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Today's Tidbit... 1911 Eastern Michigan Athletes And Their Impact On Football
Eastern Michigan University has a long and proud history. Founded in 1849, it was America's fourth normal school, the first outside of New England, and the first normal school to offer a four-year curriculum in 1899. Based in Ypsilanti, a neighbor of Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan played only six times between 1896 and 1998, contributing to the 102-year gap between the teams' first meeting and the Eagles scoring their first points in the series.
But we are not here to talk about the Maize and Blue. Instead, our focus is Ypsilanti Normal's 1911 football team, coached by Dwight Wilson in his first and only year at the helm. Returning eight of eleven starters, four left the team early due to parental objection to their playing, and others suffered injuries that limited their play. Their up-and-down season ended with a 3-4 record.
Notable among the Ypsi Normal players was Elton Rynearson, a sophomore left end who also played baseball and was a two-time basketball captain. He played minor league baseball for a bit before assisting in football. In 1917, he became the football and basketball head coach. Despite a few gap years, he coached football for 26 years and basketball for 21 before taking over as athletic director for another 15 years. Rynearson earned a 114-58-15 record in football, along with five conference titles. Eastern Michigan's football stadium was named in his honor when it opened in 1969.
Despite Rynearson's many accomplishments, another student-athlete at Ypsi Normal in 1911 had a greater impact on football and other sports than Rynearson. That individual was Lloyd Olds, a cross country runner in the fall of 1911 and Ypsi's track captain in 1912 when he set the school record in the half-mile run.
After graduation, Olds earned a Ph.D. in Public Health at Michigan and returned to Eastern Michigan as a faculty member and track coach in 1921. By then, he had officiated football and basketball games for a decade, wearing the white shirt and black bow tie typical for officials of the day. However, since football and basketball teams of the period were beginning to wear white jerseys during games, players periodically tossed the ball to Olds or his fellow white-shirted officials, thinking they were a teammate.
To solve that problem, Olds ordered a custom-made shirt with vertical black-and-white stripes. In time, Olds' zebra shirt became the standard in football, basketball, hockey, wrestling, and other sports. Except for some leagues, the design remains the standard in those sports 100 years later.
So, despite Elton Rynearson's substantial impact on football at Eastern Michigan, the track captain and track coach had a more widespread and lasting impact on the game.
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