No football. Campus tradition rooted in peace-making


Elizabethtown College High Library

I’m surrounded by Elizabethtown College campus records checked out from High Library.  Why?  I’m writing a paper for a Brethren in Christ Core Class on The Theology of the Church (taught by Terry Brensinger) which will explore how well a college founded to keep youth within the Church of the Brethren fared in teaching denominational doctrine and way of life. In some ways I’m inspired by George Marsden’s The Soul of the American University:  From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief, but Anabaptist traditions have a different relationship to the “establishment.” In addition, I’ve chosen to focus upon Elizabethtown College‘s current peace position and its relationship to the Church of the Brethren‘s tradition of peace-making based upon “Jesus’ teachings on loving our enemies (Matt. 5:44, Luke 6:27) and Paul’s admonition that Christians seek to live peaceably with all and that they strive to ‘overcome evil with good’ (Rom. 12:21).”  The research has reminded me how important it is to know your campus context (which includes campus history, stated purpose/mission, incarnated values).  Let me share some of my findings with you.  I will start by exploring why the College lacks a football team.  Feel free share your comments regarding the campus’ approach toward football and competitive sports over it’s 110 years.


As I mentioned above, Elizabethtown College was founded to keep youth within the Church of the Brethren, below’s a quote from Ralph W. Schlosser’s campus history.

As with many Christian colleges, Elizabethtown College was founded with a desire to pass along the ideals of a given denomination to its children. In this case, AT THE END of the nineteenth century, some men of courage and vision in the Church of the Brethren in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania were convinced of the need for a school of higher education, beyond that of the public schools, in the southeastern part of Pennsylvania. These pioneers in this field were led to this conviction because an increasing number of children in Brethren homes were attending various schools preparing young people for the teaching profession but not under the influence of the ideals of the Church of the Brethren. Hence there was a growing concern that a school should be organized in which these children from Brethren homes, as well as others desiring training under the influence of a conservative school, could receive an education preparing them especially for teaching in the schools of our Commonwealth. It was also felt that the youth of the Church of the Brethren, by attending existing schools, drifted away from the ideals of the Church — Ralph W. Schlosser. History of Elizabethtown College: 1899-1970. Lebanon, PA: Sowers Printing Company, 1971, 1).

Over the course of several years, the possibilities for such an institution were researched, debated, and finalized. Despite some strong opposition to higher education in the Church of the Brethren Eastern District of PA, Elizabethtown College began in 1899 with the object of “a harmonious development of the physical, mental and moral powers of both sexes as will best fit them for the duties of life and promote the spiritual interests of its patrons” (1971, 18).  Although “under the control and management of the German Baptist Brethren Church [named Church of the Brethren in 1908] and primarily intended for the education of our own children, the School shall be open to all such as desire to avail themselves of its privileges” (1971, 18, italics added for emphasis.  More on this in a future post).

With regard to the peacemaking as an ideal to pass along to Church of the Brethren youth, it receives no attention in George N. Falkenstein’s The Organization and the Early History of Elizabethtown College and little attention in Schlosser’s work or the college bulletins/catalogs which I’ve read (at present I’m in the 1970’s). Does this indicate the absence of or the assumption of the ideal of peacemaking by a college founded by members of the Church of Brethren who passed along the work to the supervision of the denomination two decades after its establishment?

The Peace Position and Athletics

I think that Elizabethtown College’s position against “intercollegiate athletics, hazing, student fraternities and class rushes” (1971, 58) demonstrates an early weaving of the peace position into the daily life of the campus. With regard to athletics, President Beahm reported to the Board on June 15, 1904, “modern match games of baseball and football are not in accord with Christian virtue and true education” (1971, 59). In 1927, the Board of Trustees created a policy against football for the protection of bodies, in opposition to the “brutal” nature of the game, and how it tends “to divert the interest of the entire student body from the main purpose of the school” (1971, 146). Truly a counter-cultural stand, with on campus advocates for playing football in “a clean manner” and others claiming the importance of learning the game in order to qualify for high school teacher positions.

