Though groups such as the Fulton Debating Society first helped enhance the School’s reputation, athletics proved most prolific in the development of Boston College. Originally, Jesuits deemphasized physical development, strictly focusing on mental and spiritual growth. They soon realized, however, that growth of the whole person could not be accomplished without attention to physical aspects and that their college could not become prestigious without athletics.
In 1883, student lobbying bred the Boston College Athletics Association. Due to the lack of space and Jesuit support, the organization grew slowly. Interclass competition dominated, and students, divided into teams by year, rooted for their classes. Meanwhile, Boston College attracted athletes from prominent east coast colleges for its indoor track meet. When the rector gave permission to establish a college football team in 1891, students came together against teams from local academies and clubs.
Athletics staged the inclusive social backdrop for commuting students and boosted student loyalty. Attendance grew, and the divisive atmosphere created by class spirit would no longer suffice. Fans needed college cheers, songs, and colors. Student contributors of The Stylus (the student paper) encapsulated the student opinion by calling for “college sports, college cheers, college songs…”
Alumni could read about their Alma Mater in the Boston Globe, athletic triumphs gave the the college community a sense of honor, and the Jesuits finally saw a unified student body motivated to attend and learn. In short, newfound pride in B.C. sports provided a unifying rallying call and helped define what it meant to be a B.C. student.
Ultimately, the move to the spacious Chestnut Hill campus in 1913 allowed B.C. athletics to flourish. Administrators, seeing the increasing enthusiasm, supported athletic growth and understood that it would make the college more attractive. Tellingly, before a Jesuit residence appeared on the new campus, football teams already practiced on the spacious grounds.
In 1915, when Fr. Lyons dedicated Alumni Field, only Gasson Hall and the field itself stood on the new campus. More than 5,000 supporters attended the dedicatory game. The echoes of those first fans that crowded the stands along College Road heralded the imminent intercollegiate success that thrust the Eagles, the teams and the University itself, into a national spotlight.
- Ellen K. Ubl BC 2017 and Spring 2015 Making History Public Student
The images and content in this blog post are from the exhibit #WeWereBC, which is now on display in the History Department, Stokes 3rd Floor South. This exhibit was curated and organized by Professor Seth Meehan’s Spring 2015 Making History Public class, in collaboration with the Boston College University Libraries.