GU Athletics Roared in the 20s

Over 50 years before the formation of the Big East and 30 years before McDonough Gymnasium, Georgetown athletics already boasted an international reputation.

The 1920s were full of successful basketball, football, baseball and track teams, prompting some to call the decade Georgetown’s “Golden Era of Sports.” The 1919-1920 basketball team was one of the university’s best ever, coming one loss away from a perfect season.

The game of basketball looked very different in 1920. With no shot clock, low scores were common. In one game, Georgetown nearly shut out St. John’s College (of Annapolis), holding its team to four points from free throws in the 40-4 rout.

Basketball players also looked very different. Players wore fitted shorts to a few inches above their knee pads – nothing like the baggy style preferred today. The shorts came right above tall socks stretching to just below the knee. Also, numbers did not appear on Georgetown jerseys until 1934.

Law students often played on university squads. Fred Fees (L ’20), named one the 40 best Georgetown basketball players ever by http://www.hoyabasketball.com, was a starter throughout his Georgetown basketball career. He led his team in points every year while earning his law degree, and as a sophomore in 1917-1918, he led the nation in scoring.

Today, Georgetown rarely meets an opponent that it played 85 years ago but St. John’s University is one that it faces on a consistent basis. The Blue and Gray faced them twice during that 1919-1920 season, defeating St. John’s by scores of 41-23 and 50-25. Last year the Hoyas edged the Red Storm 71-69, but lost 65-58 a month later.

While Syracuse is recognized as Georgetown’s primary rival nowadays, Navy was once despised by fans of the Blue and Gray. The two schools played each other in every major sport.

Generations ago, athletes often played multiple sports. Jack Flavin (C ’23), Andy Zazzali (C ’23) and Bill Dudack (C ’21), captains of the 1919-1920 basketball team, all played football and baseball. Flavin still holds an NCAA record for the longest punt in a football game: 99 yards.

The American Professional Football Association, the precursor to the National Football League, launched in 1920, and five Hoyas played on Jim Thorpe’s Canton, Ohio team that year.

Georgetown has produced no professional football players since 1950, but alumnus Paul Tagliabue (C ’62) is currently the Commissioner of the NFL.

In the first football game of the 1920 season, Georgetown beat up on St. John’s College again, crushing it 80-0, but scores rarely reached so high. Georgetown’s football team which called itself the Hilltoppers, finished the season with a 6-4 record, playing teams like Fordham, Georgia Tech, Boston College and archrival Navy.

Much like football, Georgetown’s baseball program has produced few professionals. The only Hoya to crack the big leagues since 1960 has been Sean Maloney (MSB `93), who pitched a grand total of 19.7 major league innings over the 1997 and 1998 seasons. But the early 20th century was the heyday of Georgetown baseball as 29 alumni made the big leagues between 1900 and 1930.

The Georgetown nine of 1920 – also known as the Hilltoppers since they played on the same field as the football team – earned the title of College Champions of the East that year. By the last printing of THE HOYA’s first volume in 1920, the baseball team boasted a 20-4 record, tallying 17 straight wins and losing only one game by more than a single run.

Pitchers Sam Hyman (C ’24) and Arthur Reynolds (C ’23) were touted by the New York Tribune as the best “twirlers” in collegiate baseball in 1920. Hyman led the team with a .457 batting average, and Reynolds hit .418. Nearly every starter hit over .300 that year. College players today are aided by lighter aluminum bats, helping athletes to improve their averages. But back in 1920, batters swung the wooden “willow.”

THE HOYA provided continuous coverage of the track team’s quest to send athletes to the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium. Bob LeGendre (C ’22) was regarded as a shoo-in for the U.S. team after taking the 1919 national title in his event, the pentathlon, and going on to defeat his European competition at the 1919 Inter-Allied Games in Paris. Many sports writers had LeGendre pegged to win gold in 1920.

His pursuit of sports domination took a turn, however, when he broke his leg only a few weeks before he was to defend his national championship. He got off crutches with a month left to train for the Olympic trials, and he and two other Georgetown runners were off to Antwerp. They returned without any medals that year, but were still the pride of the Blue and Grey.

Forty athletes have represented Georgetown in the Olympic Games. Last year, Allen Iverson earned a bronze medal with the U.S. basketball team, and Hilary Gehman, a women’s crew coach, rowed for the U.S. in quadruple sculls.

Georgetown’s crew program received a huge boost from THE HOYA in 1920. The newspaper devoted its entire front page on Feb. 5 to its revival. The sport had been suspended in 1909, but 11 years later there was sufficient support on campus and from the alumni to reinstate the sport.

The presidents of the Potomac and Analoston Boat Clubs offered Georgetown the use of their facilities until the university was able to build its own clubhouse. Eighty-five years later, Georgetown’s crew program still does not have its own facility.

THE HOYA also advertised the formation of a short-lived varsity rifle team in the fall of 1920. There are several teams today that did not exist in 1920, most notably every women’s team since women were not admitted to the College until 1969.

Intramural sports were an integral part of the Georgetown tradition during the 1920s. Classes battled each other in football, basketball, baseball, swimming, tennis and even boxing for bragging rights, and THE HOYA always ran reports and box scores on the games. THE HOYA published an article in its second issue griping about the absence of intramural basketball.

“In past years, interclass basketball furnished some red hot clashes and at times threatened to eclipse the varsity in point of interest,” the story said.

One week later, THE HOYA proudly reported that, thanks to the media attention, games would begin soon.

Today, while interclass athletic matches have disappeared, intramural sports are still popular, and there are even facebook groups for intramural teams and their supporters. Eighty-five years later, students can still participate in basketball and football (although it is flag football now), but sports like arm wrestling and dodgeball have been added to the smorgasbord of intramural offerings.

As much as the times have changed since 1920, one thing remains the same – whether on the floor or in the bleachers, in Ryan Gym or MCI Center, Hilltoppers and Hoyas old and new all carry on the proud tradition of the Blue and Gray.

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