The college held firm, pointing out the low numbers of educators hired for athletics and stating “a game that is fundamentally wrong because it is brutal [and unchristian], to say the least, can not be cleaned up” (1971, 146). Although in 1928 some students played a year of clandestine intercollegiate games, football never become a sport at Elizabethtown College. During the same year, a two year old student organization accomplished its purpose of having intercollegiate sports became part of the campus culture. This began with the hiring of Ira R. Herr as the first coach and athletic director.  Basketball team (both men’s and women’s) formed first, followed by men’s baseball and soccer. In A Short History of Elizabethtown College Athletics: 75 Years of Blue Jay we read the perspective of the present day Athletics Department:

“It is one of the great ironies in the history of Elizabethtown College that the inception of a program which has brought such recognition and respect to the institution was resisted so successfully for so long. Although Elizabethtown College was founded in 1899, it was not until December 8, 1928 that the first officially sanctioned intercollegiate athletic contest was held. At Elizabethtown, unlike many other institutions, intercollegiate athletics was not simply assumed to
be an essential part of the life of the college.

Although the value of physical education alongside academic endeavors was emphasized early in the history of the College and participation in it was a requirement for students, actual competition was frowned upon by the College’s
Church of the Brethren-run administration, which viewed highly competitive, forceful contests as being out of tune with its peace-oriented values.

Attitudes at Elizabethtown gradually changed, and much of the impetus for this change came from the students themselves. By the 1920s, a thriving culture of highly competitive intramural competition had developed on campus, much to the chagrin of some and much to the delight of others. In 1923, the College purchased land upon which to create what is now Lake Placida as well as several athletic fields and facilities. In 1926, a student organization called the Athletic Association was formed for the express purpose of promoting the acceptance of sports at Elizabethtown. — Elizabethtown College. Department of Athletics. A Short History of Elizabethtown College Athletics: 75 Years of Blue Jay Athletics. Elizabethtown, PA: Elizabethtown College Press, 2004, p.3.

History, Faith, and Practice do matter. …

Elizabethtown College’s  lack of a football team stems from different roots than other campuses such as U. of Chicago or or Drexel U.*  Furthermore, we find a very practical outworking of a Biblically based peace-making perspective leading to a counter-cultural understanding of athletics, not just in the treatment of bodies but potentially with regard to cross-campus rivalry, e.g., Messiah vs. Elizabethtown College football (I mean soccer) games.  Anyone with more developed reflections on this topic?  Note:  Even after the adoption of the intercollegiate athletics the college worked hard to emphasize its opposition to football and appreciation for proper care for the body through physical education.

The Tension Between War & Peace Rises:  Internally  & Externally

When I began reading, Chet Williamson’s Uniting Work and Spirit: A Centennial History of Elizabethtown College (Elizabethtown, PA: Elizabethtown College Press, 2001) and Elizabethtown College: The First Hundred Years (David C. Downing, Managing Editor. Manheim, PA: Stiegel Printing Inc., 1999) I found the stories rich and the plot thickening.  Wish I could go back and sit in some of the classrooms, board meetings, campus discussions, and college newspaper layout conversations.  In particular, I’m interested not just in how Church of the Brethren ideals were lived out and “felt” in community, but how they were taught/articulated on campus in the classroom and the chapel.  To quote 1971 Elizabethtown College alumnus Dennis Hollinger

"Head, Heart & Hands" cover

… head, heart & hands all play a significant role in our Christian faith. Moreover, each dimension plays a crucial role in the expression of the others. Our minds, passions & actions interact in such a way that unless all 3 are present & nurturing each other, we are less than the people God created us to be. To be whole Christians, head, heart & hands must join together as joyous consorts. The problem is that most believers & Christian organizations or movements have accentuated 1 dimension to the neglect of the others. – Dennis Hollinger. Head, Heart & Hands: Bringing Together Christian Thought, Passion, & Action. Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 2005, 9.

