Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Yes, Dwight Eisenhower was the St. Mary's Football Coach

Dwight Eisenhower first played football as a youngster in Kansas. Though it was never his life's passion to be a football star, he was a lifelong fan of the game. The young Midwesterner soon became a football star at West Point. In 1912 Eisenhower was a running back on an army team that included Omar Bradley. He was nicknamed the "Kansas Cyclone," and a New York Times correspondent called him one of the most promising backs in the East. An injury during a game against Tufts ended Eisenhower's football career at the academy during his freshman year.

After graduation in 1915, the newly commissioned lieutenant received orders to report to Fort Sam Houston. During the fall of that year, Eisenhower was approached by Peacock Military Academy to coach its football team. The school offered him $150 for the season, a tidy sum considering a lieutenant's pay. At first he refused because he felt, as an army officer, he would have no time for football. The head of the academy was a friend of post commander General Frank Funston. Funston learned of the offer and asked Eisenhower to accept it, citing it would be good for the army. The new coach won recognition for his handling of the prep stars. A San Antonio Express correspondent wrote, "Those who have seen this officer operate with a football squad believe him to be one of the best coaches in Texas — bar none." The army officer delivered a winning season for the 1915 Peacock Military Academy football team.

Lt. Eisenhower in his Army Uniform, in the middle of the third row

The year 1916 brought about a new set of challenges. Eisenhower was now married, and Peacock had acquired a new coach. St. Louis College (now St. Mary's University) was now after Dwight to coach their team. The college team was dreadful. They had not won a game in five years and were coached by a group of priests. Not only did they not win, lopsided scores of 50-0 and 80-0 were common. The small squad tied its first game under Eisenhower, then went on to win its next five games. St. Louis lost its last game and finished the season with a record of 5-1-1. Present at every game was the coach's young wife, Mamie. Quarterback Jim Sweeney told the Express, "We thought more of him than we did of any other coach we ever had. We respected him from the time he showed up until he left, and we fought as much for Mamie and the Douds (her parents who also attended the games) as we did the school. He was very frank and honest and we learned more about honor and discipline from him than we did anywhere else."

Mamie was the only woman ever to receive a St. Louis or St. Mary's football letter. The fathers were so pleased with the season that they gave the coach and Mamie a victory dinner, and a long-lasting relationship between the school and the Eisenhowers developed. The president last visited the school in 1962 to talk to students and faculty. In 1987 David Eisenhower, the former president's grandson, visited the school and discussed his grandfather's connection to the university during the school's annual President's Dinner.

Lt. Eisenhower and Mamie on the steps of St. Mary's College

Eisenhower also spent some time helping out with the school's baseball team. Ernest Stecker, a civilian employee, recalled to the Express in 1956 how he incurred the wrath of his coach during a close game. St Louis was behind by one run with two men on, and the team's slugger was in the on-deck circle. Stecker received the signal from Eisenhower to bunt but decided to swing away. On the next pitch, Stecker slammed the ball for a triple, but instead of congratulations, all he received was a stern look. He had disobeyed orders.


“Coming to San Antonio for my birthday is like coming home. I guess there isn’t a city or town in the whole world that holds more happy memories for me.”
Dwight Eisenhower, while visiting San Antonio in 1952







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