Exploring the 150-year History of Freed-Hardeman University
Beginning in the late 1920s, Freed-Hardeman fielded intercollegiate teams in baseball and in men’s and women’s basketball. Their original green and white uniforms were eventually replaced by maroon and white. The men’s team was called “Lions,” and women’s teams were “Lionesses” in the 1930s.
Late in the decade, James White, a Lakota Indian, enrolled at FHC. President N.B. Hardeman, who was holding a gospel meeting in Detroit, had met him and learned that White desired to do mission work among his fellow Native Americans. Hardeman encouraged him to come to Henderson in preparation for this work. White, his wife and four children moved and he attended classes at no charge. The Gospel Advocate heard about him and ran an article encouraging Christians to support him.
Perhaps to repay the college for the tuition, White, who had been a minor league player in the Western League, agreed to coach the baseball team. He coached and played catcher in a short, four-game season in 1929 and in the inaugural season in the Mississippi Valley Conference in 1930. Competing primarily against two other West Tennessee teams, Bethel and Lambuth, FHC won two more games than it lost. Their coach was known on campus as “Chief” White.
Arguably the best FHC athlete of the decade was Kerby Farrell, who played baseball and basketball and coached the women’s basketball team in 1933. He was team captain and starting guard on the basketball team which lost only one game that year.
Farrell went on to a long career in professional baseball. He played two years in the major leagues in the 1940s and managed the Cleveland Indians in 1957. He was also an award-winning manager in the minor leagues. Throughout his career, Farrell visited campus and appeared in chapel, promising FHC students free tickets if they were ever in cities where he managed.
In 1931, FHC began a brief foray into intercollegiate football. Laurent Johnson, a graduate of Lambuth and a star athlete, came to FHC as the athletic supervisor. He coached the basketball teams and began a football team. Home field occupied what is now known as Bader Green. Twenty-seven students tried out for the first football team; three-fourths of them had never before played football. The team was not only inexperienced; they were also under-sized.
Nevertheless, approximately 2,000 people showed up in Jackson to see FHC play Lambuth in FHC’s first-ever football game. Surprisingly, the game ended in a scoreless tie. The student newspaper reported, “The Freed-Hardeman Lions plucked the plumage from the vaunted Lambuth Eagles and won a great moral victory by holding the experienced Jackson gridders to a scoreless tie throughout a hard fought game.”
Information and quotations come from Dr. Greg Massey’s recently published “By the Grace of God: The Story of Freed-Hardeman University.”