The death of Eddie Wells occurred just two weeks before the start of the 1918 football season at KSAC. The news hit hard, and the community mourned the two-time all-Valley selection’s loss deeply.
It did not help that the war had finally caused so many young men to depart for Europe that justifying football was a hard sell. The Missouri Valley cancelled the conference season. Still, the Farmers had a squad, and played an abbreviated schedule which did not see them leave the confines of Kansas.
It came very close to being the most star-crossed escapade in K-State football history.
The first four games were at home. Baker fell 22-0. A team from Fort Riley (which even though we aren’t counting them as such may as well have been the equivalent a college team, with their roster stocked with college players who’d enlisted) was dispatched 27-7. It would be another month before the Farmers played again, due to the first wave of the famous influenza epidemic of 1918 (which closed down the KU campus for a month in November), but they then knocked off Washburn 28-9. Two weeks later, Iowa State came to town and lost 11-0.
There was only one game left, and KSAC was on the verge of an unbeaten season. If only it had been a full campaign, one might have wistfully thought.
Of course, that one game was on the road. In Lawrence. And the Farmers got the short end of a 13-7 decision.
Still, a 4-1 season wasn’t anything of which to be ashamed. Despite the lack of a conference season, an all-Valley first team was still selected, and an astounding six Farmers were selected to the first team — a record which would stand, tied only once, until 1994. Those six: guards Dewey Huston and Ike Gatz, backs Johnnie Clarke, Cliff Gallagher, and Ding Burton, and end Joe Bogue.
Unfortunately, the chaos of players returning from war would lead to another downswing in the program’s fortunes.
Running total: 86-62-11, 80-65-6 against colleges, 3-10-2 Missouri Valley
Basketball would also experience a banner year followed by a lull. The Farmers, who had been the best Valley team outside of Columbia in 1918, still couldn’t beat the Tigers... but it didn’t matter.
The flu epidemic which shut down KU in November hit KSAC hard enough to force the Manhattan campus to close in December. That likely had some impact on early practices.
Five home games were played before the first conference clash — wins over Washburn, Fort Riley twice, Haskell, and Saint Mary’s. Then the Jayhawks game to town and lost twice, and the party was getting started.
A road trip to Iowa saw the Farmers play on Monday night and Tuesday morning in Ames, then drive down to Des Moines and play on Tuesday night and Wednesday. Yes, that’s right: two games in two cities on one day. The Farmers won all four, with only one being a single-digit victory.
They returned home, and a week later handled Emporia Normal before again heading out to barnstorm. They invaded Lawrence and took both games to complete the season sweep, then dipped into Kansas City for a game against Polytechnic Institute (now the Blue River campus of Metropolitan Community College), which they also won.
The following weekend, two home wins against Nebraska ran the season record to 17-0 and officially clinched the Missouri Valley title. All that remained was a two-game trip to Columbia, which no longer mattered as the Tigers already sported three losses.
The Farmers were overwhelmed. Missouri forward George Scott poured in 27 points in the first game, and the Farmers went down for the first time all season in a 47-36 upset. The following night, Missouri repeated the trick, downing the league champions 38-23. The Farmers finished 17-2, 10-2 in the conference.
Center John Clark and forward George Jennings were named first-team selections to the Missouri Valley all-conference team. But amazingly, neither was selected as an All-American in 1936 when the Helms Foundation announced their retroactive awards, and the 1919 Kansas Aggies received virtually no national attention for their unbeaten run.
Running total: 126-80, 116-73 against colleges, 50-27 Missouri Valley
Baseball made its return in the spring, as returning students bolstered the rolls. The season was still severely truncated, however, and no official Valley champion was determined.
The Farmers only played six games, all at home. They defeated Fort Riley and Haskell, and split with Saint Mary’s and the Jayhawks, to compile a 4-2 record.
Running total: 179-114-3, 159-104-3 against colleges, 8-15-1 Missouri Valley
We’ve failed, to this point, to mention a secondary figure in the war-era history of KSAC athletics. Zora Clevenger made an important hire when he came to Manhattan. Serving as his assistant across the board, and eventually taking the reins as head track coach, was former Michigan Wolverine star Germany Schulz.
The Michigan career of the not-so-young Schulz was mired in controversy. Already 21 when he debuted for the Wolverines in 1904, there were accusations that Fielding Yost had brought Schulz in as a “ringer”, and that Schulz had even played professionaly. His presence directly led to Michigan being thrown out of the Western Conference (now the Big Ten), and they wouldn’t be allowed back in until 1917.
But his prowess at center wasn’t controversial at all. In 1951, Schulz was named by the National Football Foundation as the greatest center to have ever played college football, and in the same year he was one of the members of the first class of inductees into the College Football Hall of Fame, being informed of these honors only 10 days before his death at the age of 67. For more on this fascinating individual whose contributions in Manhattan were relatively minor, his Wikipedia entry is remarkably thorough and entertaining.
Schulz was at KSAC from 1916-1920, but he did miss some time in 1918-19 when he was drafted. During that time, he served as the athletic director at Fort Riley, and never was assigned to duty in Europe. On his return, he reclaimed his position at the helm of the Farmer track team.
The Farmers repeated their indoor win over the Jayhawks, by a count of 42 1⁄2 to 34 1⁄2. At the Kansas City Athletic Club meet in Kansas City, the Farmers amassed 20 points.
Outdoor, the Farmers were unbeaten in dual meets, outpointing Baker 66-43, Kansas 62 1⁄2-46 1⁄2, and Haskell 74 1⁄2-34 1⁄2. With 28 1⁄2 points at the Valley championships in Ames, the Farmers won the Missouri Valley title; invited to Chicago for the Big Ten meet, KSAC took fifth place, tallying a dozen.