Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

This webpage reproduces an article in
Naval Institute Proceedings
Vol. 61 No. 10 (Oct. 1935), pp1560‑1567

The text is in the public domain,
the 1935 copyright not having been renewed in 1962 or 1963.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p1560  Athletic Training at the Naval Academy​a

By Walter Aamold, Athletic Coaching Staff, U. S. Naval Academy

Among the many sterling qualities that place the United States Naval Academy to the fore as an educational institution must be counted the course in physical training and athletics. Perhaps in no quarter of the globe can there be found a group of young men who show so splendid a physical development over a period of four years as those at Annapolis.

In obtaining this enviable development, many factors contribute their part — such as a balanced routine, selected food, healthful surroundings, and careful medical supervision; but behind all these there glows the flame of physical inspiration that can be found only upon the athletic fields and in the centers of physical training. The question of physical well-being at the Naval Academy is scarcely debatable, for upon the mere mention of "Annapolis" the national mind conjures up visions of young men in Navy blue with radiant health, vigorous bodies, and intelligent faces.

Recently a distinguished visitor, upon completing a tour of the Naval Academy, remarked:

These young athletes inspire me! It seems to be bred into them that the Navy has never failed, that it must never fail, and that they must never fail the Navy. I saw that spirit demonstrated on three different athletic contests this afternoon and I'm coming back some evening to witness the boxing team in action just to round out in my memory one of your days here at the Academy.

Ohio State University announces in its syllabus that "physical education, properly conceived, is a genuine branch of education." The Naval Academy goes a step beyond this in believing that physical education is a part of life itself. It is a rule that none shall graduate until a standard of physical training has been met comparable in quality to the academic course.

During the past few years the Naval Academy, in order to keep abreast of new developments, has been conducting a survey of physical training as carried out in major colleges. The new problems involved, along with a summation of the situation is well covered by an officer answering from West Point, who stated:

I feel as do many people connected with the Tactical Department that, since this institution is now giving a degree upon graduation, it could well afford to give credit for physical education. This is being done by many institutions whose scholastic standing is equal to ours theoretically. Therefore, I feel that a considerably greater weight should be given to physical education.

Unquestionably it is the sincere desire of every officer in the Navy that in no subject of useful training shall the Naval Academy strike its flag. On the athletic fields, "Navy" must gain its share of victories; in the matter of a rounded education, physical training must be equal to, if not in advance of, contemporary colleges of first degree. Thus, the subject of physical training is of particular interest at this time not only because of its recognized value to the active Navy but also because of the value placed upon it both for a commission in the Navy and, in addition, the new civil degree given at graduation.

At the present time the Naval Academy has a safe margin of semester hours in physical training above those required for a degree in a civil college. Most colleges are limited to requirements during the freshman year. At Yale, physical education is compulsory for freshmen only between November and March. Harvard requires a medical examination and physical attendance three times a week with a "satisfactory" mark before reaching sophomore year. Other colleges, particularly  p1561 in the Middle West, equal or slightly exceed these requirements.

At the Naval Academy limited but valuable hours of physical training are allotted to midshipmen for each year from entrance to graduation. In the present‑day course, swimming and life-saving are firmly stressed until each midshipman has thoroughly demonstrated his proficiency. If in years gone by an occasional poor swimmer managed to qualify by proxy, the past cannot be changed but today this temptation has been eliminated by use of a posture photograph that identifies each swimmer at the time of qualification. Likewise, the old breast stroke with its complicated timing has joined the muzzle-loading gun. All midshipmen now begin with the most useful of all strokes, the crawl, and then work back to auxiliary strokes for the side and back. The result of this change has given the Naval Academy a regiment of power­ful crawl-stroke swimmers from Abbott to Zullinger who probably are unequaled anywhere in the college world to‑day.

Despite a slow start and scattered protests, the sports of golf and tennis are now a part of each midshipman's required course instead of being optional only to those particularly interested. Although time does not permit the average midshipman to become an expert in these branches, it is definitely known that they have become more intelligent as spectators and the knowledge picked up in class work, even though limited, has a definite carryover and social value.

