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Kansas State athletics, 1908-09: the first road trip outside Kansas

Every Aggie team had a winning season.

The 1908 Aggies football squad.
The 1908 Aggies football squad.
1908 Royal Purple

It was perhaps instructive as to the importance of Mike Ahearn to the student population of Kansas State Agricultural College that not only was the 1909 yearbook dedicated to him, but the two-page article discussing the football team’s season mentioned no name other than the beloved head coach.

Well, if Mike Ahearn was responsible for everything, in 1908 he delivered the best product KSAC had yet seen, even if the middle of October might have best been forgotten.

The season opened with a 28-5 win over Kansas Wesleyan. But a 12-6 loss at Kansas was followed by the first-ever visit to Manhattan by the Oklahoma Sooners, who destroyed the Aggies 33-4. In hindsight, the loss to Kansas can be seen as a moral victory, as the 1908 Jayhawks did not allow a touchdown to any other squad all year.

The Aggies did not lose again. Southwestern came to visit and were mauled 17-0. KSAC then did something they’d never done before: they left the state of Kansas for a road game, traveling to Omaha and defeating Creighton 31-0. Back home a week later, Oklahoma A&M was the victim of a 40-10 blowout. The Aggies went to Washburn the following week and for the first time ever managed to beat the Ichabods in a 23-4 affair, and closed the season with a 33-10 Thanksgiving day win over Colorado A&M (now Colorado State).

Against a schedule which was much more challenging than that to which the KSAC faithful were accustomed, the Aggies had managed a solid 6-2 record. But the best was yet to come.

Running total: 37-40-6, 31-40-1 against colleges

In the 1909 yearbook, the student writer made a point of mentioning the infancy of the basketball program. The first three years of the renewed program had been nightmarish, but 1909 saw a quantum leap forward.

Harry Baird, the team’s captain, suffered a shoulder injury in the season-opening win over Cotner College (a now-defunct school located in Lincoln, Neb.) which sidelined him for the duration. Deprived of his services, the Aggies fell to Kansas and Nebraska, then played their lone road game of the season, a win over Clay Center High School. Wins over Iowa State and Haskell, and then Nebraska Wesleyan and McPherson, sandwiched a loss to Missouri. The end result was a 6-3 campaign, the program’s best ever and a harbinger of success to come.

Running total: 18-34, 10-28 against colleges

The baseball season was rough, by recent KSAC standards. The squad only managed a 14-6 record, with a home loss to Kansas and road defeats at the hands of Nebraska, Iowa State, Highland Park, Kansas, and Saint Mary’s. The Nebraska loss, a 14-3 setback, stood starkly as the worst defeat suffered by the nascent BatCats since a 10-0 loss to the Cornhuskers back in 1906.

There were still wins of note, though. Kansas was dispatched once, and no other team in the state was able to best the Aggies. The loss to Highland Park was avenged, and three out-of-state foes were sent home with losses — Nebraska Wesleyan, William Jewell, and Northwestern Oklahoma.

The biggest win, though, was the annual exhibition against a minor league team. The Topeka Jayhawks, who had moved from the Western Association to the more stable Western League, visited Manhattan and succumbed in a 3-2 decision. It was the last time a professional team would face K-State.

Running total: 107-69-2, 101-66-2 against colleges

This is the first year for which anything resembling information becomes available for track & field, although in the process I did discover that Aggie track actually began in 1905 although there’s no real information.

The team was coached by J.B. Whelan, who would go on to found Whelan’s Lumber in Topeka. That business remained in the family until 2008, opening another location in Lawrence along the way.

The Aggies secured a 67-64 win in a dual meet at Baker on May 1, but two days later in Lawrence were overwhelmed by the Jayhawks 81.5-31.5. On May 8 in Manhattan, Washburn was beaten 68-61. Finally, at the state meet on May 18 (from which KU was absent), the Aggies won the state title with a score of 55 points; Baker, with 36.5, was the nearest challenger.