“Give us college sports, college cheers, college songs…”: Developing BC Spirit Through Athletics

The 1897 football squad crowds onto the steps on the James Street campus

The 1897 football squad crowds onto the steps on the James Street campus. Football team, 1897, Box 8, Boston College Athletic Photographs, BC.1986.019, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

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.

The school's gymnasium

Boston College South End campus interior: gymnasium, 1894 February 5. Box 2, folder 124, Boston College Building and Campus Images, BC.1987.012, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

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…”

This 1915 football team, posing with Gasson Hall in the background, was the first to play on Alumni Field, originally located where McElroy Commons now stands

This 1915 football team, posing with Gasson Hall in the background, was the first to play on Alumni Field, originally located where McElroy Commons now stands. Football program, 1915, Boston College Athletics programs, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

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.

The Globe's depictions of the annual indoor interclass games

The Globe’s depictions of the annual indoor interclass games. Boston Globe,”Indoor Interclass Games at Boston College,” 25 February 1900.

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.  

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
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