By Ron Pesch
Special for Second Half
Buried in the text on the fourth page of the Saturday, October 27, 1888, Detroit Free Press is a single, concise sentence bearing a minimum amount of detail.
“The Windsor foot ball team will play the Detroit High School team this afternoon at 3.”
To date, this is the earliest account of a Michigan high school playing the game of “foot ball.”
The following day’s paper provides only a few more details. The game was played on the Windsor Cricket Grounds. Despite the great disadvantage of playing under “American Football rules … quite different from the Canadian Rugby Union rules …” the “older and larger” Windsors won the contest, 12-6. Rosters for each squad were provided.
Under American rules of the time, a touchdown was worth four points, with a conversion kick following a touchdown worth two additional points. At the time, a field goal counted for five points and a safety was worth two. The teams, however, may have agreed to a different scoring system before the contest.
Was this the first football game for a Michigan high school? That’s unlikely, but it is certainly among the earliest published accounts involving a prep game in the state.
It’s a fair assumption that foot ball, or some version of the game, was being played in neighborhoods before that time, at least based on the following statement found in the Jackson Citizen Patriot, dated June 18, 1867. Only days before, Dorrance & Goodwin’s, a store on Main Street in Jackson, had placed advertisements in the newspaper’s classifieds noting the pending arrival of this new product.
“Foot Ball – The pastime was inaugurated on our streets yesterday. Three or four balls were kept in motion all day on Main street alone. It affords no little amusement to the little boys, and is certainly a healthy exercise for the larger ones. It’s all right as long as no windows are broken or horses scared. Both calamities were barely escaped scores of times during the day.”
Rutgers and Princeton are credited with playing the first college football game in 1869. A decade later, in 1879, the University of Michigan established a football team.
Detroit High School played a number of games in 1888, besides the Windsor match, including a contest with the Tappen School from the Corktown area of Detroit. Played at the Detroit Athletic Club grounds on the afternoon of Thursday November 15, a final score was not mentioned in the following day’s Free Press.
For those unfamiliar with the sport, an account of the University of Michigan versus Detroit Athletic Club contest that appeared in the November 18 Free Press served as a fine introduction to the game, and the determination behind securing “possession of a leather-covered foot ball.”
“It was very interesting to see one speedy young man, after a desperate struggle in which the spectators fully expected to see him lose an arm or a leg, get away from his captors and start like a deer, with eight or ten of the opposite side in full pursuit. He is overtaken and the leader of the pursuing party springs upon the back of the man with the inflated trophy, bearing him to the ground with a dull thud … It is also an inspiring sight to see a fleet-footed player seize the ball and run at full speed in the direction of the goal of his opponents. Then a wing-footed opponent cuts across to intercept him, makes a flying leap, grasps the fugitive around the neck or waist and both go to grass with a suddenness and velocity that transforms them into human wheels …
“While one unaccustomed to foot ball will naturally be startled by some of the acrobatic feats, still it is impossible to watch the game for any length of time without a tingling of the blood and holding of the breath. It is most intensely exciting, continuous in action and replete with fine points of play.
“It may be explained that the goals in a foot ball game are set at a distance of 330 feet from each other. The goal is made by placing two pieces of scantling twenty feet long upright in the ground, eighteen and one-half feet apart. Another piece runs midway horizontally between the uprights, and the ball must go over the horizontal piece and between the uprights to count a goal. There are eleven men on each side and the object is, of course, to get the ball through the goal of the other. The time of game is an hour and a half each side playing forty-five minutes from each goal, with an intermission of ten minutes between halves.”
A player who ran over an opponent’s goal line, “with the ball and touched it down” was then entitled to “bring the ball in front of the goal and attempt to kick it through”…
Among those playing for the Athletic Club squad that day was “little Hugh Brooks (captain) of the high school team.” Eligibility rules for players would evolve over time.
