They appear to be wearing shin guards somewhat akin to what baseball catchers wear today. Their pants appear to have some padding, some are holding leather helmets, and their thick shirts have large turtlenecks. There are a couple who appear to be holding “noseguards.”
They are the 15 members of Hillsboro High School’s first football team in 1903.
A picture of the team was sent to The Times-Gazette on Wednesday by Christopher S. Duckworth, a Hillsboro native and executive editor and director of publications for the Columbus Museum of Art.
Duckworth said he came across the photo because he’s going through several items that belonged to his great-aunt, Sarah Ella “Byrde” Ayres, who was a professional photographer with a studio on North High Street in Hillsboro many years ago. Her brother, and Duckworth’s grandfather, Edwin Billingham Ayres, was an avid amateur photographer and processed photographs commercially at his drugstore on East Main Street in Hillsboro.
Duckworth said he had no information on the 1903 team or its members.
But in his 1964 seminar paper at Ohio University titled “A History of the South Central Ohio High School Athletic League,” Paul Edwin Maple wrote this: “Football made its first recorded appearance in 1903 and that fall several schools fielded their initial gridiron teams. Chillicothe had both varsity and reserve squads, and played some of the smaller schools of the area with their reserve unit. Hillsboro seemed to have one of the stronger teams of the 1903 season, for they blasted the first Greenfield squad twice during the year by scores of 60 to 5 and 16 to 0.”
Maple does not record anything else about that 1903 football season, but he does shed some light on the early history of high school athletics in the area.
The earliest track meet of record that Maple was able to find was from the third annual Central Ohio Interscholastic Athletic League meet held in the spring of 1903. He says teams representing Hillsboro, Washington, Greenfield, Frankfort, Chillicothe and Williamsport participated.
Baseball, according to Maple, made the local interscholastic scene in the spring of 1904 when Wilmington met Greenfield in a five-game series. Wilmington won the first game 4-2, Greenfield won the second game 6-0, Wilmington won the third game 3-1, and Greenfield took the series by winning the last two games by scores of 8-1 and 5-3.
Football at Hillsboro High School, meanwhile, was disbanded not long after its initial appearance on the interscholastic scene after a Hillsboro graduate died from injuries suffered in a college football game.
Maple wrote: “Richard F. Evans, a six-foot, 185-pound youth in his second year of college at Wooster, was injured in a football game in Cleveland between his school and Western Reserve University. It was the first game of the season, in the fall of 1907, for the always-active youth. He made a flying tackle, without the benefit of today’s modern protective gear, and hit his man with his head instead of his shoulder. The diagnosis at the time was a fractured neck, which left Evans paralyzed from his neck down for a period of 30 days before his death. The game at the time was a rough and tumble affair without shoulder pads and protective gear. Even the helmets were merely leather coverings that gave no real protection.
“Wooster College quit playing football the following year. Since young Dick was a resident of Hillsboro and was well known, people decided football was too dangerous for the good that came from the game. The Hillsboro School Board outlawed football and the ruling continued until 1916.”
Years later, a portion of the former Washington school grounds in Hillsboro was donated to the school by Richard Evans’ parents and a large, stone moment was erected overlooking the dedicated portion. The monument reads: “Evans Field. This portion of the school grounds was given by Mr. and Mrs. J.W. Evans in memory of their son, Richard F. Evans, who was killed in a football game in the year 1907.”
At the monument’s dedication in 1960, R.E. Evans, a younger brother of Richard, pointed out the family’s belief in the value of sports by leaving the permanent memorial dedicated to athletics, according to Maple.
Football has continued to be played at Hillsboro for nearly 100 years now after it was re-established.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.