We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

The Rise of American High School Sports and the Search for Control,1880-1930


by Robert Pruter

Publication Year: 2013

Nearly half of all American high school students participate on sports teams. With a total of 7.6 million participants, this makes the high school sports program in America the largest organized sports program in the world. Robert Pruter’s work traces the history of high school sports in America from the student-led athletic clubs of the 1880’s through to the government takeover of athletic associations in the 1930s. In doing so, he provides an exploration of the ways in which the ideals Americans hoped to instill in future generations-hard work, fair play, team building-were challenged by questions of gender, race, and religion. Pruter explains the struggle to control high school sports, first by schools and local government and eventually on the national level. “Interscholastic sports have become so important that they have become a touchstone of conflict over … virtually every social division (in) our society,” Pruter writes. “The values and ethics in our society as a whole are reflected in our schools, and most publicly on the athletic fields and courts.”

Published by: Syracuse University Press


pdf iconDownload PDF (16.5 MB)
p. 1-1

Front Flap, Title Page, Other Works in the Series, Copyright, Dedication, About the Author

pdf iconDownload PDF (844.5 KB)
pp. 2-8


pdf iconDownload PDF (102.7 KB)
pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

pdf iconDownload PDF (110.3 KB)
pp. ix-x

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (140.7 KB)
pp. xi-xviii

High school sports from their beginnings in the late nineteenth century have played an outsize role in the US educational system and have subtly permeated the fabric of our society to such a degree that for most Americans, their presence seems to go unnoticed next to the far more media-grabbing collegiate and professional sports. ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (103.1 KB)
pp. xix-xx

Although sitting before a blank computer screen and with a pile of notes may seem like a lonely endeavor at times, in this history project I have been involved with a host of people—family, friends, colleagues in the field, and librarians and archivists—all of whom have helped me in matters small and large. ...

Part One: Student Initiative and Adult Alliances, 1880–1900

read more

1. Baseball and Football Pioneer High School Sports

pdf iconDownload PDF (337.7 KB)
pp. 3-21

High school sports first emerged in the boarding schools of the East. They began as casual sports and games, usually ball games, played by students as far back as the late 1700s. The earliest boarding schools were largely located in New England, namely, Atkinson Academy and Phillips Exeter, both in New Hampshire, ...

read more

2. The Rise of Schoolboy Track and Tennis

pdf iconDownload PDF (573.4 KB)
pp. 22-44

Interscholastic sports in the 1890s experienced an explosive growth, one that was haphazard, messy, and inchoate. Students and educational authorities were pioneering the establishment of a new sports institution, and the directions were not always clear and sure on how it should be done. ...

read more

3. The Physical Education Movement and the Campaign for Control

pdf iconDownload PDF (345.5 KB)
pp. 45-62

From approximately 1880 to 1900, interscholastic sports in America were largely under student initiation and direction. In the next decade, educational reformers brought student athletics under their regulatory control, not only to end reputed abuses in interscholastic sports but also to make them a part of the physical education curriculum. ...

Part Two: Establishment of Institutional Control, 1900–1920

read more

4. Educators Impose Institutional Control

pdf iconDownload PDF (255.3 KB)
pp. 65-83

The establishment of leagues and state associations by educators in the years after 1900 bringing about institutional control over interscholastic sports was neither seamless nor uniform across the nation. In most areas of the country, educator-sponsored high school leagues were formed in most big cities and in many rural areas, ...

read more

5. Student Resistance to Control and Reform

pdf iconDownload PDF (218.0 KB)
pp. 84-101

The nationwide reform of governance in interscholastic sports with the imposition of adult-sponsored leagues and state associations saw students in most areas acquiesce to the new faculty control and passively accept the new order of things. In many areas, however, educators faced persistent student resistance, stiffened by rebellious high school Greek-letter societies ...

read more

6. Winter Indoor Sports Fill the Void

pdf iconDownload PDF (379.7 KB)
pp. 102-125

The construction of gymnasiums in the high schools during the 1890s laid the foundation for the development of indoor sports, particularly basketball. Educators by this time saw physical education as intrinsic to the development of American high school youth. Gymnasiums were originally designed for gymnastics and calisthenics instruction, but games soon took more and more time on the floor space, ...

