From the VANG Files: Football in the 1950s
The VANG is very lucky that a number of years ago someone had the foresight to pack away and save all of the paper State Headquarters documents from the 1920s to the early 1960s.
With the NFL and college seasons drawing to a close with playoffs and championships starting, it seems appropriate to delve into the VANG files. The Virginia National Guard has a long history of involvement with football.
After WWI ended and the soldiers were waiting to come home, sports seemed the perfect way to keep them busy and out of trouble. Football was a favorite and each division quickly trained and fielded teams. With a large number of college athletes in the ranks and officer corps, there were some very talented teams. The 29th Division’s team lost to the 36th Division in the First Army Championship game on a very muddy field by a score of 3 to nothing.
The 36th’s team would eventually go on to lose the AEF Championship game to the Third Army’s 89th Division team coached by George “Potsy” Clark. Clark later gained fame as the coach of the National Football League’s Detroit Lions. Quarterbacking that championship team was a young officer named Charles H. Gerhardt who would later command the 29th Infantry Division on D-Day. The assistant 29th Infantry Division Commander on 6 June 1944 was Norman Cota who had played on the same West Point football team with Dwight D. Eisenhower.
After WWII ended, and faced again with long waiting periods, football became an important outlet for the soldiers. And as you can see, once again the 29th was faced off against the 36th Division. I hope they won this time.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s the Blue Devil Teams from Hopewell were a state football powerhouse. Recognizing the potential pool of recruits, the VANG recruiters did their best to get as many of the players as they could into the ranks.
As a result, when Hopewell’s Company E, 176th Infantry Regiment went to annual training they always brought a football along for down-time as these two photo clippings from the VANG historical files show:
It’s probably a good thing that they didn’t hit the observation plane with the football; the accident report would have been a real nightmare to write up and to affix blame.
Till next time when we will walk again through the history of the Virginia National Guard; one event or one document at a time.
Alexander F. Barnes
CW4 (ret), VaARNG
VANG Command Historian
VA National Guard Historical Foundation