When Dennis Hollinger, now President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, presents for the Central PA branch of the Emerging Scholars Network on Sunday, September 26, I’m going to find some time between sessions to ask him for his reminiscences as a Vietnam War era student at Elizabethtown College.  I wonder what he and some of the retired faculty have to share regarding chapel cards being burned and a faculty with a peacemaker position being hung in effigy at a small Christian liberal arts college with Church of the Brethren roots.  But that might be getting ahead of myself as Downing and Williamson have brought my attention to some material from the two World Wars.  To be continued …

*Note:  In 1929 President Robert Maynard Hutchins scratched the 24 year old University of Chicago tradition in order to rally the college around academics instead of athletics.  In 1973 Drexel cut the program due to low attendance in comparison to the costs incurred.  What other campuses come to mind which lack a football program and do you know why?

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Tom Grosh IV

Tom enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa and their four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he teaches adult electives and co-leads a small group), among healthcare professionals as the South Central PA Area Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), and in higher ed as a volunteer with the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). The Christian Medical Society / CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine is the hub of his ministry with CMDA. Note: Tom served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship / USA for 20+ years, including 6+ years as the Associate Director of ESN. He has written for the ESN blog from its launch in August 2008. He has studied Biology (B.S.), Higher Education (M.A.), Spiritual Direction (Certificate), Spiritual Formation (M.A.R.), Ministry to Emerging Generations (D.Min.). To God be the glory!

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    Matthew Shindell commented on September 23, 2010 Reply

    If you haven’t looked at it yet, I’d recommend Robert Hanle’s 1974 Ph.D. dissertation, A History of Higher Education Among the German Baptist Brethren: 1708-1908. It has a very good account of how higher education became a part of Brethren culture during the 18th and 19th centuries. It also talks a bit about how participation in higher education changed Brethren culture. Really interesting stuff.

  • Thomas B. Grosh IV commented on September 23, 2010 Reply

    Matthew, Thank-you for the tip. It is a fascinating topic.

    Where did you come across a copy? I found it on Google books, but it’s not listed in the High Library Catalog. I’ll ask next time I’m in the Library. Maybe it’s available in an on-line journal service or their records room. I’ll also look into these possibilities.

    Matthew Shindell commented on September 23, 2010 Reply

    I checked it out from the UPenn library when I was in Philadelphia. I scanned a lot of that dissertation into my computer for my own use, but it would be difficult to send it to you via email because it is about 35 MB. Do you have a gmail address? Maybe I can put it in my gmail docs and share it with you. As long as it is for your own research purposes, I don’t think there would be anything wrong with sharing it.

    I actually developed a pretty large bibliography about the Brethren for the chapter of my dissertation I am working on right now. The subject I am writing about, the chemist Harold Urey, grew up in the Church of the Brethren around the turn of the century. His father, stepfather, and uncle were all ministers in the Brethren. If you are looking for any more sources, let me know. I might be able to help.

    Matthew Shindell commented on September 23, 2010 Reply

    I found your gmail address on your facebook profile. I uploaded the file to my google docs and shared it with you using that address. You should be able to read it now.

  • Thomas B. Grosh IV commented on September 23, 2010 Reply

    Thank-you Matthew! Excellent material for a night of reading. I’ll be in touch w/additional questions and research inquiries after the “Day w/Dennis Hollinger.”

    Micheal Hickerson commented on September 24, 2010 Reply

    Regarding schools that lack football programs: Emory University has no football team, because of its Methodist roots. It seems that you can buy a t-shirt that reads “Emory Football: Undefeated since 1836.” Hampshire College also lacks a football team – I’m not sure if it’s because of its size, its roots in experimental education, or both.

    Vanderbilt still has a Division I football team, but in 2003, then-Chancellor Gordon Gee (now President of Ohio State) eliminated the athletic department and brought intercollegiate athletics under the Office of Student Life, in order to integrate athletes with the rest of the student body.

    Kyle commented on September 29, 2010 Reply

    So Elizabethtown doesn’t have American football, but I can’t help but wonder how much other sports have filled that gap in campus culture that football does not hold, sports that can often be as violent and militaristic, and certainly as competitive, as football. Tom, you mention a soccer rivalry with Messiah College, for example; soccer can be quite violent, and except for shin guards doesn’t come with the benefit of pads. And regarding how the metaphorical violence of the game is transferred to campus culture, here’s the latest soccer headline, which advertises Elizabethtown’s recent game as a “rout” of Moravian College:

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