The sports of Ye Olde Olivet
With the rings arrival from OC football’s latest MIAA Conference Championship, athletic spirits are high under the oaks of Olivet. But how exactly did we get here?
Well, over a century ago, the seeds of organized athletics were planted.
Usually when we talk about the early days of Olivet College, we discuss Father Shipherd choosing Olivet to fulfill his mission of founding an open and diverse liberal arts college. However, what many don’t know is that not only were Olivet College students involved in the classroom and the church, but also in the beginnings of what we know today as intercollegiate athletics.
While it is not known when exactly sports teams began at Olivet, through OC Archive sources we can trace athletics all the way back to the 1860s.
However, as far as organized, intercollegiate athletics, our earliest intercollegiate contest was a baseball game against Michigan Agricultural College, now known as Michigan State University, in 1884.
Years later, in 1888, Olivet College would join Michigan Agricultural College, Albion College, and Hillsdale College in forming the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA), which is actually the oldest intercollegiate athletic conference.
With membership in the MIAA, in 1888 Olivet remodeled Colonial Hall, built in 1846, to serve as a gymnasium. In addition, F. L. Reed donated ground a half mile from the college to serve as a home for a track, football field, and baseball diamond that same year.
The early years of the MIAA saw success for the Olivet Congregationalists as we were then called (the mascot would become the Comet in 1932.) Olivet College won its first football game 78-0 against Michigan State (Michigan Agricultural College) according to MIAA history books.
In this time period, the MIAA Field Day served as a conference championship for numerous sports, like track and field and tennis. In fact, from 1888, the first MIAA Field Day, until 1892, Olivet College’s tennis team won five consecutive conference championships.
From 1908-1912 track also won five consecutive titles. In fact, from 1888-1940 Olivet College had collected 28 MIAA Conference Championships.
While we have not been able to put an exact year that women first started participating in athletics at Olivet College, OC Archives has photographs of women of the late 1800s and early 1900s playing basketball and even ice hockey.
Organized athletics began to include women when in 1924 Olivet hired its first women’s athletic director. Before then, women participated in intramurals, which were introduced to Olivet College students in the 1930s.
In fact, according to MIAA history, the 1939 women’s fencing squad, technically an intramural sport, beat the University of Michigan women’s fencing team.
Sadly, in the 1930s sports deteriorated at Olivet, and during World War II lack of male students took the college’s attention off of sports.
Membership to the MIAA was cancelled, until Olivet chose to rejoin the conference in 1952, with the addition of the WMIAA, the women’s counterpart of the conference.
Looking at Olivet’s early athletic history, one can see that athletics are very much part of the history of Olivet.