Football kicked off locally in second decade

Friars team
Friars team
The 1911 Friars football team played as amateurs. In 1915, the team turned professional.
By Blake Sebring of The News-Sentinel

The second decade of the 20th century in Fort Wayne offered plenty of entertainment to sports fans, including high school and professional football.

Central High School fielded the city's first gridiron high school team in 1915 as a member of the newly-formed Indiana High School Athletic Association. That same year the Fort Wayne Friars, a social club, brought professional football to the Summit City.

The Friars fielded amateur teams starting in 1910. That first team outscored its opponents 180-6. Like the River City Rhinos of today, the Friars played teams from smaller Midwestern cities.

With an investment of $2,000 from Wayne Pump Company, the club started hiring professional players in 1915. Many of the players were hired from the University of Notre Dame team, playing under false names.

Former Irish players played for the Friars in 1916, including future Notre Dame president Hugh O'Donnell, future Michigan State coach Ralph "Bull" Young and future Detroit Lions coach Gus Dorias. The players were paid between $75 and $125 per game. The club usually attracted crowds of around 3,500 fans at 50 cents per head.

The Friars won the state championship in 1916 by beating Wabash before more than 5,200 fans. Fort Wayne finished that season with an 8-1-1 record.

The 1917 team had a 5-3-1 record to finish second for the state title. Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne played left end for the Friars that season -- their last. The team is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.


Basketball was not just a high school sport during the decade. The Fort Wayne Knights of Columbus formed a professional team in 1919 known as the Caseys.

Basketball players played in wire or rope cages about 12 feet high that surrounded the court and had a door at either end. Cages were predominant on the East Coast but not in the Midwest, but this is how basketball players came to be known as "Cagers."

The Caseys were a good team from the start, beating the famous New York Celtics 21-17 in 1922. At the time, the barnstorming Celtics had a record of 193-11.


Boxing was also a major sporting event during this decade. On March 17, 1915, Fort Wayne's Harold Stewart lost to world lightweight champion Freddie Walsh at Fort Wayne's Majestic Theatre. Reserved seats cost $8.

Fort Wayne's Frankie Mason won the paperweight (now known as flyweight) division world title in 1919 when he beat Pal Moore for the title in South Bend.

Heavyweight champion of the world Jess Willard trained in Fort Wayne during this decade. The Kansas Wonder fought Big John Young in Fort Wayne on May 22, 1912, for a chance at then-heavyweight champion Jack Johnson. Willard won the fight and beat Johnson in 1915 in Havana before losing to Jack Dempsey in 1919.


Bluffton native Everett Scott also provided a major highlight for the decade with his durability. The shortstop for the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Washington Senators and Chicago White Sox started his major league baseball career in 1914. He hit .249 in 1,654 career games before he retired in 1926.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Robert Parker, "Batter Up! Fort Wayne's Baseball History." The Old Fort News, 1967; Robert Parker, "Opening day. . . It happens every spring and it all started in Fort Wayne on May 4, 1871." The Old Fort News, Winter, 1971; Michael Hawfield, "Fort Wayne Sports Yesterday and Today." 1994; John Ankenbruck, "Twentieth-Century History of Fort Wayne." 1976; Keith McClellan, "The Sunday Game -- at the dawn of professional football." 1998.

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