Heritage Guide to The Geelong College

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ATHLETICS (Centenary History)

ATHLETICS (Centenary History)

See Also ATHLETICS (Sport)

The following text is an excerpt from the Centenary History of the Geelong College published in 1961:

Chapter fifteen

'IN 1868, WHEN athletics results first appeared in the printed "Annual Report, Prize List and Prospectus", the College was still located at Knowle House and the sports were conducted on the Corio Oval. "Prizes to the amount of £30" were distributed among successful competitors. J. Cumming, with first places in the 100 yards maiden plate and 150 yards handicap flat race, was the leading athlete.

In the following year, for which a copy of the programme is still in existence, the afternoon's sport was taken in leisurely fashion, one event every quarter-hour from 1 o'clock to 5.15 p.m. H. O'Hara won the College Stakes of 200 yards from the 15 yards mark. Other events included the 100 yards maiden plate, standing high jump, vaulting with pole, sack and manx races, consolation stakes and the Old Collegians' Cup. All foot races except the maiden plate and the sack race were handicapped.

Such was the pattern of the athletics meeting for a quarter of a century. The first race was always the maiden plate; the titles of some others changed as trophies were provided by Mr. Morrison, or the masters, or supporters of the school; no running event covered more than 440 yards; throwing the cricket ball, a one-mile walking match and a bicycle race were added to the novelties.

Perhaps the great attraction of the gathering was its individual character. Every boy, small or big, could take part, and, with practically every race handicapped, anyone might win. Each contestant wore his own colours, which were printed in the programme: "pink and silver", "cerise and lavender", "black and tilleul", and so on. The standard of performance was not generally very high.

The College Cup, awarded at first on a single handicap race of 150 or 200 yards, very soon changed to a match over 100, 200 and 300 yards—still handicapped—and then, somewhere in the 'eighties or 'nineties, to a championship test in a series of events, including field games. This has remained the most attractive individual struggle of the athletics season, partaking of the all-round, searching nature of the ancient Greek decathlon. Junior championships served as a training ground for the open event.

The Old Collegians' Cup, stated to be the first official link between the College and its former pupils, appears on the programme for 1869, when it was run over 150, 200 and 440 yards. In that year there were fifteen entrants, but the winner's name is not known. Always a handicap event, to compensate for discrepancies in ages, it must nevertheless have restricted itself to the young and strong. After about twenty years the Cup was limited to a single race of 120 yards-still an exacting test of fitness-and so has continued to the present day. Very large fields were mustered at times, and the entry fees went a long way towards financing the trophies for the whole meeting. By 1901 there were 169 entrants, and the number later passed 200, a good proportion actually taking part in the three heats. By 1900, with some of the earliest Old Boys growing too old for such a race, but still keen to recapture the bright moments of youth, the Veterans' Plate was introduced, a 75 yard dash with handicaps of up to 15 yards.

Athletics continued on these rather carefree lines till the nineteen-twenties, when it was realized that results at the Public Schools' Combined Sports were not good enough, and it was felt necessary to foster, in this as in other sports, the spirit of rivalry and of submerging personal interests in those of the team. The House Sports, when introduced in 1921, copied the form of the "Combined" and for many years were held a few days after the traditional School Sports. In time, with the introduction of new events to both programmes, the whole system was burdensome, and modification inevitable.

The death sentence of the old School Sports was pronounced in 1939, when the College Cup and under-age championships were transferred to the House Sports. Competition at this meeting was now keener than ever, since, to take part in a cup event, a boy must first gain selection by his House. The other meeting weakened into a rather anaemic programme of novelty and handicap events for the less able or less energetic, and its ultimate disappearance after 1944 seemed far too long in coming.

The new urge to team competition was further intensified by the "triangular"or "quadrangular" contest with outside teams, which had grown up since 1931.

There was a danger that all this efficiency and striving, though dictated by circumstances, might leave the ordinary boy completely out of the athletics scene, for he knew that he could never win a place in his House team. But in 1943, as the "Handicap Sports" were dying, the authorities—apparently never at a loss—produced "Standards", by which a boy tries to attain a set time, height or distance. As this trial against the Clock, or against oneself, was made part of the House aggregate competition, it did give back some importance to the boy of average ability, and there have been many years when Standards influenced the final House order.

Collegians recall many cross-country runs, arranged for various reasons and unearthing talents not elsewhere evident. In later years this activity has been encouraged for its own sake, with teams competing in military and other contests. For the boy likely to join a senior athletic club, such as the Geelong Guild—and many have done so—the training has been of definite advantage.

Today the House and Championship meeting is the most important internal sporting event of the year, as open and under-age boys of all four Houses are engaged in the one contest involving a wide range of abilities. It evokes intense keenness among competitors and their partisans. The carnival atmosphere which spectators and contestants enjoyed in the old days has given place to a full, efficient programme carried out at a high standard.