Boxing and wrestling have been modified to some extent. The new training gives a working knowledge of both sports in order to develop reasonable confidence and culminates in a course of self-defense useful for young officers in charge of shore patrols. The Naval Academy course in self-defense has been studied and endorsed by various foreign and American organizations concerned with the problems of maintaining order among large bodies of men.

Elimination of physical defects is another field undergoing transition, both at the Naval Academy and in civil colleges. In up‑to‑date universities, medical gymnasiums are now in operation for this purpose. Most of the new work is orthopedic, although certain types of inferiority and inhibitory complexes are cared for as well. The number of young men who are afraid to climb down a rope from high places, to enter deep water even after learning to swim, or to run with a football are more numerous than generally realized. Each presents a special case for the medical gymnasium. In addition to this, defective feet, atrophying muscles, inability to use properly certain muscle groups, and faulty posture make up a reasonably large squad in every thousand men. Although the Naval Academy does not have a special gymnasium for it, this work is carried on as an adjunct to the "weak squad" under medical and gymnasium supervision. However, the general outlook during drill periods in physical training is towards exercise in a positive way and invalidism in any form is discouraged.

Apart from the routine drills, all midshipmen receive instruction in current sports, such as basketball, soccer, track, etc. This is of use where graduates later serve on athletic boards, rules' committees, at training stations, and in similar capacities where knowledge of sports' organization is an advantage. During the past decade, the number of naval officers serving on Olympic, intercollegiate, amateur, and social-club athletic committees has greatly increased and with it many excellent contacts constantly are being made. Training for this work is a Naval Academy responsibility.

The Athletic Branch

Like many early features in American growth, the first impulse towards establishing  p1562 athletics in the Navy originated in the smoke-filled taverns of Annapolis. Here the early midshipmen, for want of better recreational facilities, often gathered to plan practical jokes on their instructors who also sought relaxation in the cool taverns. These extra-mural, professor-student activities led to an atmosphere of strained tolerance in the classrooms and for a time actually endangered the newly established Naval Academy.

In 1853, Commodore Goldsborough found it necessary to change the old order of things and this he accomplished by placing the Naval Academy under a strict system of discipline. The first restrictions, inspired as they were by uncontrolled conditions in the taverns, went to the other extreme in requiring that midshipmen must become as solemn and dignified as the professors themselves. But all professors and no play was not the correct solution and a very unhappy period followed.

Introduction of Athletics

The change of somber life stifled, but did not destroy, the urge in the midshipmen for recreation but its ramifications greatly cramped their growing bodies. As time passed the physical condition of the midshipmen became so poor that protests were heard from officers at nearly every meeting of the alumni.

In 1865, Admiral Porter, vigorous from duty in the Civil War, recognized the state of affairs and immediately planned a routine of study, athletics, and recreation in the day's work at Annapolis. His stated purpose in introducing organized athletics was to develop the self-reliant side of the midshipmen and to provide a beneficial outlet for their spirit of "horseplay" as originally evidenced in the taverns.

Very soon after athletics became a regular part of life at the Naval Academy, a practice squadron (1868, Savannah, Macedonian, Dale) visited West Point. In a minor sort of way, this visit of naval ships to West Point was similar to the cruise of Commodore Perry to Japan. West Point, even more than the Navy had ever been, was on a 48‑hour basis of dignity with no relief in sight.

Scarcely had the practice squadron anchored in the Hudson than the midshipmen dashed ashore to challenge the Army to a game of baseball and a boat race on the River. With backs so stiff that head and body had to be turned together, the West Point cadets were quite unable to comprehend the situation.

