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Kansas State athletics, 1917-18: War takes its toll

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Declining enrollment leads to no baseball at all

KSAC All-Valley star Lieutenant Edward Wells, killed in action at Saint-Mihiel September 12, 1918.
KSAC All-Valley star Lieutenant Edward Wells, killed in action at Saint-Mihiel September 12, 1918.
unknown, via World War I Centennial

Today’s image comes from K-State alum Jed Dunham’s 48 Fallen 48 Found project, a brief summary of which is located at the World War I Centennial site. It’s worth your attention.

Zora Clevenger’s arrival had been, on the fields of play, good news for Kansas State Agricultural College. The programs were on the rebound from their mid-decade nadir, and progress — albeit slow -- was being made toward becoming a major player in college sports.

But then America entered World War I in April of 1917, and all hell broke loose across the collegiate sports landscape. The same young men who drove the varsity train had a tendency to be pretty gung-ho about fighting the Kaiser, and were leaving school in droves to volunteer.

The first impact was the 1917 baseball season, during which countless games were cancelled due to lack of players. By the time autumn rolled around, however, schools were again able to field squads thanks to newly-enrolled students.

As a result, the 1917 football season appears at first blush to have been largely unaffected by the war, although many players who’d have been on the field were instead in Europe or dead.

Clevenger’s Farmers began 1917 with a fury. A season-opening tune-up against Baker resulted in a 28-0 win, and a week later Oklahoma A&M came to town to suffer a 23-0 beating. The following weekend the Farmers went to Columbia and gave up their first points of the season in a 7-6 win mired in controversy.

Lee Randels, Farmer captain and two-time Valley all-conference end, had played two seasons at Southwestern College in Winfield before transferring to KSAC. However, at the time the Missouri Valley rulebook specifically listed the schools at which a player’s participation constituted eligibility, and Southwestern was not listed — or, rather, was erroneously listed as “Southern Kansas”. As such, there was no legal basis to deny Randels his eligibility, and protests by Missouri were thus undone.

Yes, KSAC had some SEC in ‘em after all.

The following week, the Farmers hosted Washington (MO) and crushed them 61-0 to push their mark to 4-0, with 119 points for and only 6 against. Although a homecoming loss to Kansas two weeks later ended the unbeaten string, it was only a 9-0 loss and as such didn’t take too much shine off the campaign. Neither did the following week’s road defeat at Iowa State, a 10-7 loss which reflected fairly well on the visitors.

The season ended with two games at home, a 51-0 thrashing of Emporia Normal and a 38-0 beatdown of Washburn. The 6-2 Farmers had outscored the opposition 215-22, but had to settle for fourth place in the Valley at 2-2 behind 3-1 Kansas and Iowa State and 2-0 Nebraska.

Yes, 2-0 Nebraska, which won the cheapest conference championship imaginable before leaving the Valley to become independent in football for several years. Their place in the conference would be taken by Grinnell.

Guard Carl Roda was the only Farmer named to the Valley’s all-conference first team.

Running total: 86-62-11, 80-65-6 against colleges, 3-10-2 Missouri Valley

With only five players needed on the court, basketball was much more capable of weathering the storm of war than the other sports. As a result, even the worsening conditions in Europe failed to stall the cage season, although KSAC did lose all-Valley guard Eddie Wells to enlistment.

That story ended in tragedy on September 12, 1918, exactly 60 days before the armistice ended hostilities. At the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, while bravely withstanding fire to cut a series of barbed-wire barriers in order to allow Allied troops to advance on a German position, Lieutenant Wells was struck by shrapnel from a shell which landed near him. His actions allowed the Allies to vanquish the German unit before him, but his wounds were mortal.

Like their gridiron brethren, the Farmer Five started the season on a winning streak. In a break from tradition, the Farmers began 1918 on the road, better than doubling up Saint Mary’s. They returned home to double Kansas Wesleyan before starting conference play with a pair of single weekend games, wins over Iowa State and Drake.

A quick weekend trip to Lawrence saw KSAC take a 13-point win in the opener before losing the second game 35-33. That loss would be the only Farmer setback in the first six weeks of the year.

The Farmers returned home to take a pair from Washington the following week before heading to Iowa two weekends later. That trip was a success. Drake was vanquished twice, and on the third night KSAC completed a season sweep of Iowa State. They then headed home for the final six games of the season.

And then the dreams of repeating as Valley champion collapsed.

Missouri, with whom the Farmers had been battling for the conference lead, came to Nichols and swept the hosts by three and four points, respectively. With only one conference loss on the year, that sweep effectively gave the Tigers the crown, although two weekends of possibilities still remained.

The Farmers could not capitalize even if Missouri had faltered. KSAC split two-game sets with both Kansas and Nebraska, sliding to a 12-5 record, 10-5 in the conference. That was still sufficient for second place, but was a full five-and-a-half games back of the victorious Columbians.

Once again, no official record of the Valley all-conference team exists. However, in a story in the March 8, 1918 Lawrence Daily Journal-World, Kansas coach Phog Allen — who only gave one of his own players a spot, and that on the second team — avowed that Farmer guard Ben Hinds and forward Ralph Van Trine, the team’s senior captain.

Running total: 109-78, 101-71 against colleges, 40-25 Missouri Valley

The mounting demands of the war were an opponent the baseball squad could not defeat. Due to a lack of warm bodies with which to form a team, KSAC did not field a nine in the spring of 1918.

Track, though, somehow had athletes reporting for tryouts than ever. But many were inexperienced and/or unsure of themselves, and this showed in the results.

In an early indoor meet at Nichols, however, the Farmers prevailed by 36 13 to 23 13 over the Jayhawks, largely on the legs of their sprinters. At another indoor meet in Kansas City, Cliff Gallagher (allegedly) broke the world record in the 50-yard low hurdles. But that’s all we know.