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Men's Baseball

It All Began with Baseball
In the spring of 1877, baseball was the first organized sport to be played at Coe - except the "Coe" was Coe Collegiate Institute, not Coe College. As the 1903 Ziz! Boom! Gee! put it, "When the campus was a sand hill topped by a single small building, Coe had a baseball team." These young men played against the Valley City Club, and according to Eriksson's unpublished history of Coe College, "the 'Coe College Boys,' as the newspaper called them, played a game with the 'High School Boys,' winning by a score of 13 to 8." Filling the positions of Coe's first athletic team were: Asa Ames, catcher; David Wood, pitcher; Taylor Carpenter, James E. Dixon, and More Bird around the bases, Ossian Ladd at shortstop, and William Ladd, Ossian E. Wheaton, and A. Blalock in the outfield.  Although impossible to verify, one suspects that this would be the last time Coe would ever have two Ossians playing on one team.  In a 1911 issue of the Cosmos, there is a brief mention of the fact that Orville and Wilbur Wright played on one of Coe's early baseball teams.  The Wright Brothers did at one time live in Cedar Rapids, but we have not been able to confirm the accuracy of that brief paragraph in the college's paper.

Coe College's first baseball team was organized in the spring of 1882 during the new institution's first year.  Inexplicably identified as the "Coe Sleepers," the team was involved in the college's first intercollegiate athletic event on April 28, 1882, when they were defeated by the Cornell nine, 35-4.  The game received the following remarkable sentence in the Daily Republican:

The "Coe Sleepers" were rather roughly awakened from their slumbers on Friday last by the Mount Vernon base ballists, who swooped down upon them, carried off their new ball and left the astounding record behind them of thirty-five tallies for the M.V.'s to four for the C.S's, which goes to prove, of course, that it has been at the expense of the physical man that the "Sleepers" have devoted themselves so closely to their books for the past six months.

Although Coe organized other baseball games after this ill-fated beginning, this lone meeting with the boys from Cornell appears to have been the only intercollegiate baseball game until the spring of 1893.

For several years, students had been asking the faculty and trustees to provide athletic grounds on the campus. Finally in 1893, with the support of several Cedar Rapids businessmen, a football field, baseball diamond, and track were constructed on the northwest corner of the campus, south of Avenue B, at that time the northern boundary for the campus. Students soon took advantage of the new facilities by forming a baseball team. They joined a city league with teams representing the "Printers"; the Farmers' Insurance Company; and the Burlington, Cedar Rapids, and Northern Railway Company.  The Coe team also played five "non-league" games this season, ending with a record of 5 wins and 4 losses. The Cosmos reported that George Bryant, later Professor of Latin and Athletic Director, was the steadiest hitter on the team, striking out only twice during the season. "The team did not play evenly together and this is where we lost at critical points of the game. Bowlus, who pitched three of the games is only thirteen years old, and of course did not have the experience to sustain him when most necessary."   

Intercollegiate play began not long after this, and soon conferences were set up in the area. The 1902 team was dubbed the "Champions of Iowa," with only three losses in fifteen games, including victories over the State University of Iowa and the Iowa State College at Ames. The 1915 team tied with Iowa Wesleyan for the Iowa Conference championship, and the 1923 squad also found success in the recently formed Midwest Athletic Conference, a success best described in the 1925 Acorn's quintessential sports prose:

Conference champions-- that's the title which the 1923 baseball club finally landed after a season in which almost every game was a battle. Prospects were good at the beginning of the season for a ball team of all around strength, but (head coach Ira) Carrithers was worried about a pitcher. With Captain Wernimont behind the bat, he was fortified with one of the best college catchers in the west, while Sutherland was an infielder around whom a strong defense could be built.

George Collins, athlete extraordinary [and one of the first African-Americans to attend Coe, graduating in 19   ], was available again for his old position in center field, and Pence and Skinner were also back to man their old berths in the outer garden. Plenty of good freshmen enabled 'Cary' to fill in the positions left vacant by graduation, and he soon had a ball team in the field which rivaled any nine which ever represented Coe on the diamond.

The team's pitching problems were relieved by the emergence of "Johnny Rush, freshman twirler who came through with a vengeance."  Despite the team's immediate success, the interest in the college game appears to have waned, and as other colleges dropped their teams from the intercollegiate program, Coe had fewer and fewer teams to play. In the fall of 1930 a faculty committee decided the college should emphasize its intramural and physical education programs, resulting in the elimination of baseball as an intercollegiate sport at Coe until after the Second World War.

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