An Army officer writing of the situation a year after the visit and first challenge between the two Service schools states in part:

It was spring (at West Point) when budding trees and chirping birds appeared to warm the cadets to the sense which the life of discipline had chilled. There was a general desire felt, though unexpressed even to one another, throughout the Academy for a game. One day a "plebe" brought forth some marbles and in the yard about the guardhouse began to play. By and by . . . even the first class — the men who were to graduate in a few months . . . to command other men — joined the rest and the cadets of the United States Military Academy were playing marbles. It was a touch of nature that made them all kin. It was truly pathetic, paralleled only by very similar outbursts for relaxation among soldiers of the Civil War. At this time there was no organized sport at West Point. . . . Somewhere stirred by a visit from the training ship of the Naval Academy . . . there developed an appreciation of the value of sport as a tonic, morally and physically.

Thus it was that the white sails of a practice squadron from Annapolis carried the Navy's newly found impulse for athletics to the banks of the Hudson to blend it with a similar awakening at West Point. This first athletic challenge between the two Service Academies, although scarcely remembered, set in motion forces which have had a direct influence upon the lives of thousands of officers since that time as well as upon the life and recreation of many civil colleges in America.

 p1563  Although the early midshipmen accomplished the difficult task of introducing athletics into their formal routine, it remained for the post-Civil War midshipmen to hold this advantage and develop competition on a larger scale.

In 1867, there began a series of large Thanksgiving athletic carnivals at the Naval Academy. The program included track and field competitions, baseball, rowing, and gymnastics. This is particularly interesting in view of the fact that the first civil records of American track and field champion­ships do not appear until 1876. As a matter of fact, the Naval Academy during the 90 years of its event­ful existence more than transcends the athletic history of America. An interesting side-light to this is shown by the fact that Rear Admiral Willits, U. S. Navy, '75, while preparing for entrance to the Naval Academy, played in the first intercollegiate football game recorded in world history, Rutgers against Princeton, in 1869.

The years 1869 and 1870 witnessed an extremely high development in rowing at the Naval Academy, resulting in Admiral Porter, then acting Secretary of the Navy, challenging the world to row against his "middies." Half a century later, this challenge was fulfilled at the Olympic games in 1920 when a Navy crew actually succeeded in defeating the world. In this period, too, baseball was a strong sport. Each class had a team — '67 team was known as "Nauticals"; '68, as "Severns," and '69, as "Monitors." The class of 1870 carried the idea a step beyond this and selected players from all the upper classes. Composed of 68 members, the class of 1870 was credited with being the first real athletic class developed at the Academy.

Origin of Navy Football

American football was founded at the Naval Academy by Midshipman Vaulx Carter in 1881‑82. Carter served as promotor, coach, manager, and player. Navy's first game was played November 30, 1882, against the "Clifton Football Club," of Baltimore. Navy won 8 to 0.

Carter and his teammates soon discovered that it was one thing to organize a sport but quite another matter to keep it going financially. Uniforms were necessary, funds to fulfill contracts with visiting teams and for officiating and similar needs. It was at this point that the regiment as a whole first felt its obligations to a team representing the Academy. Apart from the players, the regiment in 1882 founded the Midshipmen's Athletic Association. The young association established dues of 50 cents, which was much more of a sacrifice than is generally realized until the available spending money of the members is considered. The midshipmen fell short of being able to meet current expenses, with the result that officers on the station usually passed the hat at the club to make up the differences.

Although the Naval Academy was first to establish organized football, Cadet Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.D. M. Michie, '92, a few years later followed in the footsteps of Navy's Vaulx Carter. Just as Carter fathered football at Annapolis in 1881, Michie did likewise at West Point in the late eighties. Which institution issued the first football challenge is a point still open for friendly controversy. This point should be settled before many years pass and all records are lost. A memorial tablet in bronze should be established at West Point where the first Army-Navy game was played, containing all the known details of the first meeting. Similar tablets have been established for William Webb Ellis, founder of the Rugby game in 1823 and for G. S. Miller who organized the first football club in America in 1862.

Rear Admiral Irwin, '91, suggests that the first game was arranged entirely by the midshipmen and cadets themselves, the foremost midshipman in this being  p1564 Emerick, '91. Letters were written by Midshipman McGrann, '91, who acted as an unofficial manager. Other authorities give credit to Niblack, '80; Daugherty, '79; and Bert Bryan, '79. Hannlin is listed as promoting football among the enlisted men of the Navy.