On Saturday, November 24, Detroit High School squared off for the first of two contests with Ann Arbor High School, this one at the Detroit Athletic Club grounds. Admission to the 2:45 p.m. contests was 25 cents. A crowd of around 300 watched “an exciting illustration of how Rugby foot ball is played. The exhibition by the Ann Arbor boys was considerably better than that of the Detroiters,” noted the Free Press, “the result of that being that Detroit’s banners have been kicked into the dust.”
Ann Arbor returned home with a 12-0 victory.
A second game with Ann Arbor was quickly scheduled.
In between, on Thursday, November 29, the Detroit High School squad played the Athletic Club before a crowd of about 200.
“While the Athletics won by 12 to 0, still their playing was very loose, probably the result of over confidence. The Athletics will have to rid themselves of this by Saturday or the Albions will make short work of them.”
A large crowd gathered in the drizzling rain in Ann Arbor on Saturday, December 8, for what appears to be the final contest of the 1888 season for the high school teams of Detroit and Ann Arbor.
“It was a fine game. (Captain) Brooks, McGraw and Wisner, for Detroit, and Jewett, Diggert, Dupont, and Rathbone for Ann Arbor, made fine plays for their respective sides.” The result was an 8 to 2 win, and redemption, for the Detroit squad.
Today, 129 years later, “football” has seen wild expansion, numerous rule changes, and huge advancement in equipment worn when compared to those pioneer days of the sport. In 2017, more than 1 million individuals will suit up for high school teams across the United States. In Michigan alone, more than 36,000 participate in prep football.
And our state’s original programs live on. On Friday, Detroit Central opened its season with a win over Detroit Loyola. Ann Arbor High School, renamed Ann Arbor Pioneer in the late 1960s, fell in its Friday opener to Muskegon.
Welcome to another season of America’s favorite pastime.
Ron Pesch has taken an active role in researching the history of MHSAA events since 1985 and began writing for MHSAA Finals programs in 1986, adding additional features and "flashbacks" in 1992. He inherited the title of MHSAA historian from the late Dick Kishpaugh following the 1993-94 school year, and resides in Muskegon. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with ideas for historical articles.
PHOTOS: (Top) The Detroit Free Press included brief coverage of the first "reported" game on Oct. 28, 1888. (Middle) When Michigan’s state government moved from Detroit to Lansing in 1847, the old Capitol building was re-opened as the Detroit’s first city high school in 1863. To better accommodate Detroit’s growing population, the old two-story structure was remodeled into a four-story building, unrecognizable to most. The school served the city well until January 1893, when it burned to the ground. (Below) Erected in 1856 at the cost of $27,000, Ann Arbor High School at State and Huron (now site of the North Quad of the University of Michigan) was destroyed by fire in 1904. (Photos courtesy of Ron Pesch.)
LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.
“We don’t want to lose this kid ever,” said Derek Gribler, the Tigers’ first-year varsity football and baseball coach.
“If we could put a red shirt on this kid every year, we would.”
Athletic director John Guillean, who also coaches varsity basketball, agreed.
“He is what we strive to have all our student-athletes achieve: high GPAs, multi-sport athletes, good, overall well-rounded human beings,” Guillean said.
Schuman has participated in five of the seven boys sports Lawrence sponsors.
As a freshman and sophomore, Schuman played football, wrestled, ran track and played baseball.
He had wrestled since he was 4, and went from the 119-pound weight class as a freshman to 145 the following year. That sophomore season he qualified for his Individual Regional. But as a junior, he traded wrestling for basketball.
“My older brother wrestled at Lawrence, so I would come to practices,” he said. “I quit for a couple years (in middle school) because I liked basketball, too. It was hard to do both. Obviously, in high school, I still struggled with choosing,” he added, laughing.
Guillean is thrilled Schuman made the switch.
