A History of Tufts Athletics
By Mark Herlihy, A88, with contributing reporting by Paul Sweeney
The 1870 baseball team participated in the first intercollegiate
athletic contest when they played a game against Brown in
the Bar: Rudy Fobert A50, G51
Vera: Vera Stenhouse, A91
As Tufts celebrates 150 years, one thing is clear: athletics have
been and remain an integral, defining part of the Tufts experience
for the thousands of students, alumni, faculty and staff who have
taken pride in their accomplishments. After a modest start, athletics
at Tufts grew steadily over the years, weathering, like the University
itself, world wars, economic downturns and periods of intense civil
discord. Programs came and went, but over time, athletic opportunities
for undergraduates expanded. Today, nearly 800 Tufts students participate
in sports each year. For these student-athletes, and for their predecessors
on the Hill, athletics have complemented academics and taught valuable
lessons about the importance of preparation, teamwork, poise, discipline,
and the ability to win and lose with dignity.
In an age in which the line between big-time college athletics
and professional sports has blurred, and scandal taints the reputations
of many prominent programs, Tufts athletics have remained relatively
pure through a steadfast commitment to the amateur ideal. As a Division
III school, and charter member of the New England Small College
Athletic Conference, Tufts has accorded sports an important but
not necessarily privileged place in the life of the University.
While Jumbos have sought glory on athletic fields of battle, the
University has refused to lower academic standards to fill rosters
with blue-chip players. As former president Nils Y. Wessell wrote
in his memoir, "In all its intercollegiate athletic history,
Tufts followed a policy of amateurism. Participants were drawn from
a student body which included no members seduced by athletic scholarships."
"The history of athletics at Tufts is student-initiated, student-centered
and community-oriented," said Rocky Carzo, athletic director
at Tufts from 1974 to 1999 and currently coordinator of "Jumbo
Footprints," which traces the history of Tufts Athletics. "The
purity of sport in our particular program is that it's voluntary.
There's no requirement. You choose to do it and the reason you choose
to is because it's fun. There's fun in moving your body, running,
training and seeking the reward that comes with it."
Yet despite an emphasis on participation and the amateur ideal,
the history of Tufts athletics is marked by many impressive individual
and team accomplishments. The history of Tufts athletics is almost
as long as the history of the University itself.
Intramural and club baseball and rowing teams made a home at Tufts
soon after the college was founded. The first intercollegiate athletic
contest in which a Tufts team participated, a baseball game against
Brown, occurred in 1869. Prior to that time, groups of Tufts students
participated against each other on an intramural level and against
local town teams. Evidence suggests that Tufts students in the mid-1860s
played football under rules that made the game resemble what we
today call soccer. In 1874, informal track and fencing teams were
organized. Two years later, students formed a rifle club that competed
against other college teams.
Easier to document is the contest that took place on June 4, 1875,
when a group of Tufts students played Harvard in what several historians
consider to be the country's first college football game played
under American football rules-featuring catching and running with
the ball. Tufts, coached by student captain Lyman Aldrich, A1876,
won this historic event 1-0. Another member of this inaugural event
was Austin B. Fletcher, A1876, for whom the University's School
of Law and Diplomacy is named. Eugene Bowen, A1876, served as the
manager of the first Tufts team, and he later detailed the event
in a letter to Tufts football coach Fred "Fish" Ellis
"For the game at Harvard, the students 'borrowed' horses and
the hay wagon, the students climbing on the wagon, driving down
North [Massachusetts] Avenue, with a growing number of urchins and
others at leisure calling us farmers and hayseeds, jeering our progress
toward Cambridge to play mighty Harvard," Bowen wrote.
During Tufts' first 30 years, sports teams were student-run, fledgling
enterprises, and interest varied from year to year. Baseball enthusiasts
had to cajole classmates to play in order to field a team. Students
financed their own uniforms, equipment and transportation to away
games. There were no paid coaches. In this era the University did
not sanction or support athletics financially. Indeed, many administrators
and faculty members believed athletic competition and intellectual
contemplation were incompatible, that good athletes could not be
In time, sports became more accepted and institutionalized at Tufts.
Recognizing the increasing importance of sports to the overall undergraduate
experience, the University in 1894 constructed an outdoor sports
complex on the lower campus which included the Tufts Oval (present
site of the outdoor track), a football field and a baseball diamond.