Quite recently in the search for added details relating to the first Army-Navy game, the following facts were obtained:

The Navy team of 1890 was quartered in a frame hotel at West Point, which was poorly heated by a stove located in a hall. The weather was below freezing. The rooms were so cold that bed covers were supplemented by football uniforms and even suit cases. The Navy team was unable to sleep and turned out at dawn to inspect the playing field. This was found frozen with hundreds of earth knobs now ice as the result of a former practice while the field was mud. These knobs were capable of removing the toughest of skin almost instantly. Padding had not come in but in spite of hard playing the number of injuries was surprisingly low. Navy won the first game with Army 24 to 0.

Athletic competitions with Army ushered in a new period in life at the Naval Academy. A traditional series was started in football and later followed in other sports. An Army officer writing on the difference between the two periods states:

. . . sport was a noun of unknown antecedents, and athletics of any sort, kind, or description were scarcely dreamed of. The grind of the cadet's daily life was quite as severe then as it is now — more so, for he lacked entirely that great incentive to all work, that invigorator of mind and body — relaxation from obligatory duties. It was a never-ending grind with him, and gray-haired officers have told me again and again, as we stood watching some game of football or baseball, that they would have given a bar off their straps to have had in their day the training of either of those games — to have been able to enter the service with something of the dash, the verve of these young athletes, none the less a student, but a living, palpitating man, rather than a wearied automaton.

Development of athletic competition with the Army and other colleges soon brought out the fact that the Midshipmen's Athletic Association with its small member­ship and limited dues could not finance the problem of visiting teams, equipment, and training tables. To alleviate this condition, various officers on duty at the Naval Academy, inspired by the Commandant, Commander C. N. Chester, met on December 5, 1891, to organize the Naval Academy Auxiliary Athletic Association. Membership in this association extended into the Fleet, the first year's individual contributions running from $1.00 to several hundred dollars.

In the formation of a graduate athletic association, Navy again appears to have led the way as evidenced by the following extract from the press:

West Point, Dec. 7, (1892). The defeat sustained by the football team at the hands of Annapolis has served to awaken the authorities at West Point to a realization of the fact that while athletic exercises are performed and due attention given them, so far as military science is concerned, yet much can be done toward bringing the cadet soldier to a higher standard in the practice of healthy and amusing athletics. For this purpose, a society has been formed, having among its members some of the oldest professors on the post. The younger officers are also well represented in its mismanagement.

Athletics in the 90's

Athletic spirit is a power­ful stimulant and like all other emotions must be controlled. For the Army and Navy, jealous storms were brewing but, to the credit of both institutions, a deep loyalty and friendship always served as the final arbiter. A recount of the early feuds, in the light of present‑day relation­ships between Army and Navy, gives one more reason for Service athletics. During the first decade of competition, "growing pains" between the Academies were almost eliminated. If these had not been eliminated through the first intense contacts in athletics., it is quite probable that the first close meetings in war time would have served as a means for "blowing off steam."

As early as 1893 a rift was becoming apparent. The Washington Herald of October  p1565 27, 1894, sheds an interesting light on this point in the following account:

On that occasion (Army-Navy game of 1893) bitter animosities were aroused, almost culminating in a duel between an old retired rear admiral and a brigadier general who were among the spectators. Bad blood was engendered to such an extent that in Army and Navy circles rival factions were formed.

In 1894, football games between West Point and Annapolis were abolished by President Cleveland, each School being restricted to its own grounds.

Probably what was the first of the present type of headguard, like the union-suit baseball uniform, was invented at the Naval Academy. In a write‑up of a football game in 1894 the following extract appears:

Cadet Reeves (Navy) wore a peculiar cap during the game, made of mole skin and fashioned by a well-known lady of Annapolis.

In this period Navy also began breaking world records.

