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Yale 62

Yale’s Influence on Sports

By Lee V. Bakunin

[Ed. Note: This is the first in a series of installments that will tell us all, in later pieces, about Lee’s involvement with attempting to start the first women’s professional basketball league.]

All study and no play makes for a dull Yalie.

Yale’s contribution to sports and athletics has been in being an early participant, innovator and leader. Adding refinement, depth and rules enhancing competitive rivalry, sportsmanship and camaraderie.

Popular in Yale’s Colonial Era were: horseback riding, stoolball, ninepins, pitching the bar, foot races and slide groat as well as marbles, pitching quoits, archery, riflery, rowing and wrestling.

Official teams or team sports did not arrive until the first Yale -Harvard crew race in New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee on August 3, 1852.

Other firsts were the Yale-Wesleyan baseball game in 1865 (Yale 39, Wesleyan 12), intercollegiate track meet at Saratoga, New York in 1872, tennis in 1890, ice hockey in 1896, basketball in 1897 (Yale 32, Penn 10) and wrestling in 1890.

While not the first in football (Princeton vs. Rutgers), Yale was the first to establish through Walter Camp (the father of American Football) rules, formations, rules of possession, penalties and strategies. Yale would become a dominant player. Its class of 1888, Walter Camp’s first season as coach, was known as the undefeated (13-0), unscored-upon team (694-0).

Camp originated “the Daily Dozen” physical fitness exercises during World War I followed by Bob Kipthuth’s (Yale Swimming Coach whose teams dominated Collegiate Swimming from 1918-1959: 520 wins against 12 losses – 4 NCAA titles), fitness training mandatory for all undergraduates.

So what do these accomplishments have to do with me? Never made any varsity or intramural team, nor was a manager, assistant or waterboy. Flunked the undergraduate physical and only attended one or two of Bob Kiphuth’s fitness classes. Athletic exercise was confined to being a non-playing member of the Yale Band (held the bass drum), Army ROTC weekly drills, a two-week stint learning to fence saber and once being a Judge at the Trumbull Beer ‘N Bike Race.

Yet these Yale endeavors would spark the Walter Mitty in me to add another dimension to my sports career that started in infancy playing with pots and pans on the kitchen floor.


From pots and pans to outdoors and the sandlot, I learned about the importance of physical exercise, noise, rules and competition. Plus the importance about having fun and knowing the thrill of victory and agony defeat. Win or lose, there’s always a next time. Having sports heroes and teams piqued my interest in statistics and reporting results and media. Starting my own basketball team taught me about promotion, public relations, packaging and merchandising as well as selecting teammates for optimal success. Managing football and basketball teams in high school taught me about game preparation in the locker room and dealing with media.

Yale provided a finishing touch, as behind every failure, there’s an opportunity for success.

Your comments are welcome.