read more

7. New Outdoor Sports Advance the Educational Mission

pdf iconDownload PDF (305.9 KB)
pp. 126-144

Whereas indoor sports were introduced primarily to provide game competition in lieu of the dull routines of physical exercise, new outdoor sports were introduced for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the students chose the sport, as in golf, but the sport’s nature meant that outside organizations, namely, private golf clubs, played a huge role in helping disseminate the sport among secondary-school students. ...

read more

8. The New Athletic Girl and Interscholastic Sports

pdf iconDownload PDF (544.9 KB)
pp. 145-170

The first decade of the twentieth century represented a bold new experiment for American womanhood. The country was experiencing an unprecedented interest in sports and leisure, as football, baseball, boxing, and track and field flourished as never before. A plethora of other sports also emerged as popular pastimes and drew considerable spectator interest, ...

Part Three: Triumph of National Governance, 1920–1930

read more

9. Interscholastics and the Golden Age of Sports

pdf iconDownload PDF (420.4 KB)
pp. 173-199

The 1920s is considered the golden age of sport, an era that gave us an unprecedented number of sports titans—Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in baseball, Red Grange in football, Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney in boxing, Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen in golf, Helen Wills and Bill Tilden in tennis, and Paavo Nurmi in track and field. ...

read more

10. Creation of Military Sports in the Secondary Schools

pdf iconDownload PDF (369.0 KB)
pp. 200-217

Military sports in the secondary schools substantially emerged after America’s entrance into World War I, when the country awoke to the need for military preparedness. During the war, high schools, as well as universities and colleges, began to train students not only in rifle marksmanship and physical conditioning but also in drill (marching and handling rifles with precision) ...

read more

11. The Private and Catholic Schools’ Parallel World of Interscholastic Sports

pdf iconDownload PDF (429.9 KB)
pp. 218-243

In the 1920s, as the public schools built and expanded their interscholastic sports programs, they established the models by which the private secular and religious schools built their sports programs. Private secular schools were popularly called prep schools, as they were virtually all college-preparatory institutions. ...

read more

12. Girls’ Interscholastic Sports and the Exuberance to Compete

pdf iconDownload PDF (546.2 KB)
pp. 244-272

The role of competitive interscholastic sports for girls was one of the most contentious societal issues of the 1920s. Across the country, local boards of education and state-level high school athletic associations were influenced by two national developments in women’s athletics that pulled them in opposite directions over the suitability of girls participating in interscholastic sports. ...

read more

13. The Separate and Unequal World of African American Interscholastic Sports

pdf iconDownload PDF (368.7 KB)
pp. 273-291

African American high school sports came to fruition during the 1920s. The experience of African Americans in the creation of interscholastic sports was varied, depending on the section of the country. In the Deep South, black high schools suffered from rigid segregation and a white establishment that kept the black schools impoverished. ...

read more

14. New National Governance and the Triumph of the State High School Associations

pdf iconDownload PDF (426.8 KB)
pp. 292-313

The great expansion of interscholastic sports into a national scope during the 1920s was exhilarating to many fans of sports and helped immensely in making high school sports a major audience draw during the decade. But like the overheated economy of the 1920s, it was set to crash just like the stock market of October 1929. ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (189.9 KB)
pp. 314-330

When the National Federation of State High School Athletic Associations (now the National Federation of State High School Associations) in the early 1930s took over governance of all high school programs, bringing them under the purview of the secondary-school educational establishment, high school educators undoubtedly assumed it was a permanent solution ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (514.6 KB)
pp. 331-380

Selected Bibliography

pdf iconDownload PDF (250.6 KB)
pp. 381-400


pdf iconDownload PDF (228.7 KB)
pp. 401-418

Back Flap, Back Cover

pdf iconDownload PDF (18.8 MB)
pp. 441-442

E-ISBN-13: 9780815652199
E-ISBN-10: 0815652194
Print-ISBN-13: 9780815633143
Print-ISBN-10: 0815633149

Page Count: 432
Illustrations: 34 black and white illustrations
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


UPCC logo

Subject Headings

  • School sports -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • School sports -- United States -- History.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access