Football was still in its infancy in Mansfield 120 years ago when a group of college alumni set forth to host a game for the enjoyment of local residents. Mansfield High had only had a team for three years by this time and the local YMCA played games when given the opportunity over the previous ten years. On the national stage, it had only been 25 years since the original rules for American football were written. The sport was still four years away from President Teddy Roosevelt’s efforts to “minimalize the danger” of the game after the 1905 college season, which resulted in 19 player deaths and 137 serious injuries. Many may have been hoping for more of a spectacle than an enjoyable day at the game.
From the Shelby News, 13 December 1894
1897 Football Team, The Ohio State University, from the 1898 Makio.
Wellington Leonard spearheaded the effort to get a team to Mansfield for a Thanksgiving Day match-up. Leonard, along with fellow gridder Charles Benedict, had the distinction of playing on the worst Ohio State team ever. The 1897 team went 1-7-1. Leonard first attempted to get Mt. Union’s eleven to Mansfield for a contest. The Mt. Union team demanded a $50 guarantee and paid expenses to come to Mansfield. The guarantee proved to be too much and Leonard contacted Heidelberg College who would accept the offer and make the trip to Mansfield. This was not the first time a Mansfield eleven squared off against Heidelberg. In 1892 a team from the Mansfield YMCA sent their best to Tiffin to play Heidelberg in the college’s first season. Many in Mansfield expected the local boys to be slaughtered, but Mansfield prevailed winning 10-6. Heidelberg would get revenge in 1893, beating Mansfield 36-10.
Wellington Leonard and Charles Benedict
The weather was nearly perfect for the game and a “foot ball parade around town” proceed the contest. The players and fans rode carriages, the wailing of tin horns was heard, and the colors of both teams were on display, red for Mansfield. At 2:30 nearly 1000 fans assembled at baseball grounds after paying their admission, .50 for men and .25 for women and children, and watched one the best exhibitions of the sport Mansfield had seen to date. Prior to the game,0 Heidelberg was 2-to-1 favorites and it was understood that a considerable amount of money changed hands.
The starting eleven for the Mansfield All-Collegians was University of Wisconsin Alum, F. W. Oleson at left end; Thomas Hall, a Cornell man, at left tackle; George Hall at left guard, it’s unclear if the two were related; University of Pennsylvania alum, James H. Waganhurst at center; Frank Voegele at right guard; Elmer Fitch, who played on the Oberlin and Cornell teams, at right tackle; another Oberlin man and possibly the best athlete on the field, Howard Twitchell at right end; captain, Walter Floyd at quarterback; Charles Benedict started at left halfback next to his brother, Dr. LeRoy Benedict, at right halfback; and finally, Wellington Leonard filled in at fullback.
Elmer Fitch at Oberlin College
The first twenty-minute half was hard fought. Dr. Benedict ran hard, carrying the ball down to Heidelberg’s 25-yard line on one play. On the following play, Mansfield fumbled and Heidelberg picked the ball up and “ran like the wind for the Mansfield goal.” The fleet-footed Twitchell gave chase and made a spectacular tackle, saving a touchdown. Mansfield made another push for Heidelberg’s goal line but fumbled again. When the first half finished tied at 0-0, “Dr. Benedict had suffered several knockouts and one or two other men were slightly cut in the face and bruised.” Benedict, “pluckily decided to remain in the game.”
Before the second half started, the better-conditioned Heidelberg team tried to get the Mansfield men to play a thirty-minute half instead of twenty. Mansfield declined and the game resumed. Mansfield took a different approach in the second half. Instead of running around the end, they utilized their size advantage and drove the ball right up the middle. The Mansfield News reported that it appeared the Mansfield men were playing as if they were back in college. Dr. Benedict was again injured and had to be carried off the field. Oleson took his place in the backfield and Vivian Abernathy, the Mansfield High football coach in 1901, took Oleson’s spot. Just as time expired, Mansfield pushed the ball over the Heidelberg goal line, earning them 5 points and the game, but there may have been some disagreement as the official Heidelberg records list the result as a 0-0 tie. When the game ended, Dr. Benedict recovered enough to be able to walk to the street cars and Mansfield fans celebrated one of the finest games they had ever seen.
- The Mansfield News (Mansfield, Ohio). 29 November 1901.