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September 25, 2012 > History: Football

History: Football

Football in the Tri-City area goes back over 100 years. The first sanctioned game was probably the one played at Irvington on December 16, 1893 between Washington Union High School and Washington College at Irvington.

Washington Union High School, which opened in the Masonic Hall in Centerville in January 1892, was the only high school in southern Alameda County. Its first full year of operation was in a new three-story building built on the Overacker Ranch on Centerville-Niles road (now Peralta Boulevard). Because of its location, it was usually called Centerville High. The faculty increased from one to seven, including the principal, who taught history, algebra and geometry in addition to his administrative duties.

Students began playing tennis and participating in other activities, but the real excitement came when Irving White, a San Francisco boy, enrolled at Washington High and brought with him the modern form of football which he had learned in Minnesota. The football team was again organized in the fall of 1894 with a system of training under White.

The boys apparently had some experience with Rugby, but none of them had ever played a game of American football; most had never even seen one. It was reported that after the first tackle in practice, Bart Thane, stopped and asked, "Gee, did I hurt you Irv?"

The boys soon began to understand football rules and strategy and developed lots of enthusiasm for the game. The Bi-Weekly, the school newspaper that came out every other Tuesday morning, reported that the players were practicing hard and some were even "letting their hair grow so as to be ready for football." The muddy condition of the grounds kept the scholars from enjoying themselves, but with football practice, "they could roll around to their hearts' content."

The Centerville boys were ready for a game so they sent a challenge to Washington College a few miles down the road at Irvington. Washington College of Science and Industry had been organized by local farmers and educators and opened in 1872 as a commercial academy.

Apparently the students at Washington College also had an interest in football as they accepted the challenge of Washington High. The game was set for December 16 at the college campus, and the two Washingtons prepared to play football.

We have no details about the Washington College team, but Washington High had no uniforms: no helmets, no cleats, no pads and probably no numbers. The team appeared on the field clad in overalls with a bulge here and a bulge there where some fond sister, or perhaps anxious mother, had sewed something in to serve as padding.

A reminiscing reporter noted, "While the game was not remarkable for the skill or team work shown by either side, there was all the excitement of a contest and best of all, our High School won by a score of 8 to 0. Whipple and Searles each making a touchdown."

Washington High won several games against Bay Area schools and labeled, "The Big Team." Team members Bart Thane and James Whipple later became famous playing in the game at the University of California commemorated by the football statue on campus.

Oakland High School refused to play "the Big Team" but badly defeated the 1895 team. This was bitter medicine for Washington High and created a goal to return the favor. Washington entered the Academic Athletic League in 1898 "chiefly to get a crack at Oakland" which they defeated 10-0. Following a highly successful season, they fought Belmont to a scoreless tie for the state championship.

Most players from the championship season graduated so Washington had to rebuild. W. D. Patterson became the coach and the team finally won the Academic Athletic League championship in 1906 but lost the Northern California championship to Woodland. Graduation again took most of the members of this team, and seasons passed without a championship until 1912 when school resumed its winning ways. The 1913 team was declared by many to be the best Washington ever had.

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