Maryland Terrapin fans are proud of their wonderfully rich tradition of intercollegiate athletics at College Park. The men’s and women’s programs recently notched national championships in basketball, and the football team made another bowl appearance this past December. University of Maryland athletics have been sponsored in College Park since the institution’s conception in 1920, but the genesis of the program can be traced back to the Baltimore campus in 1896.
Formation of college and university athletic teams accelerated in the latter part of the 19th century, following the initial 1869 football contest between Rutgers and Princeton. At the University of Maryland in Baltimore, the effort began in the summer of 1894 when the clinical assistants from University Hospital organized a football club and began scrimmaging at Druid Hill Park. Their first formal contest—and victory—came in the fall against a team sponsored by the Maryland Athletic Club, and later that year they played two games against a squad assembled by the Hopkins Hospital Dispensary.
The time was ripe for something more formal, as the well-established medical school was enjoying the company of law and dentistry departments whose enrollments were on the rise. During the 1895-96 school year, Norfleet Gibbs, a senior medical student, announced that he was forming a university football team that would bring together the three departments. The faculty applauded the effort, and together with the students they created an executive committee for a University of Maryland Athletic Association. Over the next two years there would be considerable expansion, as the University of Maryland fielded teams in baseball, ice hockey, track, tennis, and basketball. Opponents included St. Johns College, Navy, Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, and the Maryland State College of Agriculture. There were also a few contests against long-distance opponents Rutgers and the University of North Carolina.
As Maryland’s campus continued to grow, so too did its school pride. While there is no evidence of ever having a mascot, the university did have school colors. Around 1890, dental student William Oakley Haines was preparing a specimen plate. In an attempt to set the work apart from that of his classmates, Haines selected maroon and black for the colors of his model. A dental supply vendor passed by and asked Haines if he could tell him the school’s colors. His response was spontaneous: “maroon and black.” The following day the vendor returned with yards of maroon and black ribbon that he sold to students for five cents, and the colors were formally adopted a short time later. A number of fight songs and cheers were also written. They appeared in the school’s annual yearbook Terra Mariae. A stanza from one of the songs reveals the university’s pride: We’re made of stuff that can’t be beat, we’ll make old ________ wipe our feet.
Time, however, was working against athletics on the Baltimore campus. Editors of the 1912 Terra Mariae complained that the athletic association had never fielded a team truly worthy of their university. This was due, they argued, to a disorganized association and the absence of meaningful faculty support. But most participants knew a better reason. Lacking an undergraduate program, enrollment in extra-curricular activities began to wane as academic programs became more rigorous for these professional students. During the 1890s the medical school curriculum expanded from two to four years with considerable increases in academic requirements. Students found it too difficult to concentrate on their studies and maintain a commitment to their teams.
The 1920 merger of Baltimore’s professional schools with College Park’s blossoming undergraduate program created the University of Maryland Baltimore and College Park. The existing athletics program in College Park continued to operate, but now under the University of Maryland title transferred from Baltimore’s campus. The staff included Harry Clifton “Curley” Byrd, hired as football coach in 1911. Byrd would serve as university president from 1935 to 1954.
The University of Maryland athletics program in Baltimore did have one nationally recognized sports figure, although he wouldn’t live long enough to enjoy his fame. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham, ’05, played outfield on Maryland’s 1904 and 1905 baseball teams. He was also a minor league baseball player with the New York Giants. Graham was called up to the major leagues at the end of the 1905 season and played just one inning without recording an at-bat. His story was re-told in the 1988 movie Field of Dreams starring Kevin Costner with Burt Lancaster playing Graham. In the film, Costner’s character explains to Graham that his brief five-minute stint in the major leagues was considered a tragedy by many people, as Graham was denied his lifelong dream of hitting against a major-league pitcher. The distinguished physician, who practiced general medicine in Chisholm, Minnesota, until his death in 1965, replies: “Son, if I had been a doctor for only five minutes, now that would have been a tragedy.”