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173 9 Int er s c hol as t ic s and t he Gold en Ag e of Spor t s 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. At all levels of competition— high school, college, amateur, minor league, and major league—there was an increased level of interest and great commercial expansion. Interscholastic sports, along with their counterparts on the college and professional levels, grew in scope and scale, as the high schools supported ever-greater numbers of student athletes and provided more sports in larger and more expansive competitions. The growth in interscholastic sports was in part based on far-greater numbers of students participating in sports. Fueling the growth in the number of students was the broadening of the student population beyond college preparatory, leading to the development of the comprehensive high school. By 1918 the comprehensive high school, with its variety of vocational, homemaking, and college-prep courses designed to serve all kinds of students, was deemed the standard organization for secondary education. The growth in the number and variety of students was a result of the advent of compulsory-attendance laws that after 1900 spread to the majority of states and in many cases increased the age of attendance up through high school. Much anti–child labor legislation in the states also fueled this growth. Influential educator Ellwood P. Cubberley saw these developments as deleterious to the public schools in that they now had to 174 ✦ Triumph of National Governance, 1920–1930 educate those students who presumably did not come to learn, the “truant and the incorrigible,” “children of inferior mental ability,” and other “misfits,” in his unfortunate language.1 The National Education Association in its policy-shaping 1918 report, Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education, saw one of the roles of the comprehensive high school as instilling “ethical character” and common social values in the students. The educational establishment strongly believed interscholastic sports brought students together in shared social values and kept the marginally interested students in school and therefore encouraged their development. Cubberley typified their views in his remarks on faculty-directed sports: “Few other things do so much to transform the yard bully into a useful school citizen, bring out the timid and backward pupils, limit accidents, create good feeling, reduce discipline, teach pupil self-control, train the muscles and eye to coordination in games involving learned skills, or awaken the best spirit of the pupils.” Cubberley and other educators throughout the 1920s extolled high school sports for their character-building impact on the secondary-school student.2 The number of sport offerings increased, largely in the big cities, which had a large number of comprehensive schools with huge student populations, conducive to sports expansion in a variety of sports, appealing to their diverse populations. For example, New York City’s PSAL offered fourteen sports, which included programs unknown in most other parts of the country, such as lacrosse, handball, and ice hockey. Philadelphia offered eleven sports, which included a couple of uncommon sports, bowling and gymnastics. Not all schools in these big-city leagues would adopt every sport. Whereas almost all the schools in such large systems would adopt major sports such as football, basketball, baseball, and track and field, many fewer high schools in these leagues would take up the minor sports, typically offering about ten to twelve sports. The growth of wealthy suburban school districts with extensive athletic facilities and campuses also encouraged the adoption of more sports. In many high schools during the 1920s, the educators expanded not only their offerings but also the scope of competition. They had their institutions competing beyond their state borders and in other sections of the country. There was a greater level of competition for state championships, Interscholastics and the Golden Age of Sports ✦ 175 as many more state athletic associations came into being and more began offering state championship competitions. At the same time, universities and colleges were enlarging their sponsored high school competitions, building them from local and sectional contests to national contests and becoming fully commercialized endeavors. H i g h S c h o o l s S t r i v e f o r...


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