by Paul R. Spitzzeri
This Friday night, high school football teams across greater Los Angeles will launch into the 2017 season and previews of individuals and teams can be found in the sports pages of local newspapers and on many online websites.
These days, however, the sport is under more scrutiny concerning the health and safety of players, though much of this is concentrated in discussions about professional football, especially the prevalence of brain damage due to head injuries. Obviously, this and other issues relating to injury are just as important, if not as common in news coverage, at the college and high school levels.
In fact, the last time I saw high school football games, several years ago when a nephew was a linebacker for Ayala High in Chino, I saw two Medivac evacuations from the field at each of our local high schools (the other being Chino Hills High) in one season.
With the current situation in mind, it is remarkable to look at the accompanying photograph from the Homestead’s collection of the eleven-player squad of Dummer Academy in South Byfield, Massachusetts, circa 1927.
Two of the team’s roster members were the Temple brothers, Edgar (bottom row, second from the right) and Walter, Jr. (top left with the white uniform and helmet). Though the brothers were nearly two years apart in age, they were in the same grade when attending the school from fall 1926 to spring 1929. If this is the 1927 football season, Walter would have been 18 and his brother 16 (turning 17 in December). Their brother, Thomas, was the subject, incidentally, of yesterday’s post.
Some striking characteristics leap out of this image. First, look at the equipment sported (!) by the players. Helmets were made of leather and are a far cry from the high-density plastic shell, the thick foam padding, chin straps and face guards worn today. While there were shoulder and knee pads ninety years ago, they were also very small compared to the larger and heavier pads used now.
Finally, there’s another very obvious contrast: the size of the players. While it common today to have linemen who are 6’5″ or taller and weigh in the high 200 pounds or even in the 300s, the Dummer players were clearly much, much shorter and lighter.
Some of the players might have been over 6 feet and around 200 pounds, but most obviously were not. Diet and weight training are scientific (and, in many cases, enhanced with questionable uses of supplements) now, but in the 1920s it was an entirely different situation.
One of the crucial factors in today’s frequency of serious injuries and potential long-term health problems of players is that they are not only taller, heavier and stronger, they tend to be faster. In simple physics, colliding objects of larger size and faster speed lead to great degrees of damage.
Certainly, the more spartan protection employed in the 1920s, even with smaller, slower and weaker players, could expose players to significant injury, but comparisons with how the game is played now are still pretty dramatic.
Edgar and Walter, Jr., who were also excellent musicians (their late mother, Laura, who died in late 1922, was a piano teacher) were very fond of sports, with baseball (Walter, Jr.) and basketball (Edgar) being others they participated in at Dummer before they graduated in spring 1929. By contrast, their older surviving siblings (a sister, Alvina, died at two weeks old), Thomas and Agnes, also very musical (especially Agnes), were less inclined athletically.
A word also has to be said about the name of their school. Governor Dummer Academy, which is the oldest continuously operating boarding school in America with its opening date of 1763, was endowed by William Dummer, a former lieutenant governor and acting governor of the British province of Massachusetts Bay and who died two years prior to the school’s opening. Many of its alumni went on to study at Harvard University, though its prominence was eventually overshadowed by other prominent prep schools, such as Exeter and Andover.
However, over three centuries plus, jokes about the school’s name abounded, even when a name change to “Governor Dummer Academy” attempted to point out that there was a surname, not a description of the intellectual output of the school or capabilities of its students. So, in 2005, a “refinement” of the name led to the decision to call it “Governor’s Academy,” though the decision did not come without some backlash.
Another big difference is that the school, long only available to boys, became coeducational in the early 1970s. Today, the 450-acre campus has a student body of under 400 and tuition is over $42,000 a year for day students and north of $53,000 for boarders. The student body and the rates, even adjusted for inflation, are much higher than when the Temple boys attended.