Baltimore Sun. "Two Naval Academy cadets have the credit of being world record holders. They are Walter B. Izard and C. D. Wilbur. Izard swam 50 yards at the annual tournament at the Naval Academy, May 20, in 31⅘ seconds. Cadet Wilbur kicked a tambourine at 9 feet 1 inch. These two records have recognized by leading sporting authorities.

By now athletics had been in force long enough for humorous incidents to come up in the most unexpected ways. In a baseball game, played April 7, 1894, the following is recorded:

Dowd (Georgetown) delivered a ball to Stanley (Navy) that Cadet McCormack, the umpire, declared a bad ball. On this Dowd announced to the umpire who was near him, that he "was a fool." The umpire ruled him out of the game. The Georgetown players refused to play without Dowd, and left the field. The Georgetown players had secured their guarantee before the game began, so they had nothing to lose on the money side of the question.

The athletic breach of 1894 lasted 5 years and games continued thereafter for 10 years without interruption. In 1909, the Army-Navy Game was canceled due to the death of Cadet Byrne (West Point) while stopping a line plunge in the Army-Harvard game of that year. Except for this interruption, games continued regularly up to the World War.

Present‑Day Problems

The old Greeks tell a story about Ajax who had not properly prepared himself for a race. Realizing too late that he was running against a fast field, he called upon his trainers to sacrifice an ox as a last resort. This they did and Ajax in a spirit of inspiration found himself safely out in front almost up to the finish when, quite unexpectedly, he slipped on something that later proved to be the blood of the ox that had been sacrificed in his behalf. Coaches draw all sorts of examples from this incident from improper training beforehand to bad blood, but somehow it seems to be generally over­looked that it was the stupidity of the coaches themselves that caused Ajax to fall. They had killed the ox on the wrong side of the finish line. Perhaps if the coaches had been sacrificed and the ox spared all would have been well.

To‑day, the athletic world seldom makes the same mistake twice but, until it has exhausted every possible combination of errors, spectators are going to sit in the stands and show their teeth. By the old system of trial and error, world records advanced but slowly. Of late, electric timing devices, high-speed cameras, and medical laboratories have added new problems to athletics and a corresponding advance in world-beating performances has taken place. In one instance, an electric timing device established the fact that most of the great track coaches were teaching the slowest start possible out of a dozen or more available combinations.  p1566 The interval between the fastest and slowest start was not over 0.1 second and, therefore, too slight to be detected by ordinary means but it went a long way towards explaining why some fast, half-trained runners from high schools became slower under the experts in college. Put on the "spot" by an electric eye, the old‑timers were forced to bow to the verdict. They, like the trainers of Ajax, had been sacrificing their ox at the wrong end.

The race to keep Navy in the forefront against rival colleges is becoming more difficult each year. Since the World War, some colleges have grown to the point where the faculty alone almost equals in number the entire regiment of midshipmen. Columbia, for example, lists 2,182 instructors; Harvard, 1,776; California, 1,687 with student bodies in proportion; New York University having reached 27,749 students for 1935. Against numbers and greater laboratory facilities, Navy is still able to hold its own on the statement made earlier — that the regiment is not excelled by any other group of young men in the land. Obviously, such a claim would be written upon sand if not supported by numerous victories gained in competition by athletic teams displaying the one word, "Navy."

Recitation of the Navy's long list of athletic accomplishments is unnecessary; the record is well known throughout the land at this time if for no other reason than that the Navy has been successfully meeting the nation's finest teams for over half a century.

Near the close of last season, Mr. Arthur Daley of the New York Times, hard put to explain how it had been possible for Navy's comparatively light football team to gain such outstanding success, finally summed it up with these words: "Navy won just because there was no word in the Annapolis lexicon that meant fail."

If athletics needed any defense for the part they play in life at Annapolis, Mr. Daley's statement would be enough, particularly when it is realized that Navy's heroic efforts inspire nearly a million spectators each season and, in addition, have been reaching out to many other millions who listen in on athletic contests by radio.

When "Navy" takes the field, it not only represents itself but also the nation, because in the hearts of people from Nome to Key West it is their school too — a national institution that transcends all American boundaries and even crosses the seas to remote outposts such as "Timbuktu" and "Rendezvous."

