Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The early History of Football in Junction City

This past weekend marked the second week of the 2015 Kansas High School football season. The tradition of High School football, for many, marks the official beginning of the new school year. This is true for many in Junction City. The High School football team has a great tradition of winning. The Blue Jays have won two state titles; the first came in 1969 when they defeated Bishop Carroll, 32-14 in the 4A state title game. The second came in 2008 when the Blue Jays defeated Lawrence Free State 19-14. In total, the Junction City high school team has appeared in five state title games (1969, 1973, 1976, 1986, and 2008). Football, however, has not always been as popular or successful in Junction City.  Football had very humble beginnings which led to it having a hard time gaining traction in town for the first few decades. Those students who did decide to play football in school played for the love of the sport. These kids had to do so on their own dime and really had to go out of their way to lay down a good foundation so future generations could play football.
The first official Junction City High School football team started playing in 1894. Unlike today where there is a single uniform that is provided by the school, the first team had to obtain and take care of their own uniform, which made many on the same team look very different. No two uniforms were the same. Those who wanted to play on the team, and could afford it, bought their equipment from the H.V.B. Pickering Tent and Awning shop that sold wheat binder canvas and wagon covers. From that stiff, coarse canvas the players made pants and shirts. Apart from not matching their teammates, these uniforms and pads were not comfortable in the least.
Perhaps the reason football had such a hard time getting started in Junction is because just like today, the sport was met with controversy. An early Daily Union article dated from December 22, 1894 states, “Football is, if possible, even more brutal and dangerous than prize fighting… so far a broken arm and numerous bruises and contusions, are the extent of the injuries received by our local players.” These sorts of reactions perhaps impeded the growth of football in the area. Even by the 1910s, the idea of modern football was still very young. Kids who participated on the team still had to find their own way to away games. An article from 1918, details the account of a game the Blue Jays lost to Saline 32-2 and this was partly due to the fact that many of the players missed the first half of the game because of the trouble with their cars and could not make it in time for the kick off.
Football in Junction City and around the country came a long way in just 20 years. By 1924 there was a “semi-professional” football team that played their home games in Junction City. The term “semi-pro”, is used very loosely as the team had to still fund their own games and schedule their own games. The Yellowjackets, as the team was known as, were an independent football team that usually housed recently-graduated high school players and some college players. They would play other similar teams from around the area and some units from Fort Riley. Each team was responsible for lining up their own slate of games each season, as they were not part of any “leagues”. The Yellowjackets played at the old union pacific field that was located on Grant St. It seemed as though many of the surrounding areas had a lot of these “independent” teams as it was reported in the newspaper that the Yellowjackets would play against the teams from Minneapolis, and Council Grove.
The Yellowjackets team signified a rise in popularity in football around the surrounding areas. The early struggles in establishing football in Northeastern Kansas seem almost unimaginable seeming how popular the sport is today. So next time you attend a football game image how much different it would have been if the same teams did not have matching uniforms or if the kids on the team had to worry about their own transportation to games.

When you are not at the football games on Fridays, make sure to come down to the museum and check out our exhibits. We are open Tuesday through Saturday from 1 pm to 4 pm

This picture is of the 1884 Junction City high School football team. Records show that this team was the first in the history of Junction City High School.