Scholastic sports from its modest beginnings in the mid 1800’s has evolved into one of America’s favorite pastimes. School attendance became mandatory during this period, Massachusetts becoming the first state to make school attendance compulsory. Children participated in sports on their own, baseball and soccer the most popular.
The first high school team was organized in 1862 at Oneida High in Boston. The team played for three years but disbanded in 1865, but “this paved the way for high school sports,” said author Madison Haynes in his History of Scholastic Sports in America.
Soccer was apparently the most popular sport of the era. Playground leagues and boys’ clubs were organized in most major cities as the 20th Century approached.
“We learned on the outside court at the old Number 3 school,” said the late Sonny Landon, a star athlete at Crisfield High School from 1955-57. “We learned on our own. You’d see somebody do something and then you’d try it.” (The site of the old school is now the Food Lion.)
High school participation picked up across the country as baseball and football became increasingly popular.
Illinois (1900) and Indiana (1903) were the pioneers the first to establish athletic associations. Ohio and South Carolina followed suit in 1907. Maryland’s first State Association was founded in 1918 but soccer was the only sport to have a State tournament.
Crisfield made it to the State soccer title contest in 1928, 1935 and 1937. The Crabbers also advanced to the basketball final in 1933 and 1935 under the old open classification system when there was a Western Shore champ and an Eastern Shore champ. This format was discarded in 1947 when the Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association was inaugurated and the class system was formulated.
Basketball’s popularity burgeoned in the mid and central states with their small towns and farming communities. High school hoops ruled in states such as Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Illinois. Illinois launched the initial basketball state tournament, Indiana the birthplace of “Hoosier Hysteria” followed in 1911.
Basketball’s sovereignty in the Hoosier State is legendary, Hollywood put the story on the big screen in 1986 with the movie Hoosiers. The film was based on the exploits of Milan High, the first small school to win the state crown, in any state.
In the larger metropolitan areas with bigger schools, private leagues were formed including many Catholic school associations but in mid-America small town sports were alive and well. Farming was the major livelihood and most small schools were unable to support a fall sport. When winter rolled around and the harvest season was done, the people gathered to watch and support their high school basketball teams, it was the only game in town.
CHS sports thrived in the early years with several trips to State finals and Lower Shore titles in soccer and basketball and dominance in the County championship rivalry. Crisfield was able to hold its own against the larger schools in the pre-Bayside days. From 1954 to 1965 CHS was 35-19 in basketball against their larger opponents but there were many more small schools on the Shore. Crisfield scheduled teams from Delaware and Virginia until the 1970s when consolidation became the key axiom.
Delaware closed 12 small schools in Sussex County consolidating them into five new larger institutions. Schools such as J.M. Clayton, Millsboro and Selbyville became part of Indian River, Lake Forest, Cape Henlopen and others. Virginia shut down Atlantic, Parksley, Central and Onancock they became Nandua and Arcadia.
CHS had many of these schools on their schedule in the 1940s through the ’60s. Maryland had the same inspiration, in the lower three counties, 10 schools were relegated to middle school or elementary status. These downsizing policies had a decisive impact on sports bringing on the demise of the small school. “It’s not like it used to be even the schools in our class are much bigger,” said CHS Athletic Director Greg Bozman. — To be continued.