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Kansas State athletics, 1919-20: Clevenger’s last ride

KSAC’s first athletic director suddenly resigned at year’s end.

Zora G. Clevenger, K-State’s first official athletic director.
Zora G. Clevenger, K-State’s first official athletic director.
Indiana University Libraries

In the fall of 1919, things were still somewhat unsettled. America’s troops were home, the worst of the incredibly devastating flu epidemic had been dealt with, and life was slowly returning to normal.

But there were still impacts, and nothing demonstrates this better than the scattershot status of the Missouri Valley football schedule. With the exception of the Pikers from Washington, the only conference foes faced by the Farmers would be those which eventually joined them in the Big Six.

The season started well enough. A 16-0 win over Baker was followed by a 20-6 victory over Camp Funston, a section of Fort Riley. Two key Farmers were injured in this contest; fullback Hobe Fairman was lost for the year, and guard Carl Roda broke his shoulder, missing several weeks (but would still earn all-Valley honors at season’s end). When Missouri came to town, the Farmers had to settle for a 6-6 tie.

Then the wheels fell off.

A nigh-unbearable road loss to Washington followed (incorrectly noted as a home game in the media guide). The Farmers took a 9-7 lead into the final quarter, aided by the season’s offensive highlight, a 60-yard touchdown run by Everett Cowell. But they were unable to hang on, giving up the winning touchdown to the Pikers at the death. The loss deflated the squad, which spent the next month playing listless football.

Although Fort Hays State fell, it was only by a score of 12-0. Unable to move the ball, KSAC then lost at Kansas 16-3, at home to Haskell — Haskell! — 7-3, and finally suffered an ignominious 46-0 thrashing in Ames at the hands of the Cyclones.

Homecoming marked the end of the season, as the purple faced Oklahoma. At this point, the expectation of a rout would have been understandable, but the Farmers managed to keep the Sooners mostly in check, losing only 14-3.

The overall record wasn’t terrible, at 3-5-1. The conference record was: 0-3-1, saved from last place only by virtue of the tie with Missouri. In addition to Roda, his counterpart at guard Dewey Funston also received first team All-Valley recognition.

The defense, save for the Iowa State game, was tolerable. What could not be ignored, however, was the team’s anemic offense throughout the season. In four conference games, KSAC had managed only 21 points, less than half of what they’d given up just to Iowa State. It was time for something to change. Germany Schulz left after the school year to become an assistant at Tulane for one year; he left coaching for two years after that before spending one season as the head coach at the University of Detroit. Detroit had won almost 80% of their games in the previous half-decade; Schulz was barely able to keep them above .500, and he was sacked. He never coached football again.

It would also mark the end for Zora Clevenger, who abruptly resigned following the school year after compiling a 19-9-2 record in football at KSAC, 47-32-7 overall. He never coached again, despite being very successful at coaching basketball. In the summer of 1921, he resurfaced at Missouri, spending two years there as athletic director before returning home to Indiana. There, Clevenger spent 23 seasons as the athletic director for the Hoosiers before retiring; he was the man who hired Branch McCracken, and during his time there he helped to found the East-West Shrine Game. Clevenger lived to the ripe old age of 88, passing away in Bloomington in 1970.

Running total: 89-67-12, 82-70-7 against colleges, 3-13-3 Missouri Valley

Basketball suffered too, albeit only in comparison to its successful 1919 conference championship season. Once again, the season began with a winning streak; the only problem was that instead of 17 games it was only six.

The Farmers destroyed Fort Riley twice by a combined score of 124-15 to start the season. A week later, facing Valley foe Grinnell for the first time ever, KSAC also took both games. Oklahoma, newly elected to the conference, came to town and lost twice as well.

But then came a repeat of 1919. Just as they had the previous year, the Farmers went to Columbia with their record unblemished and came home with two losses, the second of which wasn’t even particularly close.