In 1899, Tufts President Elmer C. Capen endorsed athletics by speaking
publicly of his "conviction that good wholesome athletics had
a large place to fill in the education of the future." While
supporting sports both financially and rhetorically, the University
also began to exercise greater control. Administrators in 1899 ruled
that participation in athletics would be a privilege to which only
students in good academic standing would be entitled, and that athletes
would henceforth not receive special treatment on campus. These
ideas have informed the philosophy of Tufts athletics to the present
The turn of the century marked the first signs of the formalization
of athletics at Tufts. An athletic association manned by faculty
and students drafted a constitution to develop guidelines of participation
and administration for the young program. During the same time,
T. S. Knight, A1903, was the first Tufts football player named to
Walter Camp's All-America team. The son of a Tufts theology professor,
Knight later became a trustee at the University in 1927.
George Angell, A1915, a member of the 1913 football team,
was reputed to have thrown the first forward pass in football
In the early decades of the 20th century, athletics continued to
evolve on the Hill. The beginning of a Jackson Athletic Association
for women was demonstrated by women competing in a freshman-sophomore
baseball game in the annual Jackson Field Day. The 1913 football
team, led by Clarence "Pop" Houston, A1914 (who would
later become the first athletic director), Bill Parks, D1916, Bill
Richardson Sr., A1915, H1940, Ollie Westcott, D1917, George Angell,
A1915, and Moze Hadley, E1915, was one of the most dominant in the
East, posting a record of 7-1 and outscoring its opponents 174 to
22 along the way. A team noted for its passing, uncommon at the
time, Angell was reputed to have thrown the first forward pass in
football history. The team's only loss came to Army by a score of
2-0 (the Cadets scored on a safety) in a game in which Army sophomore
halfback Dwight D. Eisenhower suffered a broken leg. Eisenhower
later wrote to Tufts president Wessell in 1955, declining an honorary
degree invitation due to his busy schedule, but also confirming
his injury at Tufts. "No wonder that my knee has never quite
recovered from that tackle," Eisenhower wrote. "At the
very least, I find some consolation in blaming all my poor golf
shots on my bad knee."
The 1920s saw the emergence of arguably the greatest athlete to
have ever worn the brown and blue. Fred "Fish" Ellis,
E29, quarterbacked the undefeated football team, coached by Arthur
Sampson, A21, in 1927 and earned All-New England honors in football,
basketball, baseball and track, the first Tufts student to do so.
While "Fish" was the big man on campus, his wife-to-be,
Dorie Loughlin, J31, was a member of the Jackson baseball team.
"I recall a game against Pembroke at Tufts at which several
of the football players wandered over after practice to give us
support," Dorie said. "As to the score of this game, my
memory does me no favors. However, I have one recollection of a
very sore, bone-bruised hand, even though I stuffed a bulky handkerchief
in my shortstop mitt to soften the impact of a line drive."
That same decade witnessed tremendous growth in Tufts athletics.
Thanks to a donation of lumber from an alumnus, the University was
able to build new stands at the Oval. "In a show of school
spirit, the construction of these stands was completed not by contractors
but rather via an inter-fraternity competition of sorts, with each
fraternity building a different part of the structure in order to
hasten its completion," writes Christina Szoke in an essay
on Tufts athletics. Golf, hockey, swimming and wrestling teams were
formed in this decade, dramatically increasing the number of sports
that men could pursue.
Opportunities for women increased as Jackson students for the first
time competed in tennis, golf, volleyball and horseback riding.
Despite the Great Depression and its effect on the country in the
1930s, new athletic programs and facilities were added at Tufts
during this decade. Lacrosse became a varsity sport in 1930. Bill
Hersey and Luther Child, both Class of 1932, will be recognized
this spring as members of the first lacrosse team at a Tufts game
versus Williams. Soccer gained formal recognition during the 1934-35
The most notable development in athletics in that time was the
construction of Cousens Gymnasium in 1931. President John Cousens,
A1898, a former football player at Tufts, built the gym during the
Depression, an indication of the importance he placed on athletic
facilities and adding life to the campus. Upon completion, it was
recognized as the best indoor facility in the greater Boston area.
