The Full Range of Sports
It did not take long, though, for University of Chicago teams to succeed at the intercollegiate level. In 1894, the tennis team, behind the efforts of Sam and Carr Neel (SB 1897), won the Western Conference and National Championships in doubles play. Tennis won conference titles again in 1906 and 1908, making it one of the most successful sports in the University's early years. Its success also seemed to rub off on other teams. In 1906, track won its first conference title, and in 1908 the swimming and basketball teams won a conference and a national championship respectively.
The success of the 1908 basketball team was a major break through for University of Chicago sports. Led by "Art" Hoffman (PhB 1910) and "Long John" (John J.) Schommer (SB 1909), who was also the star centerfielder on the baseball team, the Maroons won the national championship in basketball again in 1909 and 1910. Although the hoopsters never attracted as many spectators as football, their success put basketball in the limelight as a major sport on campus.
The University of Chicago's swift ascent in the sports world included some outstanding individual feats. At the 1906 Athens Olympic Games, University of Chicago track star James Lightbody (PhB 1912) won the gold in the 1500 meters and the silver in the 800 meters, and H. M. Friend (PhB 1906, JD 1908) brought home a bronze medal in the broad jump. Maroon teams continued to excel, if not dominate, in the mid-1920s, and fencing, water polo, and tennis won a trio of titles in the 1939-40 season, only to be overshadowed by the biggest sports news of the year, the termination of football.
After football was dropped,
other sports continued to compete in the Big 10 conference but, for reasons
directly attributable to football's demise, with rapidly diminishing success.
Since the beginning, many football players had spent the winter and spring
competing in other sports. This provided sports like track, baseball,
and basketball with highly skilled athletes. After 1939 this talent pool
The end of football also discouraged some prospective student athletes from attending the University of Chicago for fear that all sports would either be dropped or become uncompetitive. As a result, the Maroons were soon overwhelmed by their Big 10 foes, and by 1945 the University of Chicago withdrew from the conference.
Women's athletics did not fare as well as men's in the University's early days. Intercollegiate matches were prohibited for women, even though they were active in almost all of the same sports as men and competed in intra-University tournaments. Women were also given considerably less adequate athletic facilities, practicing in the gloomy confines of Lexington Hall's gymnasium. The administration had promised in 1903 to build a women's facility, and the Women's Athletic Association (WAA), directed by Gertrude Dudley, conducted charity drives like the Penny Race and a winter vaudeville to help generate the funds needed for a new gym. Finally, in 1916, the University made good on its promise with the construction of Ida Noyes Hall. Another sixty years would pass before University of Chicago women athletes were able to compete at the intercollegiate varsity level. The success of women's teams in recent years, particularly in basketball, has been a source of justifiable pride.
In 1976, the University joined the Midwest Collegiate Athletic Conference before moving in 1986 to help form the University Athletic Association, an organization of like-minded private research universities committed to the primacy of education over athletic prowess. The University's Division III men's and women's teams have given a broad spectrum of students the opportunity to participate in varsity sports, and they remain an important part of student life.