All Emersonians know that our football team is undefeated since 1880 … because we’ve never had a football team. But did you know that Emerson College had a wrestling team? Or a sailing team? And an ice hockey team?
It’s all true.
All photos from Archives & Special Collections
A disclaimer: Pinpointing Emerson athletics history for this story was tough, as official records do not exist, so some of Emerson’s athletics teams’ beginnings are circa. From scouring Emerson yearbooks, course catalogs, student handbooks, Berkeley Beacons, and our alumni magazine, we traced our old Purple Panthers teams.
Oh, we used to be called the Purple Panthers, until 1965, when we took on our present-day moniker, the Lions.
We’re not including club or intramural teams on this timeline. But in case you’re wondering, Emerson has had numerous club/intramural teams/sports through the years, including: karate, tennis, golf, flag football, judo, gymnastics, ultimate frisbee, sailing, swimming, wiffleball, and more. Some sports, such as tennis and golf, started as intramural and then became varsity sports. We are still hopeful that Quidditch becomes a varsity sport.
One erstwhile sport to note, due to its overwhelmingly popularity, was the Sailing Club. In 1965, the yearbook noted it was the largest student organization. The club was so big that there were two large group photos of the team in the yearbook. The club’s purpose was to promote recreational and competitive sailing, with students participated in sailing, racing, and rowing. The club was a member of the New England Intercollegiate Sailing Association and a member of the New England Women’s Intercollegiate Sailing Association. But eventually the club set sail…
The story of Emerson athletics begins in 1930, when several female students worked with physical education teacher Elsie Riddell to found the Recreation Club. Each student in the club was given an activity to coordinate throughout the school year, including swimming, hiking, skating, volleyball, and seasonal sports. It was common for coordinators to schedule events in the countryside so students could have more space and fresher air in which to exercise.
Through the years, Emerson added more sports. Some, like men’s basketball, has been a mainstay since it began in 1947. The soccer team had a rocky going in the 1980s and 1990s. The team was co-ed, and the season was cancelled due to lack of interest in 1987, but it came back as a co-ed team the next year. In 1990, the team split into men’s and women’s teams.
Other sports came and went, like the aforementioned ice hockey and wrestling teams.
Emerson hasn’t always had home field advantage, as many of our teams played, and continue to play, at non-Emerson locations. The basketball teams used to play home games at MassArt’s gym before we built the Bobbi Brown and Steven Plofker Gym in the basement of Piano Row. In a role reversal, visiting NBA teams have used the gym to practice in pre-pandemic years.
Today, Emerson’s men’s and women’s soccer teams, men’s and women’s lacrosse teams, and softball team, all play at Rotch Field in the South End for practices and home games. Emerson has a public-private partnership with Boston’s Parks and Recreation Department to use the field. Some teams still play home games on the road; tennis and baseball teams play their home games and matches at St. John’s Prep in Danvers, Massachusetts.
Countless athletes have dominated on playing fields and courts but probably the most famous Emerson player is known for his influence off the court. Sam Presti ’00 is the longtime general manager of the Oklahoma City Thunder, and has drawn praise from many people, including Lebron James, for his savvy scouting and decisions.
Here’s a timeline of Emerson athletics:
1933: The Recreation Club founded inter-class volleyball for female students and the winning team was awarded letters. This was the first time that letters were distributed for sports activities – you know, like on the old-school varsity jacket Danny dons at the end of Grease
1947: A group was founded to provide sports activities for men
1947: The men’s basketball team was founded, as was a co-ed cheer squad with mostly women members. Through the next several decades, the cheer team consisted mostly of women
1948: Men’s baseball team founded
1951: The women’s basketball team was founded this year at the latest, but it wasn’t included in the Emersonian yearbook until 1958
1959: Men’s wrestling team founded
1960: Charles “Ted” Phillips became Emerson’s first athletic director
1961: Co-ed bowling team mentioned for first time in the yearbook
1963: The sailing team is mentioned for the first time in the yearbook. Emerson also had a racing sailing team. Fun fact: Emerson College used to own an Esplanade dock on the Charles River
1965: Emerson College officially changed its mascot from the Purple Panthers to the Lions
1966: Men’s cross-country team founded
1968: Men’s ice hockey team founded
1973: Women’s softball team mentioned for first time in yearbook
1973: Golf team mentioned for first time in yearbook
1975: Men’s soccer team mentioned for first time
1982: Golf listed as an intramural sport, not varsity
1983: Soccer team is co-ed
1985: Golf listed as a varsity sport again
1985: Last year wrestling listed as varsity sport
1986: Women’s volleyball and women’s tennis listed as varsity sports
1987: Men’s hockey team discontinued
1987: Co-ed soccer team’s season cancelled due to lack of interest
1987: Men’s tennis team listed as varsity sport
1988: Soccer team returns as varsity sport with one woman on the team
1990: Women’s soccer team becomes varsity sport
1995: Co-ed varsity golf team
1998: Men’s lacrosse team founded
2000: Golf discontinued as a varsity sport
2001: Women’s lacrosse team founded
Jenn Williams, Michelle Romero, and Melissa DIBeradino of Emerson College Archives contributed vast amounts of research to this article.