The Early Years of Tarleton Athletics
By Frank Chamberlain
There were no organized sports during the first five years of the John Tarleton College. There were several factors that delayed implementation of an athletic department. First of all, maintaining an athletic program requires equipment for the players. At this time, the school simply did not have enough money to finance any such materials for extracurricular activities. Secondly, the school’s faculty originally consisted of only four instructors. It seems reasonable that these teachers must have been overwrought and lacking the inclination to devote any more of their time to university activities. Finally, the prevailing attitude amongst the early staff was that athletics interfered with the regular coursework. Such health-based curriculum was not seen as a necessary part of the students’ education. Students engaged in athletics strictly during their spare time. It was not uncommon to find students paying games of baseball, wrestling, or foot-racing on the grounds of the colleges. However, none of these activities were allowed to interfere with studies and were not sanctioned (or endorsed) by the college (Grissom 114-115).
College administrators realized the need for organized athletics by 1901 when an athletic department was organized. However, these football, baseball, and track meets were held on an intramural basis. It was not until 1904 when Tarleton joined the West Texas College League that the school’s organized athletic tradition officially began. At this time, regularly scheduled games versus other colleges began to be held. Still, the university did not posses the necessary funding for these sports. The equipment was donated by local businesses and the program existed from private donations and gate receipts. The early program was so rudimentary that there were no actual rules of eligibility until 1914. Prior to this, the only requirement was the athletes’ “ability to endure the knocks of the game” (Guthrie 30).
These early teams did not posses an official name. A campus legend contends that in 1925, Athletic Director W.J. Wisdom offered a five-dollar prize to the person who thought of the best mascot for the teams. However, Wisdom himself came up with the title of “Plowboys.” He apparently felt that his own offering was superior to the other choices and this nickname was adopted. Tarleton athletic teams were known as the “Plowboys” until 1961. At that time, the current moniker of “Texans” was chosen (Guthrie 293-294).
The early women’s teams at Tarleton seem to have been held to a rather second-class status. During these early years, there was no similar athletic association for the girls. They were offered tennis, basketball, and dumbbell exercises. However, school records do not mention any competitions with other colleges. Tarleton finally fielded an extramural women’s basketball team in 1921. This program only lasted until 1925, when it was suspended for forty-three years. In 1968, female athletics was reestablished as basketball, track, golf, and tennis teams were permanently organized. These teams competed under the nickname of “Texanns” (Grissom 115, Guthrie 30).
Grissom, Preston B. “The Development of John Tarleton College”. Unpublished M.A. thesis. West Texas State Teacher’s College, 1933.
Guthrie, Christopher. John Tarleton and his Legacy: The History of Tarleton State University, 1899-1999. Acton, MA: Tapestry Press, 1999.