They say November is for Football. Why? American Football Day is November 5th. The first ‘American Football’ game was played in November. According to SB Nation, “August is for arguing. September is for dreaming. October is for bargaining. November is for everything.”
Unfortunately, Fall Sports have been suspended for the time being – a difficult but cautious decision that means that Centenary’s men’s and women’s soccer, volleyball, field hockey and men’s and women’s cross country programs will be on hold for the coming semester. Other fall sports that have been suspended include football and tennis (two sports not played competitively at Centenary University). The Colonial States Athletic Conference (CSAC) made the decision at the end of July. We know our community is disheartened by this decision, but we also know it was made with the safety and health of our players in mind.
Athletics has always been an important part of Centenary’s history, ever since its beginnings in the 1870s. However, the Centenary of the late 19th Century didn’t have an athletics program like it does now. It offered ‘physical advancement’ and other recreational activities, but it didn’t have sports programs or teams other than student-run clubs. Students even held games against neighboring instutitions. The face of Centenary Athletics changed in the 1890s, when President Ferguson hired a director of Athletics, and soon the school boasted several tennis courts, a track, a Baseball diamond, a Football field, and grounds for croquet and quoit.
Although we don’t have a football team now, football was in fact one of Centenary’s earliest sports, along with Baseball and Track. Football was a popular sport for students to play and to watch. Our Archives has several admission tickets to football games held here and at nearby institutions. This ticket is from a game between South Bethlehem and Hackettstown Seminary (another name for Centenary) from October 10th, 1891.
Though there are early mentions of ‘foot-ball’ in documents from the 1880s and 1890s, the first photograph of our football team was from 1899. The team was posed in front of the Original Main Building. Many early team photos were taken with this building as a backdrop.
The second picture isn’t dated, but there are several clues that lead us to a date between 1900-1902. The Main Building burned down in 1899 and the fact that they are not photographed in front of the building leads us to believe the picture is from 1900 or later. The second clue is the student standing top middle in both photos. The first picture has a notation on the back that reads “The colored gentleman is freshman Benjamin F. Seldon of Morristown, N.J.” Benjamin F. Seldon was a student at C.C.I. from 1898 – 1902, and according to a newspaper clipping found in the Archives was a fullback on the C.C.I. team. Given that the other students in the second photo don’t match the students from the first, it was determined that the second picture was not from the same year as the first but had to have been when Seldon was a student.
The football team was dissolved in 1910 when the school became an All Girls’ School and did not return when the school went back to coed in 1988.
Researching football in the Archives led us to find a letter from Seldon to Professor Hammond from 1925. He even mentions in the letter that he spent too much time on foot-ball, but later focused his education on Greek and Greek Culture. Once that letter was found, our searching turned to the internet to see if there was more we could learn about Seldon. Benjamin Seldon was a fascinating man in his own right! After leaving Centenary, he went on to attend Exeter Academy, Columbia University, Harvard University, and Toulouse University. While attending Harvard, he was recalled to be a Y.M.C.A secretary in the First World War. He and his second wife lived in France for several years, where he studied at Toulouse University. Later he traveled through Europe studying the similarities between European peasants and Black Americans which evolved into a study of economic, social, and political conditions of several countries. He became State Supervisor of Negro Adult Education for the New Jersey Works Progress Administration from 1938 to 1941. Many of his personal papers are collected in the Benjamin F. Seldon Papers, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library, as well as in the W.E.B. DuBois Papers held by the University of Massachusetts Amherst. It’s amazing how one document in our Archives can lead to a world of discovery!
Benjamin F. Seldon Papers, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, New York, NY. http://archives.nypl.org/scm/20589. 1 Oct 2020.
W. E. B. Du Bois Papers, 1803-1999, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries, Amherst, MA. https://credo.library.umass.edu/search?q=seldon&fq=FacetCollectionID%3A%22mums312%22&search=. 1 Oct 2020.