The official start of track and field at Baker University is unclear although interclass competitions and field days were held at Baker University in the 1880s and early 1890s. Early Baker University yearbooks document failed attempts in forming an intercollegiate field day prior to the 1893 event. These yearbooks state that “the earliest history of athletics at Baker must be a reminisce rather than a record. It was not until 89 that any organization was formed.” The first intercollegiate track and field meet that the university competed in was held in 1893 at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. The final score of this meet placed Baker University second of three competing teams, the University of Kansas, Cooper Memorial College, and Baker University.
The interest in hosting a track meet was not unique to these schools or the Midwest; nationwide track and field was coming to prominence. Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania built a track in the mid-1890s.10 Wisconsin held the first ever State Track and Field Championship Meet for high school students in 1895. A year later the sport gained another endorsement in the form of the Olympic Games.
With a such a hunger and zest for athletics in the late nineteenth century, it came as devastating news in 1894 when the Popular Amusements Committee of the Kansas Methodist Conference voted to abolish intercollegiate athletics. This directive contrasts from an 1893 resolution by the same conference that merely discouraged athletics. Baker University chose to ignore that resolution. Even though the 1893 resolution and 1894 abolition were primarily because of football, its violence, and an alleged link to alcohol, the Kansas Methodist Conference chose to rid its universities of all intercollegiate sports explaining that it did not want its good pious Christian students exposed to the vices associated with travel and competition.
Reaction to this decision devastated the hopes of those involved with track and field and other intercollegiate athletics, but the university as a whole as well. The B.U Hatchet of 1895 reports on the condition of the student body following the decree:
Few understood how dear these games were to the hearts of students or what pride they felt that their teams were champions of the West. Considering the depth of these feelings, it is a source of wonder that the decrees of those in authority were accepted with such good grace as they were. It must be admitted that there is a seeming decrease in that undefinable necessity known as ‘college spirit.’ There is no higher incentive to special work than class and society honors. Factional interests have become more prominent and permanent during the year. This decrease of college spirit has come with the reaction from the over-tense-enthusiasm-incident to intercollegiate games and will undoubtedly be revived through other more profitable agencies.
With such sentiment it is no wonder that the Baker University Orange details accounts of mock funerals and marches held by students to mourn the death of football and other intercollegiate sports.
Due to such enthusiasm it was not long before athletics reemerged on the campus of Baker University. Students founded the Baker University Athletic Association in 1902, which governed and conducted all business related to athletics. The organization was entirely student run. However, football was not apart of this association. Football was did not return to Baker University until 1909 by the approval of the Baker University Board of Trustees, who were convinced the ban on football cost the university in terms of enrollment numbers.
Track and Field, however, did not return until 1904. Evidence of the student-centered administration of the Baker University Athletic Association can be seen in what were referred to as ‘track managers.’ These managers predated coaches and were usually a student-athlete who competed and was responsible for scheduling meets and travel. Even after paid coaches were added to the program these managers remained a separate position from team captain. The new role of managers after the addition of coaches is relatively unknown.
Linked to this renewed interest in track and field was the creation of the Kansas Intercollegiate Athletic Association (KIAA), and the establishment of an athletic department at Baker University. The KIAA bylaws were modeled after the Iowa State Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, and was a first attempt to govern intercollegiate athletics in Kansas. Likewise the Athletic Department at Baker University under its first Director of Athletics was Arza B. Fogle, was responsible with governing student athletic involvement. The development of both the KIAA and the Baker University Athletic Department were crucial in the development of track and field and intercollegiate athletics.
Under the supervision of the Baker University Athletic Department and the KIAA, the KIAA track and field meet for 1904 was held at Baker University’s Cavaness Field. Ottawa University and the College of Emporia also competed. Of the fourteen events contested Baker University won six in route to earning its first Conference Championship. This early success helped propel track and field, but it was not until 1907 that Baker University enlisted the assistance of its first official track coach, Henry Yoxall, a professor of physical training. The yearbooks from this era praise Yoxall for his efforts and work with the track and field team. Despite this success and marked improvement, these same yearbooks state that track and field at Baker University was “not held as very important” and that “students have tendered to them their whole support to the neglect of the track department.” One yearbook placed the blame for lack of support on the limited exposure of track and field to students in ‘the West’.
With or without support, the team carried on, and won its second conference title in 1911, under the program’s second coach, L.D. Scherer. As the conference continued to expand, Baker University continued its success, finishing among the top three in conference nearly every year in the first twenty years of the century. However, track and field was still considered to be a “minor” sport at Baker University. Nonetheless, “Baker’s reputation in intercollegiate track circles” was significantly greater.
Karl Schlademan was the track and field coach at Baker University from 1916 to 1919. The Welborn brothers made up a strong component of the Baker University Track and Field team and brought success with them while Schlademan was the coach. John Welborn won the conference championship in mile in 1915 and 1916; his younger brother Rankin took the half-mile crown in 1920. There were four Welborn’s in all, John and Fred in the class of 1918, Robert in the class of 1919, and Rankin in class of 1920. Robert was the outlier among the foursome, winning his title in the javelin rather than the mile or half-mile. In addition to all being members of the track and field team at Baker University, all four of them won a conference title or held a school record. These achievements earned them each a place in the Baker University Athletic Hall of Fame.
It is no wonder that with athletes like the Welborn’s, Schlademan helped the program earn its third conference title, an even more impressive feat given the effect of World War I on college athletics. Had World War I not devastated the male population, his accomplishments as coach at Baker University might have mirrored his record at the University of Kansas. A testament to Schlademan’s ability is that Schlademan moved on to the University of Kansas following Baker and was equally successful at the larger state university. Schlademan was responsible for coaching the Jayhawk’s first All-American and National Champion and an eventual Olympian, high jumper Tom Poor. The founding of the annual University of Kansas (KU) Relays also occurred under Schlademan watchful eye.
These early years of Baker University Track and Field were filled with three conference titles, a strong reputation among its competitors, and top-notch coaches. Indeed, in addition to Yoxall, Scherer, and Schlademan, the Baker team was also led by Edward Clark Gallagher from 1913-1915. In his three years as coach, Gallagher’s continued challenging for conference supremacy, placing 2nd in 1914. Like Schlademan, however, Gallager’s time at Baker was short but followed with esteemed success. Beginning in the fall of 1915, Gallagher became the athletic director and wrestling coach at his alma mater, Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State). He remained in this position until his retirement in 1940. During that time he amassed 11 NCAA championships and oversaw 19 undefeated seasons.
This period illustrates Baker’s prominent role in the early world of midwestern intercollegiate athletics. The track and field program was able to not only rebound from early adversity and a perceived lack of university support by its student publications, but also thrive by attracting top coaching talent and serving as a leader in organizing the KIAA. The strong foundation in this early period established a legacy that would carry on in subsequent years.