The Richmond Register

Lifestyles & Community

January 15, 2013

A distant review of Eastern athletics

Part One

RICHMOND — Eastern’s basketball team is in a highly competitive frame of mind nowadays. Athletics at EKU have always been competitive and yet supportive of EKU’s mission of student centered development. Here is an extensive quote from a very interesting publication, “Three Decades of Progress” published in 1936 to commemorate Eastern’s 30th anniversary.  It is well worth reprinting:

“Eastern, being a school for the training of teachers, has never given as much emphasis to intercollegiate athletics as some of the liberal arts colleges have. The faculty has always controlled the sports program under the direction of an athletic committee, whose duties were defined in the Eastern Kentucky Review for 1917 (Vol. XI, No. 4):

“1. The Committee shall have general supervision over all athletic games, exhibitions and contests, and shall have control over arrangements for such games, exhibitions, and contests within the school or with other schools and associations.

“2. It shall decide what candidates are eligible for membership on teams or for admission to athletic games, exhibitions, and contests, and it shall exclude from competition those whom it finds below the standard in their studies — as fixed by the faculty rule — or ineligible for any other cause.

“In 1917, due to rather unusual emergencies caused by the World War, the athletic policy was changed to meet the new conditions. The Review for 1917 (Vol. XI, No. 4), states:

“Because of the unusual present conditions, the policy heretofore pursued regarding athletics for men may prove to be inappropriate or inadvisable. As it is the aim of the school to adhere strictly to catalog announcements, we shall go no further than to say that on the opening of the fall term of 1917-18 such athletic activities will be organized as will provide adequately for the recreational needs of the men of the school and will contribute most directly to their professional training. The wishes of the men students themselves will be considered as far as it is at all practicable to do so in the determination of the form of athletics to be pursued.

“During the period 1917-20, Mr. Charles F. Miller and Mr. Clyde F. McCoy directed the destinies of Eastern’s athletic teams. Mr. George Hembree took over the coaching of all athletics for men and women in the fall of 1920. Eastern was prevented from joining the collegiate athletic associations because the standing of normal schools among colleges at that time (1920) was not recognized.

“In 1921, however, efforts were made to organize an Eastern Kentucky Athletic Association. A constitution and bylaws were drawn up to govern this association and, in 1922, Eastern took steps to qualify for membership in it by establishing, as a basis for participation in intercollegiate or intramural athletics, a system of rules based on those of the EKAA. As chairman of the committee on athletics, Professor A.B. Carter helped to write the constitution for the intercollegiate association and the rules governing Eastern's participation in athletics.

“Organization of the Eastern Kentucky Athletic Association was an important step in the raising of standards of intercollegiate athletics, and Eastern operated under it until her entry into larger and older associations.

“Eastern has had in all sports some athletic teams that were successful in winning a large percentage of their games. In the season 1924-25, the women’s basketball team won 10 of 13 games, and the baseball team won seven out of 10 games. In 1927, the football team had its best season.

“Eastern qualified for membership in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association in 1928. The move, while an important step in the development of athletics, worked a real hardship on the school’s athletic teams. Before this time freshmen and even students in the normal school (secondary in rank) were permitted to play on the varsity teams. Much of the best material was often drawn from the former group. But in the SIAA, all of this was changed and the material for the building of good athletic teams was restricted.

“While Eastern’s football teams have not had brilliant records in the past, there has been a steady improvement in the caliber of ball played under the able coaching of Mr. George Hembree, assisted by Mr. Gumbert, until 1929-30, and of Mr. Chas. T. Hughes, assisted in turn by Mr. Frank Phipps, Mr. Alfred Portwood, and Mr. Tom Samuels, from 1929 to 1935.

“Eastern basketball teams, for the most part, have won a large percentage of their games. On two occasions in recent years these teams have held the best records in the Kentucky Inter-collegiate Athletic Conference. In 1929-30, 1930-31, 1931-32, 1932-33, the varsity team made a sufficiently good record to be invited to participate in the annual SIAA tournament at Jackson, Mississippi. In 1931-32 the Eastern basketball team was a runner-up in the Kentucky intercollegiate tournament at Winchester, Ky., and in 1936 Eastern played in the final game for the state championship, being defeated by the Western Kentucky State Teachers College.

“Eastern’s freshman teams, organized for the first time in 1928, have fared well, and in football have won more than three-fourths of the games played. In 1931, under Coach Alfred Portwood, the freshman football team won every game and claimed the state championship.

“Freshman basketball teams were even more successful. During the season of 1928-29, under Coach Thos. E. McDonough, the freshman team won seventeen out of nineteen games played.

“Since that time under Mr. George Gumbert and Mr. Alfred Portwood, the freshman basketball teams have continued to be comparable to the best in the state. This period also saw the enrichment of the program by including tennis, track, golf, and swimming in the varsity sports program. Eastern’s golf team did not lose a match in 1935 and consequently claimed the state championship. Swimming has flourished more as a recreational and intramural sport due to the lack of swimming facilities in our conference schools.”

SOURCE: Three Decades of Progress EKSTC, 1906-1936.  Eastern Kentucky Review XXIX, 1, May 1936, pp. 185-189;

More on Eastern’s distant athletic history next week – including “new” buildings, “going pro,” more victories and the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

PUBLICATION NOTE:  Readers are reminded that a compilation of some 60 Richmond Register articles from over the last 40 years by Dr. Grise and myself are now available in the paperback book “Madison’s Heritage Rediscovered.”  

Combined with relevant photographs selected from Eastern’s Archives by my granddaughter, Kathryn Engle, who edited the volume, this book is available for $19.99 plus tax.

Autographed copies may be purchased at the Richmond tourism office (Irvinton) on Lancaster Avenue, Clearsight Optometry and Baldwin CPAs on Main Street in Richmond.

Autographed copies are also available by calling Kathryn Engle at 859-893-0947 or 623-1150.

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