CentreCyclopediaOld Main

Men's Athletics

Watched constantly by the faculty, hemmed in by an extensive list of rules and regulations, and bored by the repetitive recitations of the classroom, students eagerly turned to athletics in the late nineteenth century as an outlet for their exuberance, energy, and competiveness. It was a movement that grew from the ground up, for in the early years students were in charge: they provided not only the players, but also coaches and managers. The faculty, however, viewed athletics differently. While willing to allow student activities that provided moral, intellectual, and spiritual improvement, they and the administration disliked any student activities they couldn’t control. President William C. Young, in his 1892 report to the trustees, wrote that the faculty "while feeling assured that if properly managed … sports will be undoubtedly beneficial to the students, and indirectly to the College; yet on the other hand they feel equally certain that if they are not controlled and restricted by stringent rules rigidly enforced, they will provide a nuisance and work evil to all."

Athletics, in its broadest sense, was undoubtedly present on campus long before the first intercollegiate athletic contest. In a November 7, 1858, I. Chapin Bartlett wrote to his parents that "In our hours of recreation we enjoy ourselves in playin (sic) ball on the Campus," possibly a reference to baseball. While the 1906 Centre yearbook hints that baseball had been played as an intercollegiate sport at Centre since the mid-1880s, the first written record of a baseball team at Centre College is dated to 1896. The first documented intercollegiate athletic contest dates to April 9, 1880, when Centre College and Transylvania University played a football game in Lexington, Kentucky. Transylvania won the game 13 3/4 to 0. A rematch was played a week later at Danville. Transylvania again won by a score of 5 1/2 to 0. Centre wouldn’t field another football team until the 1891 season.

The 1897 yearbook, under "Athletics," includes entries for football, baseball, track, tennis, and gymnastics. The 1897 baseball team played games against the University of Kentucky, Kentucky Wesleyan, University of Cincinnati, and the Lexington Athletic Club. The entry for track provides little information on the sport, but does include records, including 10 1/5 seconds for the 100 yard dash, 5 minutes, 12 seconds for the mile, and 5 feet 8 ½ inches for the high jump. The author of the tennis entry writes "In the spring, however, tennis vies very closely in popularity with its great warm-weather rival, for in the later part of May tournaments are played, which excite as much interest with fraternity men, especially, as a foot-ball game." Gymnastics was more an exhibition of tumbling.

Largely through the demands of students, Centre built its first athletic facility, Old Boyle-Humphrey Gymnasium, in 1892. The building included a large room for gymnastics, a bowling alley, and shower rooms. Photographs show that "gymnastics" was more tumbling and exercise than today’s sport. Walter D. Berry was hired as Instructor in Physical Culture, and grounds for outdoor sports were prepared behind Old Main. As an indication of the laxity of rules for eligibility at that time, Berry would simultaneously serve as instructor, athletic director, coach, and starting quarterback on Centre’s football teams.

The end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries saw a growing concern among the administration and faculty about who would control athletics. The catalog for 1905-06 describes the Athletic Association, a voluntary organization that has charge of the outdoor sports at Centre, and is managed in connection with an advisory committee of the Faculty. By the following year there was a standing committee of the faculty on Student Athletics. The control of athletics was beginning to be transferred from students to the college.

Basketball was first played as an intercollegiate sport at Centre during the 1905-06 season, with games against Miami University, University of Kentucky Georgetown College, the Y.M.C.A. teams from Louisville, Lexington, and New Albany, Indiana. The biggest problem facing the team was the lack of a regulation gymnasium, for Old Boyle-Humphrey Gymnasium did not have a full-size court. Games were played in other local areas, including a Danville skating rink. The 1910 squad had a record of 20 wins and 3 loses, including two victories over Vanderbilt, and won its third consecutive Kentucky championship and the Southern Intercollegiate Championship. The 1915-16 season was the first one played in the new rebuilt Boyle-Humphrey Gymnasium.

The 1906 yearbook indicates a revival in track, "the cleanest of sports, one free from brutality, and dependent on the participating individual’s own effort." The gymnastic team, organized in 1902, participated in meets against other teams, and won the State Championship. The baseball team had to be disbanded during the season by the faculty because of using ineligible players. The first tennis tournament was organized in 1904, and was played as a part of Carnival. By 1909 gymnastics and tennis had disappeared from the yearbooks, leaving only football, basketball, baseball, and track. By 1916 track was also gone. These three sports would dominate Centre athletics for several years.

