This year the Geneva Historical Society’s exhibit theme is “Sports in Geneva.”
There will be three exhibits. The first, opening in February, is “Panthers & Saints: High School Sports in Geneva.” That will be followed this summer by “Statesmen, Herons, & Lakers: College Sports in Geneva.” Opening in June, “Come Out & Play: Sports in Geneva” will cover everything from youth to adult sports.
There are many sports that spring to mind. Geneva has always been a lacrosse town. Baseball has had waves of popularity over the last 150 years. Football and basketball have remained steady. Soccer continues to grow, especially at the youth league level.
In addition to these sports, the Geneva Sports Hall of Fame recognizes athletes from bowling, boxing, cheerleading, golf, softball, swimming, track and field, trap shooting, wrestling and tennis. Inductees include coaches and people who made special contributions to local sports. Many inductees will be included in the exhibits, blogs and videos during the year.
There are local sporting tales that have been forgotten. In the late 1870s, pedestrianism, or competitive walking, was America’s popular sport. Geneva had its share of athletes and events. In 1879 there was a 100-hour walking match on the third floor of the Dove Block. Athletes had to complete at least 200 miles, at 32 laps per mile, to be eligible for prize money. During the event there were shorter races and brass bands to entertain the spectators.
In the same decade, rowing was a high-stakes sport that attracted large crowds. Races varied from three to five miles, with prize money ranging from $250 to $2,000. Thousands of dollars were gambled on the outcomes. Charles Courtney of Union Springs was the national singles champion. His local competition was James Dempsey, a blacksmith. They challenged each other numerous times and there was much drama around their races. According to the Geneva newspapers, Courtney always had a boat failure and the judges declared, “No race, no prize” for Dempsey.
Cycling was the craze by the end of the 1800s. National races were reported in the local newspapers; more research is needed to find local races. In addition to competition, cycling was popular as transportation and recreation. It was good for business, not only at hardware stores (often the main retailers for bikes) but at clothing stores as well. Women took to bicycles in great numbers, and shops sold special cycling dresses.
People have always enjoyed throwing things. Whether the game is bocce, horseshoes, quoits (similar to horseshoes but with metal rings), bowling or cornhole, the attraction is the same. It can be as relaxed or competitive as you want to make it, and it’s best enjoyed with a group of people.
Youth sports are more organized than 80 years ago. Little League baseball is the best-known organization. There are leagues for most sports now, starting at kindergarten age. There are pros and cons to teams, coaches and leagues, which we would like to hear about. One effect is that school teams are harder to join in middle and high school if children haven’t been playing the sport since age 5.
I think adult sports blur the lines among sports, recreation and fitness. Running, cycling, bodybuilding and endurance events that combine activities are on the rise. The definition is less important than the experience. What do you do and why do you like it?
Results and statistics can be found in yearbooks and newspapers. However, the Historical Society wants to tell the stories behind the box scores, and stories behind sports that didn’t make the newspapers. Do you have photos, equipment, or stories? Spectators are part of the story – what was the best game, match, or race you saw? Share your memories and current experiences with us this year.
Marks is the curator of collections at the Geneva Historical Society.