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Furman Athletics in WWII

The most immediate and significant aspect of the war- in relation to Furman- was the draft. Immediately after the war began in December of 1941, Furman started to lose male students to the war. The numbers of men lost slowly increased from the beginning of the war in 1941 until its end in 1945. The loss of men proved to be devastating to Furman’s athletic program; with the loss of student athletes, Furman was unable to compete in varsity athletics for most of the war.

The Furman football was a national powerhouse in the 1920’s and 1930’s and defeated some of the best teams in the nation. In 1927, Furman captured the state championship over Clemson and South Carolina and placed an astounding 9 players on the all-state squad. Furman returned to state dominance in 1933 but shared the crown with Clemson. The 1940 season marked Furman’s 20th consecutive winning season, a statistic that did not change until World War II.

On December 7,1941, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and brought America into the war. This was around the time Furman finished its first losing season in two decades with a disappointing season of 3-4-2. Immediately Furman began to lose male students to the war: some enlisted others were drafted, but every student over the age of 18 was subject to the call of duty at any time. For the football team this basically meant that every player on the team could be drafted except for freshman. It is never a good thing to lose upper classman in a physically demanding sport like football where age is critical to a players’ physical development.Furman even went to the extent of having a separate freshman to keep them off the field. There was not a freshman team in 1943 when Furman fielded the smallest team in its history and experienced its worst season ever, winning only two games and losing 9. In the spring of 1943, head football (and baseball) coach Dizzy McCloud was forced to cancel spring practice because of the devastating loss of players. He was also forced to cancel the 1943 season. Furman would not return to varsity competition until the fall of 1946.

Although football was the sport most dramatically affected by the war, it was not the only sport that was barred from varsity competition. The Furman basketball team did not compete during the ‘43 and ‘44 season and could not finish the 1942 season. The team suffered their first blow at the end of the season when they lost five players to the draft. Around the same time their head coach, Bob Smith, left the team for the war. With half their team and their coach at gone, the basketball team had to forfeit the rest of the 1942 season and could not compete again until 1945. Their return was anything but glorious, fielding a team of seven players and winning only two of nineteen games.

Track, tennis and baseball were also canceled because of the war, and from 1942 to 1945, Furman did not have one sanctioned varsity team. But sports did exist during this time- even though they were not official. An intramural league was established in place of the absence of the athletic program and provided students a chance to compete in basketball, baseball and football. In 1943, Furman added a physical education program and forced all students to participate. In this program students swam, ran and performed other activities that would be better prepare their minds and bodies for war. The physical education program was not canceled until the spring of 1945.

Works Cited

Reid, Alfred Sandlin. Furman University-Toward a New Identity 1925-1975. Duke University Press: Durham, 1976.

The Hornet, Vol. 27, September 1940 – May 1941.

The Hornet, Vol. 28, September 1941- May 1942.

The Catalogue. (The Furman Bulletin)-v. 23-28, 1940-1945, Special Collections, James B. Duke Library, Furman University.