Walter Camp was born April 7, 1859. As a boy Camp wasn't particularly athletic nor strong, but he loved sports and wanted to excel in them, so he set himself a personal regimen. Every morning he did calesthentics and in the afternoon went on long runs on the roads around New Haven, Connecticut. During recess he kicked his black football around the school yard. His youthful discipline paid off. When he was seventeen he entered Yale and was an out-standing half-back on the football team who could run, pass, and kick. But he didn't limit his playing to football. He also played baseball, ran track, swam, played tennis and rowed in his class crew. Oh, yes, he also wrote verse and was the class poet.
But football was his first love and, as a representative of Yale in conference with other schools he was responsible for the development of certain important football rules and procedures such as reducing the number of men on a team from fifteen to eleven, instituting the scrimmage system and establishing the position of quarterback. He was a member of the Football Rules Committee and is known as the father of modern football.
After dropping out of medical school he got a job with the New Haven Clock Company, a connection which he maintained the rest of his life, rising from the position of clerk to president of the company. When he was about 30 he became head football coach and athletic director at Yale. Because he had to tend to his business during the day when the team practiced, most of his work as coach was done at home in the evening when the other coaches would stop by. His winning record at Yale, the best of any college in the country, established football as the major college sport.
But remember those poems he used to write in college? He still enjoyed writing, and in his spare time, between running the clock company and coaching football, he turned out books about football for boys, books that grew out of his knowledge of the game and of the young men who played for him at Yale. Some of these books were instructional, such as Football Without a Coach, written mainly for grammar school and high school boys who wanted to play the game, but most of them were novels, which followed a main character, such as Dick Goddard or Danny Phipps, a red-headed, hot tempered young athlete, through his college athletic career. In these books, Camp reaches back to his own youth creating a young hero who goes to Yale, full of the desire to excel and makes good on the team, just as Camp himself had done at seventeen.
Copyright 2005© Rita Smith
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