By Rick Palsgrove
Imagine a high school basketball team practicing on an outside dirt court, a varsity baseball squad anxiously awaiting the delivery of a few new baseballs so it could start its season, or student actors deciding which of their old clothes could be sacrificed to create their own costumes for performances.
Those were some of the hurdles Groveport Madison High School students faced 100 years ago in 1917 when they participated in extracurricular activities.
Extracurricular activities have been a mainstay at the school dating back to the late 19th century.
The first sports the school embraced were baseball and basketball, with the school fielding both boys and girls varsity basketball teams. Football was the next to come along in the early 20th century. A surprising early sport played at the school was tennis, which popped up for a time after World War I before disappearing prior to the Great Depression and then reappearing in the late 1950s.
Athletics weren’t the only extra offering in those early days as music, the arts, and theater also thrived.
With 2017 just beginning, let’s take a look back at what Groveport Madison High School’s extracurricular activities were like in those long ago days of 1917.
The high school in 1917
A voter approved new Groveport Madison High School was built in 1884 at a cost of $10,634 on the west side of College Street, north of Blacklick Street, in Groveport, approximately where Naomi Court now stands. The brick building housed all 12 grades and was expanded in 1912 and 1919 before it was demolished in 1923 and replaced by Groveport School, which is now Groveport Elementary on Main Street.
The 1884 building did not have a gymnasium or formal auditorium, but it was surrounded by a large playground with athletic fields. The basketball teams practiced and played their home games in the second floor auditorium of Groveport Town Hall.
The arts of 1917
Many of the school’s theatrical and musical performances were held on the stage in the Groveport Town Hall auditorium. Sometimes plays would also be staged in the ballroom of the Elmont Hotel on Main Street, while more modest productions were put on in a school classroom.
The plays performed were often works of William Shakespeare. Students created their own costumes, which would be reused until they frayed.
A popular performance forum appears to have been an active school literary society that gave public readings of literature and of original works, sang songs, held debates, and performed musical concerts.
These literary society events were held up to four times a year and featured a lengthy list of such performances as: a violin solo; a debate on the topic, “There Ain’t No Ghosts;” a vocal solo; a view of what Groveport would be like in 100 years; a reading of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”; and many more performances of poems, music, readings, and even comedic jokes.
An interesting musical tidbit is that the school purchased a grafonola, which was an early 20th century phonograph for playing pre-recorded discs. These discs could be played for musical accompaniment or just for enjoyable listening. The grafonola was no doubt on the cutting edge of technology at the time and was most likely a significant forward thinking purchase and investment in the arts by the school.
Athletics in 1917
Much like today, football was popular with both players and spectators with the games being a social gathering place. Games were usually played against nearby schools like Ashville (now Teays Valley), Hamilton Township, and Reynoldsburg. Often they would play the same teams twice in a season because it was hard to find opponents as many schools did not field football teams at the time.
Sometimes the players did more than play football, such as when they traveled to Ashville in November 1916 for a game. Before the game a fire broke out nearby and the Cruiser players helped put it out.
Usually the football season would start later in the fall so the players who lived on farms would be able to help bring in the harvest. For example, on Nov. 30, 1916, the last game of that season was played on Thanksgiving Day with the Cruisers defeating Columbus West 21-7. A writer describing the game wrote, “G.H.S. had the best of the argument from the start.”
The Cruisers’ football field in 1917 was nothing like the high school stadiums of today. Most spectators stood along the sidelines. There were no lights so the games were played in the afternoon. For all sports, equipment and uniforms were re-used for many years.
The Cruiser varsity girls basketball team of 1916-17 held some of its pre-season practices on an outdoor, dirt court in the schoolyard while the Town Hall auditorium was being readied for the coming season. Here is how the practices were described in the “Groveport High School Flashlight” publication of 1916-17:
“The girls practiced on the uncovered outdoor court fixed temporarily in the schoolyard. Most found later, to their loss, or gain in swollen bumps, that the floor of Town Hall is considerably harder than the bare ground…although that did decrease yielding frequently to the pull of gravity downward and recovering equilibrium without serious detriment being done. Several trial games were played on this court in the schoolyard…”
Imagine practicing basketball in the dirt of the schoolyard. It shows how much they loved the game.
For away games in all sports, players, did not ride school buses. Instead they rode the electric interurban railway to some locations or piled into trucks for trips to places where the interurban didn’t reach. Written in journals of the time are notations about players and fans catching the “4:18” interurban for an away boys basketball game and another of the boys basketball coach securing a truck to take the team to a game in Hilliard.
It’s interesting that tennis was popular at the school in 1917 and was primarily an intramural sport with boys and girls both playing. The tennis court at the school was most likely dirt or grass. A rule at the tennis court stated, “Girls with high heeled shoes, please stay off.”
Varsity baseball had prominence with the Cruisers fielding a state championship team in 1910. Often boys and girls would also play baseball together informally. (Personal side note: For many years, informal co-ed baseball was common on makeshift farm pasture baseball diamonds. My mother told me stories about growing up in the 1930s and 1940s and playing baseball with her 11 brothers and sisters in the pasture on the farm where they lived. She said one of her brothers, who was offered a tryout with the professional Columbus Redbirds before World War II called him away, had no qualms about firing a fast ball close by her chin when she crowded the plate.)
In the long view of things – whether it is shooting a basket, pitching a baseball, throwing a touchdown pass, singing a song, creating works of art, bringing Shakespeare’s works to life, or performing a musical concert – the students of 1917 and the students of 2017 may have had different facilities and resources, but what they share is the same love and enjoyment for these activities.
As always, Mr. Palsgrove and the SE Messenger deliver a wonderful piece of Groveport history. I appreciate reading and learning about the heritage of our school community and the students and staff that built our traditions. Well done!