There have always been people in the world who would be opposed to living in Eden on the plea that there would be little if any reform work left for them to do. These are the ones who, when other things slack off, raise their high-pitched voices against college athletics. Just before the depression, they really were beginning to make themselves heard but unfortunately for them along came something new, something that threatened their own existence; a small group of men out to reform the reformers. Said these new experts in paranoia and psychology:

You gentlemen who advocate abolishing athletics — you've become anti-social. You should go out for some form of athletic training yourselves and regain your lost faculties.

From another quarter comes this summation of what athletics mean to those in college:

The chief justification . . . lies in the fact that many of these activities are inherently worth while. The experience is good in itself and the fact that it gives a satisfying and wholesome pleasure is justification enough. Under the right circumstances a certain game of tennis, or handball, or volley ball, or a certain swim or horseback ride may be a bit of living that is its own justification, just as reading a poem, or listening to a sonata, or holding a conversation with a friend; and any distinction that makes the literary or musical experience a high one and the sport experience a  p1567 low one seems entirely without justification except in tradition.

If midshipmen in hanging up their cleated shoes for the last time before graduation left everything on the athletic field that they had gained, sport still would be a justification in itself. Few things in time of peace can cause a deeper glow than that close friendship, or rather comrade­ship, that comes into being between teammates during a hard game. It is this spontaneous flame of inspiration that welds a Navy team into a united force determined that Navy shall not fail to carry the day.

In classroom work, how difficult it is to reach a degree of perfection where every student in French is speaking with the same accent. Physical co‑ordination is even more difficult; but, with the spirit of competition as an unrelenting task-master, a team soon learns to respond in unison with the thought of "Take that, and that from the Navy and your Old Uncle Sam."

Although team spirit reaches a high water mark in the Navy and friendships made last for a life time, the same situation does not escape the eyes of keen educators in civil colleges, who see the need for similar qualities in their own graduates. On this point, Ohio State University, with over 12,000 students to mold, lists its purpose in the physical branch as follows:

In addition, physical education has great possible values in social training. This social training may be of a good many different kinds, but it is more or less obvious that the experience which people have in playing games in company with other people constitutes a social experience of great value. To say the least, it breaks down undue reserve and facilitates social intercourse; it makes friendship and comrade­ship come more easily. Physical activities also supply uniquely favorable situations for leader­ship to make itself felt in the development of standards of conduct. These standards of conduct, as applied to the actual games and sports, are commonly called sportsman­ship, but under favorable conditions sportsman­ship can be generalized so as to apply to other activities in life.

Last autumn the New York press summarized Navy's leading athletes of the football field into an all‑American team of the greatest possible strength. Although the tabulation does not begin to include all the outstanding athletes developed at Annapolis, it, nevertheless, presents an array of talent hard to match in other colleges. The list follows:

of All-
Name Position Last
2 Larson, E. L. Center 1921
1 Brown, J. H., Jr. Guard 1913 Sword
1 Perry, L. S. Guard 1918
2 Ward, C. O. Tackle 1916 Sword
1 Wickhorst, F. H. Tackle 1926
1 Dague, W. H. End 1908 Sword
1 Taylor, W. S. End 1923
2 Ingram, W. A. Quarterback 1918 Sword
1 Dalton, J. P. Back 1911 Sword
1 Borries, F., Jr. Back 1934 Sword
1 Douglas, A. H. Back 1907 Cup

Equally important with the ever-increasing caliber of guns in our sea forces must be counted the training of young officers capable of matching these guns both in the caliber of their intellect and physical endurance as well. In battle as on the athletic field victory goes to those who are enduring, strong, and wise. Athletic training proves to all who enter competition that adequate preparation is necessary and that, unlike Ajax, there must be no failure along the way.

Thayer's Note:

a For a shorter account of Naval Academy physical training, but from a different standpoint and with additional information, see Puleston's Annapolis, pp163‑166.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 14 Nov 21