Camp, Walter Chauncey

views updated Jun 11 2018

CAMP, Walter Chauncey

(b. 7 April 1859 in New Britain, Connecticut; d. 14 March 1925 in New York City), football innovator and authority on college athletics who was instrumental in the development of American football rules and is considered the father of American football.

Camp was the only child of schoolmaster-publisher Leverett Lee and Ellen Cornwell Camp, both of New Britain, Connecticut. In 1863 Camp moved with his parents to New Haven, Connecticut. He attended Hopkins Grammar School, a noted institution adjacent to Yale University. After graduating near the top of his class, he entered Yale in 1876, receiving an A.B. in 1880 and going on to Yale Medical School. He had nearly completed medical school when he left because, as he told a close friend, he disliked the sight of blood. In 1882 Camp joined the Manhattan Watch Company in New York City. The next year, he gained employment as a salesman for the New Haven Clock Company. On 30 June 1888 Camp married Alice Graham Sumner, the sister of William Graham Sumner, a noted Yale sociologist. They had two children. At the clock company, he rose to treasurer and general manager (1902), then president (1903), and finally chairman of the board (1923).

Camp's athletic career began in prep school, but he became a star athlete at Yale, particularly in football and baseball. He also participated in crew, golf, swimming, track, and tennis. His prowess as a halfback on the varsity football team from 1877 to 1882 and his participation on the football rules committee, beginning as an undergraduate, brought him great recognition.

As a freshman, in 1876, Camp participated in both the first Harvard-Yale football game, played under Rugby Union rules, and the first Intercollegiate Football Association's Thanksgiving Day game against Princeton. In that contest, Camp was involved in a controversial play that resulted in Princeton's defeat. He had received the ball out of the rugby scrum, proceeded on a long run, and just before being tackled tossed the ball to a teammate who ran for a touch down. Princeton protested, claiming that Camp's pass was forward and therefore illegal. The referee's coin toss ended the dispute in Yale's favor, and Yale went on to win college football's first championship.

Camp's off-the-field football activities, however, were historically more important. He is credited with creating the American version of football that became the dominant college sport. As a Yale sophomore, he attended the 1877 football rules convention, and he continued doing so for the next forty-eight years. While team captain in 1878, 1879, and 1881, Camp proposed a number of rule changes that began the transformation of English rugby into modern American football.

First, he proposed reducing the number of players on each side from fifteen to eleven. Next, he convinced the 1880 student-led rules convention to allow a team to retain possession of the ball after a player was tackled and "down." This changed the unpredictable "scrummage" of rugby to a line of "scrimmage," with a more systematic approach to ball control. Having possession, though, made it possible for one team to keep the ball for an entire half. Camp resolved this issue in 1882 by proposing a system of "downs." A team was given three downs to gain five yards or surrender possession, with the marked five-yard lines creating a gridiron effect on the field. Camp's leadership on the rules committee led to the present point system for touchdowns, extra points, field goals, and safeties. He also proposed that tackling below the waist be permitted, a rule that helped to limit open-field runs and promote greater mass play, but which also brought charges of brutality.

From the 1880s to 1910, Camp achieved acclaim as an unpaid advisory coach for Yale's football team, a kind of coach of coaches. Because he worked at the New Haven Clock Company during the day, he met with Yale's coaches, captains, and key players in the evenings to discuss the team's performance and to offer strategies for improving performance. Yale's greatest player, W. W. "Pudge" Heffelfinger, once told Camp that the Yale football team was "closely tied together … with your advice and guidance." During the years that Camp was associated with the team as player and coach, Yale won more than 95 percent of its games. From 1876 through 1909, the team lost only fourteen games, surely the greatest record in intercollegiate football history.

Camp helped to change college football from a relatively insignificant fall pastime into a commercial force and visible sign of college life. He became the paid treasurer of the Yale Financial Union, founded in 1893 to consolidate all athletic teams under one organization. He applied his business skills to college athletics, employing novel promotional methods and innovative playing strategies to create spectator interest. With a $100,000 athletic surplus due in part to Camp's financial acumen, Yale built a 70,000-seat stadium in 1914. Called the Yale Bowl, it was the largest stadium in America.

Camp promoted football to a mass audience through his prolific writing of numerous newspaper articles and over 200 magazine articles. He was the editor of Spalding's Official Intercollegiate Football Guide and the author of more than thirty books, seven of them fiction, including the popular Jack Hall at Yale: A Football Story (1909). He coauthored Football (1896), an analysis of football playing techniques, with the former Harvard coach Lorin F. Deland. Perhaps Camp's most successful promotional effort was his selection of All-America football teams, which he began in 1889 and continued through 1925, generating much public interest in the star players.

The football brutality crisis of 1905–1906 diminished Camp's role in determining rule changes. Camp was reluctant to change the rules drastically to remove the game's brutality. He opposed the forward pass rule in 1906, but he was an innovator in its use. Camp lost his position as secretary of the football rules committee in 1906, when opponents of his conservative administration formed a new rules committee, the forerunner of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Camp withdrew from most aspects of Yale football after 1910 but remained on the rules committee until his death.

