by John Norvell '66 P'99, P'02
"Football was formally introduced in 1891
and lacrosse after 1897 became a Hobart
-Hobart and William Smith: The History of Two Colleges by Warren Hunting Smith
"1910: William Smith, as an experiment,
played Alfred in intercollegiate basketball.
With a defeat of 22-4, the experiment was
considered a failure. William Smith women
would not play intercollegiate basketball
again for 20 years."
"-Elder Herons," The Pulteney St. Survey, Winter 1999, by Ellen Mitchell
For many years, athletics in Geneva meant one thing - lacrosse.
Lacrosse fever began in 1897 when Dr. Joseph Leighton, the Hobart Chaplain, brought the Native American sport to campus, serving as head coach and the team's star player. From 1932 to 1963, Francis L. "Babe" Kraus '24, Hobart's athletic director and head lacrosse coach, expanded the team's reputation through wins against teams like Syracuse and Cornell.
But the most memorable games were often not with collegiate competitors. In 1900, the New York Times reported that a team from the Iroquois Six Nations defeated Hobart twice. The Iroquois games continued periodically with the last one reported by the Echo of the Seneca yearbook in 1952 - final score: Hobart 19 - Onondagas 6. These games are fondly remembered by alums as rough and tumble matches that knew no boundaries or time limits and spilled over into the surrounding town.
At Hobart's 175th Anniversary Celebration in 1997, Dr. Robert Funseth '48 recalled details of what many believed was, "the greatest football game ever played." In November 1946, the underdog Hobart squad beat their arch-rival, the powerful University of Rochester, 12-0. With victory secured, the Hobart men tore down the goalpost and carried it home to Geneva in triumph. The Herald noted that the event was more than a game; it "...was the formal introduction of 500 new Hobart men to their school. Most of the fellows had never heard of Hobart before the War."
Funseth kept a piece of the goalpost with him though the years as a symbol of enduring possibilities. Later, under the direction of J. Edward "Eddie" Tryon, the football team had undefeated seasons in 1954 and 1957. Tryon coached football for 21 seasons from 1942-1962, the longest tenure of any coach in the history of Hobart football, and set a school record with a 19-game unbeaten streak from 1953 through 1955.
As the 20th century ended, Hobart was the proud winner of 16 National Championships. Mike Hanna '68, P'99, Hobart's athletic director, notes: "As important as the championships, our coaches and the 300 athletes who represent Hobart are terrific members of the community reaching out with various initiatives to children in organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club, the YMCA, Geneva Head Start and Geneva Youth Hockey. We strive hard to win as many games as we can, but our larger mission is to prepare Hobart studentathletes to be high performing and responsible citizens once they've graduated."
Mary Hosking, who retired in May 1987 after 23 years as a coach, teacher and administrator, says that the changes in William Smith athletics began with Marcia Winn and Janet Seeley. Winn arrived in 1930 and later became director of athletics, a post she held until her retirement in 1967. Winn maintained a program with higher standards than most neighboring colleges - a signature trait of William Smith athletics. From 1932-1971, Seeley directed the dance program. Winn and Seeley introduced intercollegiate athletic competition at a time when sports were considered "unladylike."
Although William Smith students took regular physical education classes, Winn and Seeley began organizing competitions in field hockey, basketball and lacrosse among others. Both felt competition was needed for better physical education. In 1940, for example, William Smith had a ski meet with Alfred and Syracuse; basketball, badminton and swimming competitions at Cornell; and field hockey games with Keuka, Wells and Cornell.
From then on, William Smith teams gained in strength and skill, so that by the 1960s, the coaches were forced to end the traditional student-faculty pick-up field hockey games because of concerns that the students, who were becoming very good, would be injured by their less skilled faculty opponents. Passed in 1972, Title IX opened the door for growth in women's athletics as it required educational institutions to provide equitable treatment for both men and women in programs receiving federal funding. William Smith Lacrosse Coach Pat Genovese P'01, '03, '05, '08 says that by the mid-1980s, William Smith sports were moving to a larger stage. "Title IX took some time to impact high school athletic programs so better skilled student-athletes began entering the College."
The result was that the Herons were taking on tough opponents and winning. In 1987, William Smith soccer played top-ranked SUNY Cortland and won. "It was a hard fought win and the lesson that came out of it was that we can and will compete hard in each game," says William Smith Soccer Coach Aliceann Wilber. "We learned to play a team for the possibility of what can happen." In 1988, the Heron Soccer team won the NCAA Division II National Championship. "Those teams in the '80s were pioneers," says Genovese.
"William Smith Athletics has a proud history of leadership and success," says Athletic Director Deb Steward. "Every year, we push the boundaries of possibility by challenging ourselves and our students to reach higher. The result is a group of young women who are dedicated to their teams, their College and their community."