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Ch. 9: President Halstead on College Spirit

Wayne's opening game was not at all what Ken had dreamed it would be. The opposing team from Hudson School was as ill-assorted an aggregation as Ken had ever seen. They brought with them a small but noisy company of cheering supporters who, to the shame of Ken and his fellows, had the bleachers all to themselves. If any Wayne students were present they either cheered for Hudson or remained silent.

Hudson won, 9 to 2. It was a game that made Arthurs sag a little lower on the bench. Graves got Wayne's two tallies. Raymond at second played about all the game from the fielding standpoint. Ken distinguished himself by trying wildly and accomplishing nothing. When he went to his room that night he had switched back to his former spirits, and was disgusted with Wayne's ball team, himself most of all.

That was on a Wednesday. The next day rain prevented practice, and on Friday the boys were out on the field again. Arthurs shifted the players around, trying resignedly to discover certain positions that might fit certain players. It seemed to Ken that all the candidates, except one or two, were good at fielding and throwing, but when they came to play a game they immediately went into a trance.

Travers College was scheduled for Saturday. They had always turned out a good minor team, but had never been known to beat Wayne. They shut Arthurs' team out without a run. A handful of Wayne students sat in the bleachers mocking their own team. Arthurs used the two pitchers he had been trying hard to develop, and when they did locate the plate they were hit hard. Ken played or essayed to play right field for a while, but he ran around like a chicken with its head off, as a Travers player expressed it, and then Arthurs told him that he had better grace the bench the rest of the game. Ashamed as Ken was to be put out, he was yet more ashamed to feel that he was glad of it. Hardest of all to bear was the arrogant air put on by the Travers College players. Wayne had indeed been relegated to the fifth rank of college baseball teams.

On Monday announcements were made in all the lecture-rooms and departments of the university, and bulletins were posted to the effect, that President Halstead wished to address the undergraduates in the Wayne auditorium on Tuesday at five o'clock.

Rumor flew about the campus and Carlton Club, everywhere, that the president's subject would be "College Spirit," and it was believed he would have something to say about the present condition of athletics. Ken Ward hurried to the hall as soon as he got through his practice. He found the immense auditorium packed from pit to dome, and he squeezed into a seat on the steps.

The students, as always, were exchanging volleys of paper-balls, matching wits, singing songs, and passing time merrily. When President Halstead entered, with two of his associates, he was greeted by a thunder of tongues, hands, and heels of the standing students. He was the best-beloved member of the university faculty, a distinguished, scholarly looking man, well-stricken in years.

He opened his address by declaring the need of college spirit in college life. He defined it as the vital thing, the heart of a great educational institution, and he went on to speak of its dangers, its fluctuations. Then he made direct reference to athletics in its relation to both college spirit and college life.

"Sport is too much with us. Of late years I have observed a great increase in the number of athletic students, and a great decrease in scholarship. The fame of the half-back and the short-stop and the stroke-oar has grown out of proportion to their real worth. The freshman is dazzled by it. The great majority of college men cannot shine in sport, which is the best thing that could be. The student's ideal, instead of being the highest scholarship, the best attainment for his career, is apt to be influenced by the honors and friendships that are heaped upon the great athlete. This is false to university life. You are here to prepare yourselves for the battle with the world, and I want to state that that battle is becoming more and more intellectual. The student who slights his studies for athletic glory may find himself, when that glory is long past, distanced in the race for success by a student who had not trained to run the hundred in ten seconds.

"But, gentlemen, to keep well up in your studies and then go in for athletics--that is entirely another question. It is not likely that any student who keeps to the front in any of the university courses will have too much time for football or baseball. I am, as you all know, heartily in favor of all branches of college sport. And that brings me to the point I want to make to-day. Baseball is my favorite game, and I have always been proud of Wayne's teams. The new eligibility rules, with which you are all familiar, were brought to me, and after thoroughly going over the situation I approved of them. Certainly it is obvious to you all that a university ball-player making himself famous here, and then playing during the summer months at a resort, is laying himself open to suspicion. I have no doubt that many players are innocent of the taint of professionalism, but unfortunately they have become members of these summer teams after being first requested, then warned, not to do so.

"Wayne's varsity players of last year have been barred by the directors. They made their choice, and so should abide by it. They have had their day, and so should welcome the opportunity of younger players. But I am constrained to acknowledge that neither they nor the great body of undergraduates welcomed the change. This, more than anything, proves to me the evil of championship teams. The football men, the baseball men, the crew men, and all the student supporters want to win all the games all the time. I would like to ask you young gentlemen if you can take a beating? If you cannot, I would like to add that you are not yet fitted to go out into life. A good beating, occasionally, is a wholesome thing.

"Well, to come to the point now: I find, after studying the situation, that the old varsity players and undergraduates of this university have been lacking in--let us be generous and say, college spirit. I do not need to go into detail; suffice it to say that I know. I will admit, however, that I attended the game between the old varsity and the new candidates. I sat unobserved in a corner, and a more unhappy time I never spent in this university. I confess that my sympathies were with the inexperienced, undeveloped boys who were trying to learn to play ball. Put yourselves in their places. Say you are mostly freshmen, and you make yourselves candidates for the team because you love the game, and because you would love to bring honor to your college. You go out and try. You meet, the first day, an implacable team of skilled veterans who show their scorn of your poor ability, their hatred of your opportunity, and ride roughshod--I should say, run with spiked shoes--over you. You hear the roar of four thousand students applauding these hero veterans. You hear your classmates, your fellow-students in Wayne, howl with ridicule at your weak attempts to compete with better, stronger players.... Gentlemen, how would you feel?

"I said before that college spirit fluctuates. If I did not know students well I would be deeply grieved at the spirit shown that day. I know that the tide will turn.... And, gentlemen, would not you and the old varsity be rather in an embarrassing position if--if these raw recruits should happen to develop into a team strong enough to cope with Place and Herne? Stranger things have happened. I am rather strong for the new players, not because of their playing, which is poor indeed, but for the way they tried under peculiarly adverse conditions.

"That young fellow Ward--what torture that inning of successive hard hits to his territory! I was near him in that end of the bleachers, and I watched him closely. Every attempt he made was a failure--that is, failure from the point of view of properly fielding the ball. But, gentlemen, that day was not a failure for young Ward. It was a grand success. Some one said his playing was the poorest exhibition ever seen on Grant Field. That may be. I want to say that to my mind it was also the most splendid effort ever made on Grant Field. For it was made against defeat, fear, ridicule. It was elimination of self. It was made for his coach, his fellow-players, his college--that is to say, for the students who shamed themselves by scorn for his trial.

"Young men of Wayne, give us a little more of such college spirit!"

Zane Grey