Part I

Sumter's sports history

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Sumter has had a rich sports history from its inception. The first quarter of the 20th century alone merits examination, in fact. Part I today begins a look back at some of the highlights of teams and athletes from that period, and the two-part series will conclude July 9.

• Competitive football arrived in our city with the opening of Sumter Military Academy in 1901. Their first game took place against North Carolina Military Academy in Red Springs. The cadets had to make the long trip and stayed overnight at the Hotel Townsend where they were well treated. The cadets did not reciprocate, however, defeating their brothers from the north 5-0 (each score accounted for one point). The cadets continued play and consistently excelled on the playing field until the school closed in 1902.

• In July of 1907, led by the efforts of Marshall Moore, Sumter formed a baseball team for this city to compete in the Inter-State League. His plans were to organize a team for this city and secure several quality players from other areas, with the balance of the team made up of local talent. He began work on repairing the "old ball park" by first building a fence to enclose the park and putting the grandstand in a state of readiness. Manager Moore was the principal of the Barnwell Institute, thus assuring Sumter would play good, clean ball and "the sport would be conducted on a plane to make it popular with the best class of people." He proclaimed that there was no better advertisement for a city than a good, clean baseball team.

• In January of 1907 several promoters decided to build a horse track in Sumter. They worked quietly and planned to make the facility the best in the state. The course had been graded and an attractive fence had been erected around the grounds. The old stables at the site were to be replaced and a handsome new building was to be constructed. Under the new management many thoroughbreds with famous pedigrees were scheduled to arrive and begin daily training.

The new facility was chartered under the name of the Sumter Turf Exchange and had ample financial backing. The track was located at the foot of Liberty Street, just beyond the old Bradford mill pond. The site was higher than Sumter and trailed around a basin, which afforded an unobstructed view from all points of the track. The race track would be mile in length. A straight line 956 feet long was marked out in the middle of the grounds; from each end of this line a semicircle with a radius of 323 feet staked out - each stake 10 feet apart form the posts of the fence inside the track.

• Sumter's new entry in the Inter-State Baseball league won the season's pennant by defeating Florence 2 to 1. The final standings saw Sumter at the top of the standings with a record of 44 wins against 23 loses, Orangeburg was second, Spartanburg third, and Florence finished fourth.

• The Sumter High Gamecocks got into the action on the 31st of March 1909 by defeating Florence High 13-0 led by the efforts of several players including Jones, Upshur, Schwartz and John Duffie, who garnered three hits and registered eight put-outs.

• Horse racing had become an exciting event held on Salem Avenue (New Street), with four or five heats often being run. The avenue is well clayed and judged to be ideal for racing both horses and automobiles. "It is nothing unusual for automobiles to run at their capacity. Twenty miles an hour is slow for them. Residents insisted that the police department give the people with children some protection."

• On May 10, 1911, Sumter High School baseball disbanded due to non-support of the city. The team played five games this season, winning two and losing three, and had several more games on its schedule that were canceled when the team was forced to disband due to lack of funds.

• The 1912-13 Sumter Bowling Team was crowned state champions. The team consisted of Hal W. Harby, H.L. Birchard, Harry Reid, O.H. Folley, J.A. McKnight, Willie Cuttino and Waverly Levy.

• On April 12, 1916, Dalzell would prove successful in defeating all other contestants on Field Day with Norwood and Concord finishing second and third respectively. Dalzell won the meet by eight points over its nearest competitor. The meet was held at the ball park and run by E.T. White, physical director of the Y.M.C.A. He completed the meet despite the drizzling rain that was prevalent during the entire length of the contest.

Source: Sumter Item archives

Reach Sumter Item Archivist Sammy Way at waysammy@yahoo.com or (803) 774-1294.