In the late teens Centre’s Praying Colonels football team became a national phenomenon, playing a schedule against big-time football schools. In 1921 football stars Norris Armstrong and Bo McMillin led the basketball team to tie for the championship of the State and "probably the championship of the South" boasted the yearbook. The 1920 football season saw the first of three games played between Centre and Harvard, but during the 1921 season Centre also defeated Harvard in basketball by the score of 41-36. Played in Cambridge, Harvard’s gym was packed as fans undoubtedly wanted to see Armstrong and McMillin.

With national fame, came closer scrutiny of the football team. Charges of using ineligible players, of alumni paying players’ tuition, and coaches earning more than president were brought against Centre. Denying the charges, Centre fought to maintain the college’s accreditation, but the only way was to begin to deemphasize football, despite the outrage of students, alumni, and supporters. The schedule began to include more and more small colleges, and fewer and fewer state universities. The fanatic interest in the team began to wane.

The 1931 yearbook again includes an entry for the 1930 track season, noting that it "was still a minor sport and suffered because of the attention given to spring football and baseball." Following the 1930 season baseball was dropped in favor of a more extensive track program. The 1931 yearbook notes that baseball was rapidly losing popularity in the region. The 1935 yearbook includes a section on tennis, which had grown in interest due to matches with such leading teams as Alabama, Vanderbilt, Georgia, and Tulane during southern trips. Home matches were played against Berea, Louisville, Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky, and Cincinnati.

The 1940 yearbook indicates that track had fallen in popularity, with the 1939 team only entering two meets. Baseball was reintroduced in 1939. Golf was added as an intercollegiate sport in 1938, with matches in 1940 against Cincinnati and Louisville.

During the wars 1943-1945, Centre didn’t field any athletic teams. When sports returned following the war, the Athletic Council ruled that Centre would adhere to a policy of no athletic scholarships and play only schools following a similar policy. Football and basketball teams were fielded during the 1946-47 year. That year's football team lost all seven of their games, while the basketball team consisted entirely of freshmen, except for one sophomore. Baseball, tennis, track, and golf were renewed in the spring of 1948.

During the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, Centre’s athletic teams had up and down records. The 1955 football team finished with an 8-0 record and declined an invitation to the Tangerine Bowl, while the football teams of the 1970s had only one winning season. Wrestling began as an intercollegiate sport in 1968-69. Prior to 1975-76 Centre decided to drop wrestling in favor of soccer, a sport gaining in popularity throughout the state. Men’s soccer began in 1971 as a club sport, and became a varsity sport in 1975. Cross country was first added as an intercollegiate sport in the fall of 1965. Swimming and diving were added in 1968 following the completion of Boles Natatorium.

The 1980s saw a resurgence of Centre athletics. Joe McDaniel became head football coach in 1980, a position he held until retiring in 1997. When he retired, McDaniel held the all-time record in football victories at Centre with 101 wins, 63 losses and three ties. During his coaching career the football team won seven conference titles. Tom Bryant was Centre's men's basketball coach from 1968 to 1996, and the school’s athletic director for 21 years. Bryant won 389 games and 15 conference champions while at Centre. He led Centre to the NCAA Division III Final Four twice, in 1979 and 1989, and to nine appearances in the Division III tournament.

The most recent men’s sport to be added is lacrosse, which began its inaugural season in the fall of 2010 and became an intercollegiate sport in 2011.

Today Centre College competes in 23 Division III intercollegiate sports - 11 for men and 12 for women with 40% of the student body participating in one or more intercollegiate sport. It is a member of the Southern Athletic Association.


In 1892 Centre built Old Boyle-Humphrey Gymnasium, its first indoor athletic facility. Outdoor sports were played on Cheek Field, located on today’s baseball field. In 1914 Boyle Humphrey Gymnasium was built to replace the old gym. The Alumni Memorial gymnasium was added to the back of the building in 1950. In 1961 an extensive renovation was completed, and the building took on a new life as Sutcliffe Hall. Most of the original structure of Boyle-Humphrey was demolished as part of the 2004-2005 renovation and expansion of Sutcliffe Hall. The original football field was located on what is today part of the baseball field, and was oriented in an east-west direction. Ferris Stadium was completed in 1923 and replaced the old field with its wooden bleachers. After his retirement in 1997, the playing field was named Joe McDaniel Field, and is used for football, lacrosse, and track. The baseball field has remained in the same location, and named the Gary Wright Field in 2007. Boles Natatorium was built in 1968, and is used by the swimming and diving teams. Soccer was first played on the baseball outfield until the completion of Hillside Field. Tennis courts were initially located behind Old Young Science Hall until four new courts were built in 1967. Centre’s golf teams play at the Danville Country Club.