Until World War II interrupted life on campus, the 1940s promised
to be a memorable decade in the annals of Tufts sports. In 1940,
Edward "Eddie" Dugger, E41, turned in one of the most
impressive performances by a Jumbo ever when he won the NCAA 120-yard
high-hurdles championship. Dugger's time of 13.9 seconds established
a new NCAA and U.S. record in the event, one that stood for five
years. As the country mobilized for war, however, interest in athletics
waned. While Tufts fielded teams in the war years, sports, like
many aspects of American life, lost some luster. The 1942 Jumbo
Book captured the transformation when it asserted that, "The
world conflict in which our nation is involved at this eventful
time has changed the character of Tufts. For, while depicted here
is a normal year at Tufts-a pleasant place to work and play-war
and worse, an end to democracy, may end such years for centuries
to come." Many student-athletes adapted to war-induced changes.
"The Jackson Athletic Association arranged a field hockey
game with some sailors from the British Royal Navy," said Harriet
Gaffny Palmieri, J45. "To our astonishment, it was an all-male
team. Our team, captained by Maxine Lybeck, J45, made a valiant
effort, but the Englishmen won, 3-1."
After years of privation, Tufts students in the postwar era (more
than 3,000 students, mostly from the armed forces, the largest student
body to date), indulged in athletics with renewed vigor and enjoyed
some spectacular successes. The 1950 baseball team, after compiling
a 16-4 record, played in the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
The 1949-50 basketball team, led by Jim Mullaney, A51, Al Perry,
A50, and Don Goodwin, A51, posted a 19-4 record-the best ever for
a Tufts hoop squad- and was considered to be the best team in the
area. Cross-country runner Ted Vogel, A49, placed third in the Boston
Marathon in 1947 and represented the United States in the 1948 Olympics.
The, men's track team, featuring Charlie Kirkiles, A49, Alan Wolozin,
A48, Charlie Johnson, A49, Eddie Palmieri, A46, Bob Backus A51,
and Tom Bane, A51, enjoyed undefeated seasons in 1948 and 1949.
Backus went on to compete in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, where
he placed 13th in the 16-pound hammer throw. Of all the talented
athletes at Tufts in this era, none was more versatile than Rudolph
J. Fobert, A50, G51. Fobert earned 12 varsity letters, four each
in football, baseball and track.
Despite the impressive achievements of athletes and teams in the
postwar era, an innocence and purity still pervaded the Tufts sports
In the 1960s, several teams had particularly strong campaigns and
several individuals predominated. During the 1966-67 academic year,
both the cross-country and indoor track teams, led by Bruce Baldwin,
E68, Ron Caseley, E68, and Chris Kutteruf, A68, went undefeated,
while the outdoor squad lost only one meet. The 1967 men's soccer
team enjoyed one of its best seasons ever. Led by co-captains Dick
Dietrich, A68, and Roger Mattlage, A68, Tufts won the New England
College Division Championships and the Greater Boston Championships.
Rich Giachetti, A70, was football's national leader two consecutive
seasons in pass receptions. Pitcher Bill Richardson, Jr., A70, helped
lead the Tufts baseball team to the Greater Boston League Championship
in 1968. Richardson would later serve as a U.S. congressman, U.N.
Ambassador and Secretary of Energy under President Clinton. Swimmer
Craig Dougherty, A79, earned All-America honors in his junior and
senior years, and established records in the 50 and 100 meters that
"[Men's Swimming Coach] Don Megerle would take a personal
interest not only in our athletic contributions, but also in our
personal lives," Dougherty said. "He had a way of raising
the bar incrementally that allowed athletes like me to tolerate
exhaustion and pain at a level we never thought possible. It was
a process that taught us how to break through a barrier, knowing
that you could continue to keep improving, to keep pushing the body
and the mind to incredibly high thresholds. I do the same in the
real world of business. It works."
Athletic opportunities for women increased dramatically after passage
of Title IX in 1970, and women athletes at Tufts distinguished themselves
through individual and team accomplishments. Maren Seidler, J73,
competed in the javelin at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Women's
sports at Tufts truly emerged in the 1980s. Cecelia Wilcox Paglia,
J87, scored 156 goals for a powerhouse lacrosse team in the mid-1980s
that lost only four games in as many years. The women's tennis team,
which included twins Lisa and Nancy Stern, J86, captured four consecutive
New England Division III titles between 1983 and 1986. Vera Stenhouse,
J91, was an eight-time national champion and 23-time All-American
in track and field.
