members included
Ray Clifford, Clarence Hubbard, Ralph Wilder, David Van Wart, Ray Fessenden, Frank Humeston, Leon Patterson,
Verne Winston, Carl Gray, Roy Wilson.
Even the team's coach, the new high school principal, Professor Kling, played the position of center. One of the
frequent complaints against the school teams was that they allowed players on the team that were not students.
Rules about who could participate in high school sports were not as clearly defined as they would be in later years.
In September 1896, Kling announced that everyone who did not belong to the Evansville High School would be
excluded from the local football team.
It was often noted in the newspaper reports, that Evansville was playing with teams from larger schools, such as
Beloit and Janesville. The Janesville School population was 4,312 students and Evansville, by comparison, had 353
pupils. Because of the larger number of students, Beloit, Madison, and Janesville had enough team members that
they could send in substitutes, while Evansville's team had only eleven members, including the coach. Each of the
players was on the field the entire game, without relief.
Win or lose, the community was urged to support the team by attending the games. Season tickets cost 50 cents
and helped the sports program pay for traveling expenses and other items.
The football games had created great interest among the young boys in town, who formed their own small teams
and played the game. The local newspaper editor, C. A. Libby, complained that his son came home from football
games, bruised. "Many sore heads and maimed bodies are the result of the football fever; our son Burr's nose and
eyes are a specimen."
Injuries of team members sometimes caused games to be cancelled. In November 1896, Leon Patterson cut his
hand with a corn cutter, during the harvest season. The regular team could not play the Thanksgiving game against
Albion Academy. The Evansville Athletic club played in the high school team's place.
When the Evansville team was not playing a Saturday game, Professor Kling encouraged his players to attend
college games. Members of the team and Kling frequently traveled to Madison to see the University of Wisconsin
By 1898, there were enough students interested in the sport that there were two football teams playing for
Evansville. They were known to the local townspeople as the first and second high school football teams.
Kling had the team practicing punt returns and other skills and in at least one game against a larger school, the
practice seemed to have been worthwhile. The Evansville team beat Beloit by a score of 23 to 0, although in the
second half of the game; Beloit substituted several new players, in an attempt to win.
However, Evansville's team prevailed and the success was due in part to the punt returns. The Evansville Enterprise
explained: "One feature of the game was the gains made by punting; three times the Evansville half-backs got the
ball on their own punt, showing that the practice Evansville put on this play was not wasted."
There were those who worried that the sports program was interfering with the academic program. When the football
season closed in 1898, the Evansville Tribune noted that "The football season has about closed and many will not
feel very bad if it never opens again. There is still too much slugging and accidents connected with it to meet the
approval of many of our best citizens."
However, Professor Kling defended the sports program. "Our football team has played four games this fall and each
time against a larger school. We believe that boys will engage in sports to a certain extent and it is thought better to
provide suitable games than it would be to ignore the subject. It is also believed that play can be so directed as to
have wholesome influence on the work of the school and with this in view we advocate football in the fall, track
athletics in spring and baseball in summer."
The athletic program weathered the storm of protesters that considered the game too rough for young men to play,
or that the practices and games interfered with scholastic activities. The efforts of Kling to encourage and support
the program led to its success.
Editor Caleb Libby, though he was concerned that his son was hurt playing the game, considered football to be a
good preparation for adult life. "These boys are all to take our places soon, and courage and perseverance is what
they all want and must have to carry them through life. We do not know of any one amusement more productive of
these two elements than football properly conducted, as we believe it the aim of Prof. Kling to do."
Evansville's first attempts at organized school sports proved successful. Some of the early players continued to play
college sports. Leon Patterson, became a member of the University team, after his graduation from the Evansville
High School. The team's mascot, Lloyd Spencer, a great fan of the game, also became the mascot for the University
of Wisconsin team.