How football first began in Evansville

Local Sports


EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT) – Evansville football has now become a tradition for families for more than 100 years. The high flying offenses and organized Friday night events are actually something that took a long time to develop.

It was the late 1800’s when the word football was first uttered in town, and as history shows the first few years were very rough.

It was only a few decades after the country was finally connected by rail, and a few decades before World War 1 that football came to Evansville.

“The schools at the time were playing basketball, baseball mostly. This is a new thing where a bunch of guys would get together and form a team,” said Willard Library Historian Stan Schmitt.

It was 1894 that football is first recorded, being played by club teams, or a group of guys who just decided to get together. High schoolers played whoever they could, no matter how old.

“One year in the early 1900’s, Evansville High School played Vincennes University twice. Once up there, and once down here. They beat them both times,” recalled Schmitt.

The age gap, and distance mattered because rules were still being learned. It was common in the early 1900’s to see a rule book like this for fans to be able to follow along, and things were simpler than what we know as football today.

“There’s no passing. It’s all a ground game. It’s more equivalent of what we think of a rugby game. They would pile on. People got hurt. People got killed,” said Schmitt.

The rough nature of the game became a grim reality one Fall day in 1908 involving the local YMCA.

“In November of that year they were playing a team from Henderson. Albert Daugherty, ended up at the bottom of the pile. He came out paralyzed and died a few days later. Right after that happened, the high school made it mandatory that the parents had to give permission for their kids to play. Most of the people refused.”

The details of the death and parent reaction were covered extensively in the Evansville Press at the time.

It would be the following year that Indiana as a state began to regulate football on the high school level. 

Both the Spanish Flu and World War 1 also played a big role in slowing high school football down in the early 1900’s, but once the city was able to grow and add more high school in the 20’s football did along with it, becoming what we know today.

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