Male athletes also continued to excel. In track and field, Fred
Hintlian, A76, was a Division III national champion and three-time
All-American in the 440-yard hurdles. Eric Poullain, E84, M84, came
to Tufts from France and earned Division III All-America honors
numerous times and was national champion in the pole vault. Mark
Buben, A79, set single-season and career records for sacks in football
and played for the New England Patriots for several years after
his collegiate career.
The 1979 football team, quarterbacked by All-American Chris Connors,
A80, posted the third and most recent undefeated season at Tufts.
In 1986, baseball pitcher Jeff Bloom, A88, attracted national media
attention by throwing three consecutive no-hitters.
Perhaps the most impressive development in Tufts athletics in the
recent past has been the emergence of the sailing team as a national
dynasty. Tufts' teams, which hone their skills and host regattas
on the Upper Mystic Lake in Medford, have captured 22 national collegiate
championships since 1976, while numerous former Tufts sailors, men
and women, have gone on to win world championships. The team's "Hall
of Fame" includes greats such as Betsy Gelenitis, J81, Dave
Curtis, A69, Manton Scott, A74, Peter Commette A77, Magnus Gravare,
A86, and others. Current Tufts president Lawrence J. Bacow raced
against these individuals as a skipper for MIT.
While Tufts student-athletes have distinguished themselves individually
and collectively during the last quarter century, the University,
often with generous support from alumni, has kept pace with facilities.
The Baronian Field House, raised by the generosity of many alumni
and named for former Jumbo football player John Baronian, A50, was
added to the Ellis Oval complex in 1986. Soon after, the football
field was redone and named in honor of former player Harold Zimman,
A38. The cinder track was replaced with an eight-lane synthetic
surface in 1989 and named after legendary Tufts and Olympic track
coach Clarence "Ding" Dussault. A press box was constructed
and named in honor of Arthur Harrison, A42, by his family in 1991.
In 1993, a comprehensive fitness center was built through the extended
generosity of Steve Ames, the Peter Lunder Family, the Zimman Family,
John "Jocko" Lee, A50, and John Bello, A68. The same year
donations from former football captains, led by Bob Bass, A70, were
critical towards building the Captain's Gate at the entrance to
the Ellis Oval. The Cheryl Chase Family gave the lead gift for the
construction of an intramural gym in 1995. Tufts Chairman of the
Board of Trustees Nate Gantcher's family made the largest single
donation to the athletic department for a state-of-the-art sports
and convocation center, which opened in 1999.
Alumni interest in Tufts athletics is best represented by two leadership
groups. The Tufts Jumbo Club, established in 1969, and the Board
of Athletic Overseers, gathered in 1989, showed a loyalty and advocacy
to Tufts athletics that was previously undemonstrated. The Jumbo
Club initiated numerous gifts, equipment, facility renovations,
and awards that weren't possible without their funding. The Board
of Overseers, under the astute leadership of John T. O'Neill, A50,
not only advocated, but planned and fund-raised for the greatest
facility expansion since the 1930s. As a result, the Tufts Athletic
Department now has facilities to accommodate the University community
and compare with peer institutions. "The advocacy and support
that they offered the athletic department enabled us to enter the
21st century with a great deal of confidence," Carzo said.
Tufts athletics continued to make history in the 1990s and into
the new millennium. Along with the new facilities, the University's
athletic teams, athletes, staff and alumni gained frequent recognition
on a national level. Johnny Grinnell, A35, an All-American on the
1934 undefeated football team, was inducted into the College Football
Hall of Fame in 1997. In January 1999, the NCAA bestowed the Teddy
Roosevelt Award, its most prestigious honor, upon Richardson for
his national achievements as a former varsity athlete. Richardson
shares the award with four former Presidents of the United States
(Eisenhower, Ford, Reagan and Bush). As members of the strict New
England Small College Athletic Conference, Jumbo teams were finally
permitted to play in NCAA Tournaments beginning in 1993. Several
teams qualified, with women's soccer hosting the 2000 "final
four" in Medford and advancing to the national championship
game. Men's cross-country and softball are the teams that have enjoyed
the most NCAA Tournament success during the decade.