“He’s 6-(foot-)4, he’s super athletic, defensively he’s a hawk, offensively he can put the ball in the bucket. But really, aside from his skills, just that positive attitude and that positive outlook, not just in a game, but in life in general, is invaluable,” the coach said.
Last season, Schuman earned honorable mention all-league honors in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference, averaging 9.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.
Lawrence left the BCS for the Southwest 10 Conference this year, joining Bangor, Bloomingdale, Hartford, Decatur, Comstock, Marcellus, Mendon, Centreville, White Pigeon and Cassopolis. Schuman and senior Tim Coombs will co-captain the Tigers, with Guillean rotating in a third captain.
At a school of fewer than 200 students, Schuman will help lead a varsity team with just nine – joined by seniors Andy Bowen and Gabe Gonzalez, juniors Christian Smith, Noel Saldana, Ben McCaw and Zander Payment, and sophomore Jose Hernandez, who will see time with the junior varsity as well using the fifth-quarter rule.
“I attribute a lot of (last year’s successful transition) to my coach, helping me get ready because it wasn’t so pretty,” the senior said. “But we got into it, got going, and my teammates helped me out a lot.”
Gribler is one coach already looking ahead to spring sports after seeing what Schuman did during football season.
In spite of missing 2½ games with an injury, the wide receiver caught 50 receptions for 870 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“I just like the ability to run free, get to hit people, let out some anger,” Schuman laughed.
Gribler said the senior is “an insane athlete.
“On top of his athletic ability, how smart he is in the classroom (3.88 GPA), he helped mold the culture we wanted this year for football. He got our underclassmen the way we wanted them. He was a big asset in many ways.”
Schuman earned all-conference honors for his on-field performance in football as well.
“I would say that my main sport is football,” the senior said. “That’s the one I like the most, spend the most time on.”
In the spring, Schuman competed in both track and baseball, earning all-conference honors in both.
“Doing both is tough,” he said. “I have to say my coaches make it a lot easier for me. They help me a lot and give me the ability to do both, so I really appreciate that.
“Throughout the week you’re traveling every day, it seems like. Baseball twice a week and track, but it’s worth it.”
Schuman’s commitment is so strong that he made a special effort not to let his teammates down last spring.
“He qualified for state in the long jump and did his jumps up in Grand Rapids, then he drove all the way to Kalamazoo to play in the District baseball game,” Guillean said. “That speaks volumes about who this kid is. He did his jumps at 9 a.m. (but did not advance) and made it back to Kalamazoo for a 12:15 game.”
Big shoes to fill
As the youngest of four children of Mark and Gretchen Schuman, the senior was following a family tradition in sports.
Oldest brother Matthew played football, basketball and baseball as well as competed in pole vault and wrestling.
Middle bother Christopher competed in football, wrestling and baseball.
Sister Stephanie played basketball, volleyball and softball.
“I like to say they blazed a pretty good trail for me at this high school,” Schuman said.
As for feeling pressure to live up to his siblings, “I used to when I was younger, but now I feel like I’ve made my own way and done enough things to be proud of that I’m happy with it.”
His own way led him to achieve something none of the others did.
He was named the Tigers’ Male Athlete of the Year, just the third junior to earn the boys honor over the last 25 years.
“I was very honored to win that as a junior,” Schuman said. “There were good athletes in the grade above me. I guess hard work pays off.”
Guillean said while Schuman is “darn good at every sport here,” an athlete does not have to be a “top dog” in every sport.
“Learn how to take a back seat,” he said. “Learn how to be a role player. That will make you a better teammate and a well-rounded human being.
“Johnny has that work ethic, in the classroom, on the field, on the court, on the track. It doesn’t go unnoticed and, obviously, he’s reaping the benefits now.”
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at email@example.com with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence’s John Schuman has participated in five varsity sports during his first 3½ years of high school. (Middle) Lawrence athletic director John Guillean. (Below) Lawrence football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (Action photos courtesy of John Schuman; head shots by Pam Shebest.)