People often wonder why our Elizabethtown College football team has been undefeated since 1929, when the campus does not possess a football field or team.
The College was founded by the members of the Church of the Brethren, who encouraged the College to practice their beliefs of free expression of all religions and nonviolence. Actual competition was frowned upon by the College’s Church of the Brethren Administration, which thought that highly competitive, forceful contests went against their peace-oriented values.
The closest experience that Etown had with playing football in its history was the formation of the unofficial Elizabethtown College football team in the fall of 1928. Decades later, the inspiration behind this experience started the slogan: “Elizabethtown football: undefeated since 1929.”
According to professor Jean-Paul Benowitz, a historian of the College and Director of Student Transitional Programs & Assistant Director of Academic Advising, the slogan happens to be historically wrong.
“The year was 1928, not 1929. In 1928 a clandestine football team was formed calling themselves the ‘Brutal Thirteen,’” he said. “They played against regional colleges and lost all five games. So it is not true, not undefeated. In fact, defeated every time.”
Benowitz commented on how it was not the values that our founder had which impacted the sports that the campus offered. Rather, it was the founder’s view on competition and how it affected students’ ability to perform in the classrooms.
“The values of the Church of the Brethren did not have any impact on sports at the College,” Benowitz said.
“The founders of Elizabethtown College were never against athletics as a form of exercise. The founders of the College were against intercollegiate sports competitions,” he said. “They followed the prevailing wisdom of the time established by Charles Elliot, the president of Harvard University from 1869-1909, who was against intercollegiate sports competition.
“He believed college athletics would take the focus away from academics, which would cause the public to identify colleges and universities by their sports teams and would lead to poor student social behavior.”
Wrestling Coach Eric Walker gave his view regarding how students take performing on the field and applying it in a classroom setting. “I think that sports are very important. They provide students with social skills and teamwork skills,” Walker said. “They also help students to overcome adversity. If a team loses one game, they do not just quit, but continue playing the game.”
Walker added that sports help students gain greater mental discipline as well. “Participating in sports helps students with their time management abilities. For team captains, it is a way for them to build their leadership skills, and it will add to their resume by taking on that responsibility.”
Walker expressed his view of the art and rules to wrestling that makes it not seem as violent.
“When it comes to the art of wrestling there are certain regulations that must be followed,” Walker explained. “There are penalties for poor sportsmanship. There are some guys who do take it too far in the middle of a match, but they are immediately removed from the mat or even for a year, depending on the situation.
Chris Morgan, the Director of Athletics as of August 2015, gave his thoughts on how the future looks for athletics at Etown.
“I think the future looks very positive. We have a very strong group of coaches and support staff, who are great leaders for the student-athletes on our teams, and we are positioned very well in the competitive Landmark Conference, which consists of like-minded institutions.”