Not a member? Join today!

Photo Friday: No Football Team? Maybe Your College Was Started By Pacifists.

In the early days of Messiah Bible School, organized athletic endeavors were significantly curtailed. By the 1950s, when this photo of intramural football players was snapped by photographers for the school yearbook, the college allowed students to organize such games -- but only amongst themselves. (Courtesy of the Brethren in Christ Historical Library and Archives)

A friend of the search for piety and obedience, Tom Grosh, recently posted a fascinating essay at The Emerging Scholars Blog. Titled “No football: Campus tradition rooted in peace-making,” the essay explores why Elizabethtown College— a school “founded to keep youth within the Church of the Brethren,” as Tom puts it — has never had a collegiate football team.

Here’s a taste of Tom’s piece:

I think that Elizabethtown College’s position against “intercollegiate athletics, hazing, student fraternities and class rushes” 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.” 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.” 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.

Read Tom’s entire essay here. (He includes in-text citations that I’ve deleted for ease of reading — clearly, he’s a much more dedicated scholar than I!)

Perhaps expectedly, Tom’s post led me think about Messiah College, the school started by the Brethren in Christ (a spiritual cousin of the Church of the Brethren in many ways) that has also never had a collegiate football team.

As E. Morris Sider recalls in his history of the school, early opposition to sports came from the denomination’s belief in utilitarianism: because sports did not have any particular “use,” students were encouraged to spend their “outdoor time” doing other, more profitable activities: chopping wood, taking a walk, etc.1 This view reflected that of the larger church, which opposed such recreational pursuits as “worldly.”2

(Attitudes began to change in the middle decades of the twentieth century, and by the 1980s the college was competing with other schools nation-wide in a number of sports. Today, as folks familiar with Messiah College will know, the school has a rather impressive athletics program!)

Unfortunately, Sider doesn’t address the lack of a football team at the college. One is tempted to think that Messiah, like Elizabethtown College, might have have banned such activity not just because it was an organized sport, but because it was an organized sport that involved a significant amount of violence.

Of course, the presence of this photograph proves that by the 1950s at least some Messiah College students had begun to play the game on-campus.


1. E. Morris Sider, Messiah College: A History (Nappanee, Ind.: Evangel Press, 1984), pp. 114-115.

2. Carlton O. Wittlinger, Quest for Piety and Obedience (Nappanee, Ind: Evangel Press, 1976), p. 122.

I first encountered the photograph in today’s Photo Friday post in the Summer 2009 issue of the Brethren in Christ Historical Society’s newsletter.

11 responses to “Photo Friday: No Football Team? Maybe Your College Was Started By Pacifists.

  1. Great pic Devin! Thank-you for filling me in on some of the Messiah College history.

    I’m enjoying the conversation which has stemmed from “No football: Campus tradition rooted in peace-making.” I particular, I’ve appreciated Matthew pointing me to Robert Hanle’s 1974 Ph.D. dissertation, “A History of Higher Education Among the German Baptist Brethren: 1708-1908.” Do we have a similar resource for the Brethren in Christ?

  2. Tom: Not to my knowledge. Dr. Sider has profiled most (if not all) of the educational institutions started by Brethren in Christ: Messiah College, Upland (former Beulah) College, Niagara Christian Collegiate. While discussions of attitudes toward education among Brethren in Christ are embedded in each of those narratives, we do not have a focused study of “the history of higher education among the Brethren in Christ.” Perhaps in your free time? 🙂

  3. As a student at Upland College during the 1960’s, I remember we didn’t have a football team, but we did have a popular basketball team with scholarships for players. We played surrounding Christian colleges.

    I remember Prof. Paul Delp, (our part-time philosophy teacher from Chapman College) mentioned in class one day that he thought our name, The Spartans, was not appropriate for a college with a pacifist background. He was not BIC, but a strong pacifist.

    I also remember that the Pep Band got reprimanded for playing
    “Rock Around the Clock” during half-time at a game.

  4. Dr. Wittlinger told me back in the 1970s that he was on the committee that chose soccer over football for Messiah, in part because it was less expensive! I believe the peace witness was also a concern, but my impression was that good stewardship–a much cherished value of the early Brethren in Christ–was equally important.

    1. Susan: Thanks for the comment! Financial stewardship was (and is!) certainly part of the Brethren in Christ’s commitment to simple living. Tom: Interesting that you heard a similar report. Thanks to both of you for filling out the picture.

  5. My first thought was that it was probably due mainly to the expense of a football team, then added to that would be the violence and injuries involved. I wondered if any other Christian colleges of similar size have had official football teams.

    I remember hearing talk and reading on the Wittenburg Door about whether Messiah should continue to use the team name of the Falcons. This is, of course, a predatory bird.

Comments are closed.