The following week, back at home, a split was had with the Jayhawks; a week later, Iowa State came to town and succumbed twice, and that marked the high-water mark for the campaign.

A trip to Oklahoma saw the Sooners balance the scales with a pair of wins. Back home, the Farmers did manage to salvage a split with Missouri — and, just as the Tigers had done to them the year before, KSAC was responsible for the only taste of defeat Missouri would suffer on the year.

The season ended with a pair in Lawrence. It would be a battle for third place, as Missouri obviously had long since claimed the conference title and Washington was sitting comfortably in second. The Farmers were 8-6, the Jayhawks 7-7; all KSAC had to do was win one game to claim third place.

They didn’t. They didn’t even threaten. The Jayhawks won 30-24 and 31-22, sending the Farmers down to a 10-8 overall record, 8-8 in the Valley.

(Somewhat worth noting here is that KSAC’s only non-conference games of the entire year were against Fort Riley.)

Despite the mediocre record, two Farmers received first-team accolades from the Valley: forward Holman Bunger and guard Everett Cowell, he of the 60-yard touchdown run in the fall. Clevenger departed with a 54-17 record in Manhattan and two Missouri Valley championships; he was 151-72 overall.

Running total: 136-88, 124-81 against colleges, 58-35 Missouri Valley

Strangely for a pre-depression KSAC team, the baseball squad embarked on two long road journeys. Following a home win over Fort Riley, they raided Oklahoma State in a 9-0 win and took game one against Oklahoma 7-1 before the second was suspended by rain tied 3-3. Back home, another singlet over Fort Riley was followed by 17-7 and 8-1 wins over Drake.

The second trip was to the Show-Me State. KSAC took a pair at Missouri, but in Saint Louis the Farmers finally tasted defeat, losing both games to the Washington Pikers.

(An aside, because interesting asides are what this should be all about: WashU is now known as the Bears. The original name referred to the proximity of campus to the Pike, the area where the amusements section of the 1904 World’s Fair had been housed. However, the term slowly became considered uncomplimentary, and in 1925 the student body voted to change the mascot to Bears.)

Still, they returned home in good shape. Missouri and Oklahoma both fell victim to the sweep. A trip to Lawrence unfortunately resulted in a pair of losses, but the Jayhawks came to Manhattan afterward to end the season and the Farmers returned the favor.

At 15-4-1, it was the most successful season on the diamond for KSAC in almost a decade. With the losses all being at the hands of Valley foes, the Farmers were out of the championship picture, but the 12-4-1 conference record pushed the all-time Valley record over sea level. Clevenger left with a 21-7-1 record. His official career record is listed as 97-84-4. This may be accurate, but it also may be the result of lacking research as it may erroneously include the 1921 season at KSAC which he did not coach, fail to include the 1917 season which he did, and lack the multitude of games missing from the KSAC media guide in 1917 and 1920.

Running total: 194-118-4, 172-108-4 against colleges, 20-19-3 Missouri Valley

Track had a good season in its final year under Germany Schulz, beating Kansas both indoors and out and, per the Royal Purple, “made a very creditable showing” at the Missouri Valley meet. What they meant, per the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch, is that the Farmers finished third, although in fairness the pack in the top four was fairly tight.

Ray Watson, who swept the mile and two-mile runs in the Valley championships, went on to represent the United States in three Olympics. In 1920 at Antwerp, he finished eighth in the 3000m steeplechase. He was seventh in the 1500m in 1924 at Paris, and in 1928 at Amsterdam he took ninth in the 800m. Watson, who was missing his right hand due to a teenage shooting accident, moved to Quincy, Illinois, where he taught chemistry and coached track.

Watson was also one of the first three letter-winners in cross country at KSAC, as the sport debuted in 1920. They only participated in one race, but it was a narrow win over Kansas, which is all that matters. The coach of the cross country squad was Charlie Bachman, a gentleman with which you’ll all become very familiar starting in our next installment.