Welcome to the tradition of American Football! If you grew up in a household like mine, your fall revolved around the NFL game schedule. It’s hard to imagine a time without football, but this could have been a very real reality for Augustana College today. For a large chunk of Augustana’s history, football, as well as other competitive collegiate sports, were banned from campus. It goes without saying that student activism has been a staple at Augustana College for a very long time, a staple that we can trace back to the protests of the early days at Augustana, where the battle cry was “Augie Wants Football!” and the students came together to uphold the football tradition for years to come (Sarah Horowitz, “Augie Wants Football!” Reflecting on the Past, 64-65).
In 1905, the Augustana Synod (the church body that governed Augustana College and Theological Seminary) decided that intercollegiate athletics (such as football, basketball, and baseball) were “harmful to the physical and moral development of young people” (Horowitz 64). However, physical activity was still seen as essential to the education and well-being of students, and students were encouraged to participate in outdoor activities through intramural sports or class instruction. As the student body waited and hoped for the return of intercollegiate football, the young men from each class (first years through seniors) gathered into teams and competed against each other, each demonstrating that they had football ability (Rockety-I 1915 page 168). The longer the ban was in place, students grew increasingly frustrated at the apparent hypocrisy of allowing intramural (but not intercollegiate) sports on campus.
Students soon began to try to get the ban overthrown. In addition to continuing intramural sports, the students participated in (sometimes violent) group protests. Yearly petitions were sent to the Synod to get football reinstated, but they were always rejected. In 1908, the Synod did relinquish slightly by reinstating all other men’s and women’s intercollegiate sports (except football) on campus, but for football enthusiasts, this wasn’t enough. “We cannot but feel in our endeavors, that football is essentially a college sport and should have a place in our college life. No athletic lover would ever protest football” (Rockety-I 1915 page 168).
The student body believed that playing football on campus only brought students closer together and built school loyalty and pride unlike anything else could (Rockety-I 1917 page 218). This argument is repeated throughout protest literature from this time: students claimed that without the practice of competitive sports there was “no real college spirit,” which was a disservice to students who were deprived the opportunity to feel this loyalty to their alma mater (Moline Dispatch, March 13, 1909, Augustana College Football Prostests/Ban vertical file). A new era for Augustana began in the fall of 1918 as intercollegiate football was played for the first time since the ban by the Synod in 1905. Football was officially reinstated on campus in June 1917 for the 1918-19 school year, because the Synod discovered that the merits of playing football overcame the risks. The student body was thrilled and believed it to be the first step towards “the realization of a greater Augustana” (Augustana Observer March 1, 1918).
Students could thank the loyal Augustana alumni who joined their protests for the reinstatement; without the alumni’s many positive reports of how football and other sports had benefited their lives, the Synod may not have taken the petitions seriously and would not have felt obliged to lift the ban. One important petition, written by Felix Hanson, class of 1900, was included in the 1914 yearbook. He writes in favor of football and the many merits the sport has to offer, including physical and mental benefits like “skill and judgment” (Rockety-I 1915 page 104). He and many others talk about how this sport offers merits that cannot be learned like they can through active competition. The courage and loyalty students learn through this medium make them better people, which addressed the Synod’s original argument. In 2016, almost 100 years after football was reinstated as an intercollegiate sport at Augustana College, football is still a strong tradition on campus. Our Augustana Vikings attract many students that wish to compete in Division III intercollegiate sports.
For further information about the tradition of football at Augustana College, stop by Special Collections and request to see our vertical files on Augustana football. You can also use the Rockety-I and Augustana Observer database to access online articles about Augustana football past and present, and the journey our campus underwent to reinstate intercollegiate sports on campus.