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The Game of Football and Marietta College
As the nineteenth century neared its close, students at Marietta College were already more than familiar with what later became known as football. First played as the so-called “American Game” with a large round ball, the contests often included the entire student body competing over large tracts of campus between the old Academy and Dorm buildings and with two old Sycamore trees serving as one of the goals.
With the College’s purchase of the property below Butler Street in 1891, interest in athletics continued to grow. Football, in a form more familiar to the modern day sportsman, was first introduced by Joseph Manley. Arriving from Harvard to teach Greek, he organized Marietta’s first squads and in 1894, while serving as both coach and quarterback, guided the Navy Blue and White to one its most storied victories; a 16-6 rout of West Virginia at Parkersburg.
Those early years were filled with conquests of highly regarded opponents and the exploits of the College’s gridiron heroes took center stage. No moment surpassed the drama of Petey Gilman’s fabled forward pass against Ohio University at the Fairgrounds in 1906. His touchdown toss of 52 yards to Verne Moses, one of the first aerials in the history of the game, has become legend.
Indeed, while playing in a variety of locations, Marietta forged an enviable record over its first three decades playing the game posting winning records in 23 of its first 32 seasons.
By 1916, the Pioneers shifted their game days to a location at Fifth and Greene Streets. This site hosted not only football, but baseball and the occasional track meet. Known as the old Marietta Athletic Field, the venue was primitive at best and contests were played within the confines of high board fences with almost no seating available for spectators.
College Field, as it came to be known, remained home to Pioneer football even as The Great Depression settled over the region and Pioneer football fell on its own hard times. However, while the economic outlook continued to be uncertain, an opportunity presented itself for the local community and the College to join together with the Federal Works Progress Administration to transform the field into a stadium. Construction, funded by the WPA, the city, the College and the high school, began early in 1934 and soon a tiered concrete stadium seating approximately 3,000 was complete with a cinder track ringing the field and lights installed for night play.
Dedicated October 5, 1934, Municipal Stadium proved a worthy setting for Pioneer athletics, high school sports and community activities. Granted preferential scheduling in perpetuity by virtue of donating the property, the College took full advantage of the new facility though never able to consistently rekindle the gridiron magic of its turn-of-the-century predecessors.
Even as the College sought to rebuild its football fortunes, it became the principle caretaker of the stadium with the City eventually leasing it to Marietta in 1966. While still guaranteeing community access to the ballpark, the College requested permission to re-name it in honor of one of its iconic athletes, coaches and administrators and on September 24, 1966 the re-dedication of Don Drumm Stadium took place.
By 1968, the magic was back. The Pioneers completed a dazzling 7-2 campaign and a year later the 1969 team topped that by delivering the best season since Petey Gilman’s hay day. Sustaining that level of play proved impossible, but even during the depths of a losing streak that extended almost four full seasons in the early 1980’s, Don Drumm Stadium never lost its ability to generate excitement.
In fact, it has always been the case. While won-lost records have experienced more ups and downs than the stock market, classic individual performances remain a constant.
How about Dallas Garber’s six touchdowns and forty points against Washington and Jefferson in 1959? Remember Dante Brown’s signature game when he ripped through Baldwin-Wallace for a NCAA record 441 yards in 1996?
Through it all, Municipal later Don Drumm Stadium has been a constant. While oversight of the facility has gone back and forth between the College, Board of Education and Port Authority, the ballyard at the corner of Fifth and Pike Streets continues to serve the needs of both the Pioneers and their community neighbors.
As recently as 2004, it was once more transferred to the ownership of the College setting in motion the most extensive of its many renovations. The installation of Field Turf and a state-of-the-art track not only elevated the venues for Pioneer and Marietta High School student-athletes, but attracted the 2009 Division Three Track and Field Championships as well.
And now, even as Don Drumm Stadium marks the 76th anniversary of its original dedication, yet another chapter in its ongoing evolution is about to be written. Thanks to the generosity and vision of The Chlapaty Family, the most significant renovation in its long and storied history is set to infuse new life into the southeast Ohio landmark and the programs that call it their home field.