Beyond competitive success, for many Tufts students, athletics
enhance and help define the undergraduate experience.
"If it was not for the track team, I don't think I would be
the person that I am today," said Kara Fothergill, J95. "All
of the coaches at Tufts do their best to make the athlete's experience
the best it can be whether you are male or female. Every school
has its quirks, but I think Tufts works hard at providing equal
opportunities for men and women."
The same spirit that was demonstrated by students riding a hay
wagon down Massachusetts Avenue for a football game at Harvard in
1875 also inspired astronaut Rick Hauck, A62, to carry the Tufts
flag on a space mission on the shuttle Challenger in 1983.
The spirit remains today, evident when 2,000 students marched down
to Kraft Soccer Field for the NCAA women's championship game in
Raising the Bar: Rudy Fobert A50, G51
A discussion about who is the finest male athlete in Tufts history
should center around Fred "Fish" Ellis, A29, and Rudy
Fobert, A50, G51. Both excelled in four sports during their Tufts
careers, but Ellis himself, who coached Fobert in football, once
said that Rudy was more deserving of the title.
Fobert was a forefather to the Tufts philosophy of encouraging
athletes to play more than one sport. He played two sports in a
day. During the spring he was an outfielder for Jit Ricker's baseball
teams, then he would run up to the Oval to jump and sprint for Clarence
"Ding" Dussault's track teams. A recipient of 12 varsity
letters in three years (freshmen weren't eligible), he also competed
for the football and indoor track teams. He was a member of the
1950 baseball team that advanced to play in the prestigious College
World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
Fobert was raised in East Boston during the Depression, one of
eight children living in a three-decker. These humble beginnings
were reflected in the man's personality. He was soft-spoken and
modest, but clearly focused on making something of himself. His
determination towards academics was equal to his athletic preparation.
"Rudy was a solid physical specimen," said John Baronian,
a football teammate and friend of Fobert's. "He was only 5'8",
175 pounds, but no one had a better physique. He was the best coordinated
athlete I ever saw."
Like Ellis, Fobert went into education professionally. He served
as superintendent of the Lexington, Massachusetts, school system
and was president of the Massachusetts School Superintendents Association.
He remained dedicated to his alma mater, serving five years as a
trustee of Tufts and as chairman of the Tufts Alumni Council.
Tragically, Fobert died young, at 51, due to cancer, in 1978. The
Rudolph J. Fobert Award was established in his memory and is presented
every year to the male and female multisport athletes with good
academic averages and potential for leadership.
Just Vera: Vera Stenhouse, A91
When Tufts track coach Branwen Smith-King first met Vera Stenhouse
in 1988, she could hardly contain her excitement. The coach could
see right away that this elegant, six-foot athlete would be something
special with some training.
As anticipated, Stenhouse evolved into the most decorated female
athlete in Tufts history. She won eight NCAA national championships
while competing indoors and outdoors: four in the triple jump, three
in the 400 meters and one in the 200 meters. As a senior in 1991
she won four national titles and single-handedly led Tufts to fourth-place
finishes at both the NCAA indoor and outdoor championship meets.
Twenty-three times she recorded All-America efforts at the track
"Vera was not just gifted, she was very intuitive as far as
knowing what she had to do," Smith-King said. "She did
a lot of searching, always driving for more knowledge on how she
Stenhouse's ability was so superior to her teammates that Smith-King
was challenged to come up with alternate ways to train her superstar.
Despite this gap in talent, she was just one of the girls off the
track. She had the potential to compete at the Division I level,
but instead chose a more familial opportunity at Tufts. The magnitude
of her accomplishments put her on a national stage, but she was
unassuming all along.
"Vera was just Vera," Smith-King said. "She came
from a wonderful family and it showed."
She was much more than a graceful runner and jumper at Tufts. An
English and astronomy major, Stenhouse earned an NCAA postgraduate
scholarship for her achievements athletically and academically in
1991. The Tufts Alumni Association also presented her with its Senior
Award for outstanding academic and community accomplishments.
One of a few Tufts athletes who continued to compete after graduation,
Stenhouse competed at the United States Track and Field National
Championships a few years ago, rubbing shoulders with track legends
such as Jackie Joyner-Kersee.