Play Ball! Inter-scholastic Athletics Arrives at FHC

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Exploring the 150-year History of Freed-Hardeman University

After years of disdain for inter-scholastic athletic competition, Freed-Hardeman University president N.B. Hardeman changed his mind. A special athletic edition of The Sky-Rocket made the announcement Feb. 15, 1926.
“Inter-scholastic athletics for Freed-Hardeman College is no longer a thing to be desired because of its absence or wished for but not obtained, for it is now an actual, established fact. Though hard to believe it is none the less true, and delight is registered on every hand as the inevitable result of its adoption,” the paper reported.
A student-faculty meeting held in the latter part of December 1925 brought to public discussion the topic long discussed in private by students. The student newspaper estimated that 95 percent of male students attended the meeting held in the library and chaired by Hardeman. Joe Rainey, president of the Athletic Association, presented the case for inter-scholastic competition. According to Rainey, it would benefit enrollment and “bring the school in closer contact with the outside world.” Other students followed Rainey, giving their support to the proposal.
When Hardeman arose to speak, he revealed that since he had anticipated the topic of the night’s discussion, just the night before the faculty had met to consider the matter. Furthermore, he said, it had met the approval of every faculty member present. 
“Athletics, as is the case of everything else, can be engaged in a manner that may bring harmful or beneficial results,” Hardeman said. He announced that he was willing to give the matter a trial. “Should this trial meet with success, well and good. But, if it fails to measure up with the proper standards, then it shall of necessity be discontinued.”
A boys’ basketball team began inter-scholastic play in January, seemingly against high school teams.  The Sky-Rocket reports games against Savannah High School and Jackson High School. According to the paper, in the first four games played, the team, captained by Rainey, had scored 152 points or a “point-a-minute.” 
By the late 1920’s FHC had constructed a two-story building consisting of a dining hall on the first floor and a gymnasium on the second. The upper floor contained a basketball court, dressing rooms, showers and balconies that could seat up to 400 spectators.  The facility benefited both students and the town. A traveling basketball team called Olson’s Terrible Swedes visited the campus in 1930 and played the Henderson Independents. “The gymnasium is fast becoming the sports rendezvous of the community,” The Sky-Rocket reported. The college responded by expanding balcony seating so that the facility could accommodate 600 spectators.
The dining hall/ gymnasium combination currently serves as the home of FHU’s Department of Music. The first floor houses classrooms, offices, piano practice rooms and space for digital recording. The former gymnasium has been converted into a rehearsal hall for the University Chorale. It is also used as the site for recitals and other musical performances. Although the ceiling has been lowered, some of the brick has been exposed and the original basketball court remains as the floor.
Information has been taken from the Feb. 15, 1926 student newspaper, The Sky-Rocket, and Dr. Greg Massey’s recently published “By the Grace of God: The Story of Freed-Hardeman University.”