Those who prefer something less stirring can still find it among the juniors. Events for Preparatory School boys were included at the school sports from 1921 to 1923, by which time numbers had become sufficient to justify a separate function. The "Prep". has its own Houses, and for many years House relay races continued to be run at the senior sports. Possibly the Kindergarten, with its very own sports, inaugurated in the 'thirties, is the only remaining home of the truly light-hearted sports meeting.

* * * *

Early records of inter-school athletics are more difficult to obtain than any other. In 1871 College boys competed at meetings in Melbourne and scored victories over runners from the Public Schools, but the nature of those races has not been ascertained. There was about this time a contest for senior Victorian schools, and a controversy raged because the conditions had been so modified as to exclude the Geelong College. Apparently it ended satisfactorily, for in his report for 1872 the Principal stated: "In the competition for the cup open to all the upper schools of the colony, the first, second and fourth places were taken by pupils of the College".

The first definite record of a race in which College boys competed appears in 1889. The Open Schools' Cadet Race was run on the Melbourne Cricket Ground over 440 yards, and Milton Wettenhall secured second place. The following year A. B. Timms won this race. (Timms was a splendid athlete; he won the College Cup in 1891, afterwards became the leading amateur athlete of Scotland, and was an international Rugby player, visiting Australia with the 1898 touring team.)

At the Victorian Amateur Athletic Association championship of 1893, a half-mile race, open to all Victorian schools, was won by the College team, Marcus Wettenhall, E. Sander and J. McIntosh. The following year the College again won, with A. C. Wettenhall, W. Milnes and H. McFarland in the team. At the same meeting, J. McRae won the amateur pole vaulting championship of Victoria, clearing 9 feet 11½ inches.

At a V.A.A.A. meeting in 1903 the inter-school championship of Victoria was won by the College from Wesley, 46 points to 34. In 1904 Wesley won, with College a good second. No performances worthy of note seem to have been put up for the next few years. It was not until the College became a member of the Associated Public Schools that records were consistently kept.

Participation in Public Schools sport proved a much more severe test than the College's earlier engagements. The same few senior boys in the school had to make up the team for the four major sports in contests of very high standard. Athletics included also several under-age events in which the College was seldom strong, probably because of the poor competition among the small number of eligible boys in each age group within the school.

Thus the story of the Combined Sports is one, not of failure, but of inability ever to achieve full success. From the very first there were individual victories: in 1908 E. K. Russell won the open hurdles race; in 1909 Russell broke two records, and J. I. Birnie became the first under-age winner, in the 100 yards under 14 years. College runners have excelled most often in distance races. Several records have been made in these fifty-three years, and the College has won most events at one time or another, but never concentrated sufficient strength in a single team to reach the first place.

Only once, in 1947, did victory appear to be within the grasp of the College. It failed to materialize when I. W. Cameron, a brilliant sprinter, suffered an injury before the last event. Two first places were gained that day; the splendid result achieved came from a balanced effort by the whole team.

* * * *

In keeping with world trends, the standards of performance at the Combined Sports are constantly rising. So much so, that it has sometimes been a boy's lot to break the existing record, yet not win his event. There have been many other changes since 1908: in grounds, events, age limits, allocation of points, styles, and methods of judging.

Today, with eleven highly trained teams—hundreds of boys—competing on cinder tracks, the "Combined" ranks very high among amateur meetings, providing a large appreciative crowd of supporters with a magnificent display of strength, skill, sportsmanship and dedication to a cause.

* * * *

So much organization stands behind a century of College athletics that it is impossible fully to bestow honour where it is due. Boys, masters and friends of the school have given their time; large numbers of trophies and cash gifts have been received. Probably the greatest individual contribution was that of Mr. James D'Helin, starter on College sports days from 1905 to 1948. Coaching was not a vital question in the earlier days; it grew to prime importance in the Public School years, and results show that team strength demands a vigorous, active coach. Such were Messrs. A. J. Hillhouse and D. R. Macmillan, themselves Olympic athletes, Mr. J. M. Kroger, of the Geelong Guild, and Mr. A. E. Simpson. But many others shared this work, too.

* * * *

The Collegians who reached international heights in athletics during the nineteenth century have been mentioned already. These were R. H. Morrison and A. B. Timms, both of whom represented Scotland. Modern fame belongs to Wilfred and Donald Macmillan, father and son, one-mile record holders in Public Schools sport, and Australian middle-distance champions. Both of the Macmillans took part in Empire contests. Donald, who was Australian one-mile champion in 1950-51-52-55 and half-mile champion in 1950-52-55, competed creditably in no fewer than five international meetings, including the Olympic Games of 1952 and 1956.'

Sources: The Geelong College 1861-1961 by G C Notman and B R Keith, Chapter 15, pp 111-116.
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