When the United States entered World War I, Camp was asked to direct the U.S. Navy Training Camps' Physical Development Program, out of which came his popular "Daily Dozen" exercises. He continued an active life after the war and resumed his role as secretary of the college football rules committee. While attending the committee's annual meeting in New York City in 1925, Camp died suddenly of a heart attack. He is buried in Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven, Connecticut. Three years after his death, the Walter Camp Memorial Gateway, a massive colonnade, was erected at the entrance to the Yale Bowl. More than 500 colleges and high schools contributed to the memorial.

The Walter Camp Papers are housed at Yale University Library, Manuscripts and Archives, and include a carefully indexed guide by Robert O. Anthony and a forty-eight-reel microfilm set. There is no definitive biography of Camp; however, Harford Powel, Jr., Walter Camp: The Father of American Football, an Authorized Biography (1926; reprint, 1970), and Kathleen D. Valenzi and Michael W. Hopps, Champion of Sport: The Life of Walter Camp, 1859–1925 (1990), are informative. Parke H. Davis, Football: The American Intercollegiate Game (1911), remains a key volume on early college football, and Ronald A. Smith, Sports and Freedom: The Rise of Big-Time College Athletics (1988), contains a good deal on Camp and places him in a larger context, as does John Sayle Watterson, College Football: History, Spectacle, Controversy (2000). John S. Martin summarizes Camp's influence in football in "Walter Camp and His Gridiron Game," American Heritage 12 (Oct. 1961). See also Richard Borkowski's uncritical "Life and Contributions of Walter Camp to American Football," Ph.D. dissertation, Temple University (1979). An obituary is in the New York Times (15 Mar. 1925).

Ronald A. Smith

Camp, Walter (1859-1925)

views updated May 29 2018

Walter Camp (1859-1925)


Football coach

Father of American Football. Walter Camp, who was associated with football at Yale University from 1876 to 1910, first as a player and then four years as an undergraduate and the final two as a medical student. As the team captain, from 1877 to 1880, Camp developed rule changes that cast the foundation of modern American football; among his innovations were the scrimmage and the downs system. He also served as secretary of the intercollegiate football rules convention from 1877 to 1906.

Unofficial Coach. Although Camp started working for the Manhattan Watch Company in New Haven, Connecticut, in i 1882, he served as Yales unofficial advisory coach until 1910. Since he could not attend the teams daily practice sessions, he analyzed the teams progress from detailed notes taken by his wife. In the evenings Camp met with the team captain and other key players, suggesting improvements and formulating game-winning strategy. During Camps association with the team, as a player and coach from 1876 to 1910, Yale established an astonishing record, losing only fourteen games. Camp vigorously promoted the commercialization of college football through the application of marketing techniques to boost spectator interest and promote the game to the public. His most successful device in generating broad spectator appeal was the selection of the All-American Team, which he first instituted in 1889. Camp developed a mass audience for college football by editing the annual Spaldings Official Intercollegiate Football Guide and writing hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles.

Response to Brutality. In the 1890s Camp led a crusade to reform the brutal and, at times, deadly play of college football. In 1891 he spearheaded an investigation of the brutality in college football. In 1894 he published his findings in Football Facts and Figures, maintaining that despite the games hazards, football both physically and mentally benefited the men who had played it. The Intercollegiate Football Rules Committee in 1894, under Camps direction, eliminated many of the dangerous mass plays, including the flying wedge, which resulted in injury and death. Further reform of college football, which led to the organization of the National Collegiate Athletic Association in 1906, marked the decline of Camps influence over college football. He reluctantly withdrew from most aspects of Yales athletic program in 1910. Campdied of a heart attack at the rules committee meeting that year.


Ronald A. Smith, Sports and Freedom: The Rise of Big-Time College Athletics (New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988).

Camp, Walter Chauncey

views updated May 23 2018

Walter Chauncey Camp




Walter Camp was the first of many larger-than-life characters to be produced by the world of American college football. Camp captained the Yale varsity team for three seasons ending in 1881 when the game of football was in its infancy; the first ever American university game had taken place only five years earlier, between Yale and Harvard in 1876. When Camp began his collegiate career, the style of play and the rules of the game were far closer to English rugby than any other sport. At the time of Camp's death in 1925, college football was a vibrant national institution. Camp was acknowledged as the single greatest influence upon both the development of college football and its popularity with the American public.

Camp introduced more innovations to the sport than any other person in the history of football. The various rule changes and innovations introduced by Camp as to how football was played made it a unique athletic contest. Camp devised the concept where each offensive play began at a designated line of scrimmage, where the offensive and defensive teams were separated from one another until the ball was put into play. Camp created a related rule whereby the offensive team would be permitted four plays, or downs, to attempt to gain 10 yards of territory on the field. Camp regularized the rules respecting the number of players per side at 11, and he created the modern scoring system of six points for a touchdown, three points for a field goal, and two points for a safety. Camp was among the first college coaches to use set offensive plays and formations in an effort to disguise the intentions of his offense.

Camp also played a significant role in the formation of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in 1909; the NCAA would ultimately become one of the most influential amateur sports bodies in the world. Camp also initiated the concept of the year end All-American awards to honor the country's best players. Camp was the selector of the annual All-American football team until his death.

Camp was also an influential national physical training leader. He was appointed to direct the physical fitness initiatives of the United States Army during World War I.

see also Football (American); National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA); Sports Coaching.

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