The days of innocence in football


Following is Part II of a look back at the life and career of L.C. Moise, the Sumter community's first coach of organized football. This excerpt from Moise's autobiography was published shortly after he wrote it in 1950.

The first year a coach was paid at Sumter High School was 1925. Giff Shaw recalls from his coaching days that the merchants were asked to subscribe 50 cents, and that the Sumter Dry Goods was a standby, always cheerfully donating this annual stipend! The first official expenditure for equipment was made in 1923, when Giff Shaw purchased four pairs of shoes in Florence, hoping that he would be reimbursed from the game that day.

He was.

Giff tells of a game played in Marion that had to be delayed pending the arrival of the backfield whose car had a blown tire. He also tells with characteristic modesty of the first game he recalls when Columbia beat Sumter in 1924. The opponents were using a delayed end run which Sumter could not stop. The score was 14 to 0 for Columbia. A player from another city told Giff how to stop the play. Final score: Columbia 14, Sumter 13. Giff tells with tears in his voice of the only game he lost in '25, when some of the Charleston players, having discovered where the Sumterites were eating, seasoned food with a liberal component of croton oil.

Before 1910 the football fields had to be used as we found them. Across one of the gridirons, in Florence there was a narrow drainage ditch into which the players stumbled, and plays piled up. In Columbia, we played on clay and rocks. Goal-posts were placed on the goal lines. They were made of two-by-fours, sometimes wrapped with cheesecloth. West Collins became famous for breaking off the posts by butting into them with his head or by butting the railings off a board fence. In this way, he struck terror in the hearts of his opponents.

In those days, there was no forward passing, and there were very few regulations in force for the protection of players, so the game was far more hazardous than it is today. Mass plays were used frequently and on offensive plays. Hands could be used for shoving the ball-carrier through the line. If he could not get through by this means, his teammates could hurdle him across the line catching him up by his belt-straps. The ball was not "down" until the carrier, when he was being thrown back, cried "down" and until the referee heard him and blew his whistle. The offensive team could push its ball-carrier the length of the field if the opponents could not stop the play.

Those were the days of innocence in the game of football. Players were not "induced" to attend certain schools because of their athletic ability. They were not made heroes by alumni or fans, nor were thousands of dollars spent annually for their equipment or maintenance. Coaches did not resort to shady devices to win games at any cost. There was no fanfare of marching bands, flying banners, cheering sections or great stadia filled with wildly shouting friends and admirers.

In the absence of all these things the players derived more benefit and enjoyment from the game than do those of today, for they played more for the sake of the sport than merely to win. Then it was their game. All the expense, all the work, every arrangement had been theirs. All when the comparison narrows down to the game itself, it is highly questionable whether the spectacle of today with all its development is better or more enjoyable than that of 1901.

In closing, I should like to relate an incident if I may be pardoned for the personal reference. On a certain Friday in the fall we were to play a game with the high school of Florence. That morning I received a telegram from the coach, a former member of the University of Virginia team, saying that due to many injuries his team could not play unless he, the coach, would be allowed to play. As I had always longed to play again, I answered that it suited me fine; for it meant that I, too, could play. On the kick-off, the Florence coach received the ball, but when he got up to the 30-yard stripe, my 225-pound center, Willie Burns, plunged his shoulder into the coach's midriff, which put him out of the entire game, and I got more football than I had yearned for.

I am afraid you will ask me who won the game, Sumter 18, Florence 0. But make no mistake: The coach did not win the game. The star of that day was Sumter's center.

Reach Sumter Item Archivist Sammy Way at or (803) 774-1294.