A debut sports book offers a comprehensive history of a military academy’s football program and the development of the game itself.
The Morgan Park Military Academy was first established in 1873 in Chicago. The school was then called the Mt. Vernon English, Classical, and Military Academy. According to extant records, the academy first participated in an organized football game in 1893 and fielded a team for a full season of competition the following year. Ziemba chronicles the arc of the football program’s growth in detail so journalistically microscopic the study is simultaneously impressive as a feat of archival precision and tedious to read. The academy was originally a part of the University of Chicago. The coach of the college team, Amos Alonzo Stagg, quickly took over as the leader of the academy players as well, using the school as a kind of farm squad to train and recruit talent for the university. The author tracks not only the academy team’s triumphs and defeats—it had its first losing season in 1903—but also the school’s intramural disputes, like its controversial decision in 1900 to close its doors to female students. Ziemba’s account is not only spangled with black-and-white photographs of the campus and key figures, but is filled with statistical information as well, including an appendix that documents the team’s results for decades. His scholarly rigor is indefatigable and remarkable, although the results of it are unlikely to grab the attention of anyone who doesn’t have some kind of personal relationship to Morgan Academy. But Ziemba’s examination of the evolution of football from a “brutal, controversial display that was more of a curiosity” to the “obsession it remains today” is engrossing. The author expertly discusses how different football was as a game in its embryonic stage: “The bloodshed and physical dismay endured by football players in the early days of the game was certainly not anything new. With little padding, archaic rules, and often ill-advised officials, the examples of horrific injuries and multiple deaths on the football field had become alarming.” For readers interested in an astute history of the game’s inception, this is a worthy option.
A remarkably well-researched history of a football team that should appeal to fans of the school or the game.