For the extent of the 1920s, the words Virginia sports more or less acted as an oxymoron. Local legend reports a quarterback from a small Kentucky school who approached some University students a day prior to his team's game against Virginia. The wager was he would score more points himself than the entire Cavalier football team combined. He won. Sports had long been the source of social activity, but never were taken as a serious pursuit. Athletics, particularly football, were disorganized and employed athletes of questionable aggression and skills. This sentiment, taken from the new Athletic Director Jim Driver (Dabney, 116), sums up the state of Virginia sport in 1930. Over the ensuing years, things began to turn around so much that, by the mid-30s, winning appeared an attainable goal. Always, though, athletes sought to give the impression of ease and natural talent. The Virginia Gentleman tradition certainly held sway on the gridiron and other athletic fields of play. By 1941, Bill Dudley and the Virginia eleven saw football blossom for a decade (Dabney, 87).
Boxing, on the other hand, proved a colossal success for many years during the Depression. Brandt thought it bigger than football, in stark contrast to today, remembering that the sport acted as a social outlet as much as an athletic one.
Students attending matches sat quietly and respectfully in Memorial Gymnasium, refraining from catcalls or jeers. The Virginia boxing team went undefeated for the years 1932-1937 and won national championships in 1938 and 1939 (Baxter, 86). Virginia boasted a number of individual national champions as well at different weight classes. As evidence for the acclaim boxing generated, witness the February 24, 1933 College Topics which ran no less than 8 photos of the boxing team and coach with its lead story. Coach John La Rowe walked on grounds no less than two feet above the ground.
Various other sports such as baseball and track and field met with differing levels of success over the decade. The May 5, 1932 College Topics emblazoned the headline "Baseball Teem [sic] Takes State Title" across its pages, laying "claim to the mythical honor." One can forgive the hyperbole in during a period where intercollegiate sports were only just beginning to come into vogue at Virginia. The same broadside documents the
chances of the Cavalier track team at the state track meet held at Lambeth Field. As the Cavs won the state title for the 1929, '30, and '31 years, they remained strong favorites for the crown in '32. Clearly, Virginia appeared poised to move from state to regional domination in a number of different sports and looked to maintain its hegemony in the national boxing world.
Dabney places the start of intramural sports during the 1933-34 year (206). Touch football, volleyball, horseshoes, basketball, swimming, handball, baseball, track and field, and tennis all made up the choices for Virginia men. Intramurals quickly caught on as they allowed men aspiring to the Virginia Gentleman tradition to take part in amateur athletics, become more well rounded, and again demonstrate a hierarchical sifting based on what groups took part in what sport. Brandt, for instance, speaks with pride about his days at Alpha Tau Omega leading the touch football team against the Delta Kappa Epsilon side (Oral History). By the 1938-39 session, two fraternity leagues with 50 teams dotted the landscape, alongside an independent league with 8 teams (Baxter, 83). Here again, one might observe the dominance of fraternities at the University.
Throughout the 30s a certain tension existed in the hearts and minds of Virginia men, torn between the allure of the gentleman amateur athlete of tradition and the addictive drug of big-time winning intercollegiate athletics. Baxter supports this theme, although emphasizes the push toward big business style athletics as the most important force in Virginia athletics during the Depression. While the students criticized this move, outrage became increasingly rare in an era when Virginia sports teams brought home more and more victories. Notable among the hubub was the opinion piece in the October 13, 1933 College Topics which told the story of a Cavalier visiting his fraternity brothers at Ohio State. After being informed of the practice of paying athletes who become brothers while treating them like royalty, the CT editors reacted with gasps. Wondering "how places like Virginia can persuade anybody who's ever even seen a football to enroll" (ibid.). A later, longer diatribe speaks against the necessity of football (Fall, 1933). Observing the tendency to treat football like a business, the editors dismiss the idea that students choose a school based on the football team it fields, saying Virginia would never want such a student anyway. And as for alumni that stay interested in their alma mater through its football squad, surely Virginia alumni stand above such things.
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