University of Scranton Football
The Early Years 1892-1920
Information on the early years of football at St. Thomas college is spotty at best. Athletics at St. Thomas College had an early and precarious beginning. On Thanksgiving Day 1892 St. Thomas College defeated Carbondale high school in the first recorded football game. In 1893 a college Dramatic Society production was held to raise money for the library and to buy football uniforms. There appears to have been a couple games played in 1893 as well, but there was no regular schedule.
The first full football schedule occurred in 1898 when the "Tommies" went 8 and 1 and shut out all of their opponents, after losing the first game of the year 6-5 to Keystone Academy. The 1898 season also featured a 0-0 tie with Villanova on Thanksgiving day. The 1899 season apparently featured a 12-6 victory over Fordham on Thanksgiving. Apparently there was no football played in 1901.
Information about the football team during the first decade of the century is difficult to obtain. Some information can be gleaned from the Scranton Times. But sports reporting was sporadic so it is difficult to know whether one has located every notice concerning the football team or whether every game was covered. In fact, sometimes a newspaper covered a game that wasn't played. The October, 7 1902 Scranton Times reported that one of the Scranton morning papers stated that the St. Thomas football team had lost to Bloomsburg by the score 58-0. The Times stated that no game had taken place "There is but one St. Thomas college team in this city, and members of that team were at their studies at the college yesterday, and were not out of town."
According to available information, gleaned from Scranton newspapers, the team played at least three games in 1902 under Coach Gilbert. The team lost to Keystone Academy but defeated Old Forge and Tunkhannock. A junior athletic club football team fielded a squad in 1903 playing teams under 14 years of age. And there is a record of two more games in 1904. W. J. Fitzgerald, class of 1903, reminisced in 1931 about the early days of St. Thomas college. The team ran the "flying wedge" offense. The offense featured a center and quarterback in the middle of the field with the other players lined up further away and behind the line on both sides of the center. The other players would then run toward the center and as they reached the scrimmage line the center would snap the ball to the quarterback and the wedge, with running momentum, would plow into the defense. Defenses eventually learned to counteract this attack by cutting the oncoming offense players off below the knee.
A 1935 alumni reunion featured some stories about the Tommies' first football game. Unfortunately the players could not remember the name of the opponent and the year is not given in the article about the reunion. The reminiscing players, Hugh Ruddy, Charles Webber, Jim Cooney, Joe Weir, and Richard Miller, related that the Tommies were being so badly beaten at halftime that there was no more room on the score sheet for more figures. Richard Beamish, former secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, volunteered to coach the team during the second half. Under his coaching the team was not scored upon. The game was called on account of darkness before the Tomcats could mount a comeback. They did however face the same opponent a few weeks later and defeated them. Unfortunately there is such scanty information about these early years that it may prove impossible to pinpoint either the year or the game.
In 1908 the Tommies went undefeated and unscored upon. Only one game was played in 1909 before the college suspended the sport. Apparently there had been concern over injuries because the college removed the ban on playing football in 1910 and mentioned some rule revisions to reduce the likelihood of injury. The 1910 season featured at October 29 contest with Lackawanna Business College during which the St. Thomas team walked off the field because of a disputed call by a referee. The game was rescheduled and St. Thomas defeated Lackawanna Business College 5-0. But after the 1911 season football was dropped. It was officially reinstalled in 1916.
And while the decision was made to form a football team there was no real season. The Aquinas tersely noted in its October issue "On account of school opening so late, (October 9), it has been decided to abandon starting football this season." In late October however, a game was played between the junior and sophomore classes resulting in a 18-0 victory for the sophomores. The Athletic Board arranged a Thanksgiving Day game with Technical High School. More than 3,000 people watched a muddy 6-6 tie game at Athletic Park. On Dec. 9, 300 fans sat in the cold rain to see St. Thomas lose to Central High School 6-0. And so ended the season. But football had been reestablished and would remain a varsity sport through 1960.
The 1917 St. Thomas football season was quite successful. St. Thomas was undefeated enduring only a 3-3 tie with Union High School of Endicott NY. With the exception of a field-goal and a safety, St. Thomas was not scored upon by the assortment of high school and pickup teams the college contended with during its six game schedule.
St. Thomas would continue playing similar schedules into the mid '20s. Since there were no other neighboring two-year colleges, the team continue to play high schools, normal schools, and business colleges. The team was coached by Bill Moore, who was "physical director" of the Catholic Club. Moore apparently coached the Tommies without remuneration. Even with good game attendance football was not bringing in enough money in Scranton.