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New Book Chronicles ODU Football History

Just in time for the return of Old Dominion football, a university history professor and alumnus have teamed up to publish a book about the school's humble beginnings in the sport, and about the venerable stadium that has been revitalized as the venue for games decades after the steel cleats and leather helmets were retired in 1940.

"The Legacy Renewed: Football and Foreman Field: Norfolk Division - Old Dominion University" represents the collaborative efforts of Peter C. Stewart, associate professor emeritus of history, and Thomas R. Garrett '72 (M.S.Ed. '81). Stewart, who still teaches a History of Sports course at the university, wrote the text, while Garrett acquired the historical photos and conducted some of the research. The book, published by Outer Banks Press, includes a foreword by another graduate, ESPN SportsCenter anchor Jay Harris '87.

Accounts of the early years of football come from former players and local newspapers, which reflect the unique sports writing style of the era. A passage from the book about a game during the first season, which included Norfolk Ledger-Dispatch reportage, notes: "The game remained tied until Terry Maxey intercepted the 'oval from the ozone, shook off a couple of opponents and dashed like a scared rabbit' for the only score."

"Several former players provided their time and recollections to help with the project - Rhea Walker, the oldest, played on teams between 1932 and 1934," Stewart writes in the Acknowledgments. "John Brown, Bill Brichter, and Bill Baker participated in the late 1930s. All of them related wonderful stories about their experiences."

Walker, a member of the 1932 team, "explained that the team operated out of a single or sometimes a double wing, with the center snapping the ball directly to one of four pre-selected backs."

Most of the photos that appear in the book are from the Sargeant Memorial Room at the Norfolk Public Library, and were taken by Charles Borjes of The Virginian-Pilot and Harden D. Vollmer of The Ledger-Dispatch.

Stewart, himself a follower of local sports for many years, writes in the Preface: "With Old Dominion University about to restart its football program after an absence of almost 70 years, it seems like a good time to peruse the history of football in the Norfolk area. This labor of love, however, turned out to be more complicated than we originally thought." He goes on to explain how, for various reasons, it was impossible to come up with a totally accurate roster of students who played during the Norfolk Division Braves' 11 seasons. And he mentions that even the program's won-lost record remains a matter of dispute - one source gives it as 68-27-5, while the newspaper accounts indicate a 47-36-5 tally.

The first chapter of the book talks about the beginnings of football in the region. "The first Virginia institution of higher learning to play a contest in the Hampton Roads area was probably Richmond College (now the University of Richmond), which, according to legend, lost to Norfolk Academy in the early 1890s."

Subsequent chapters examine the start of "Depression-era football" at the Norfolk Division, as Old Dominion was known then, up through the time when the program ended after the 1940 season.

Later chapters take a nostalgic look at football games the stadium hosted over the years, including those at the high school, collegiate and semi-pro levels, and chronicle earlier attempts at ODU to revive the sport. There are accounts of the military's Red Feather Bowl, which started in 1949, and the Shriners' popular Oyster Bowl, an annual tradition at Foreman Field from 1948 to 1995. Appendices offer Norfolk Division rosters of players from 1930-40 and bowl games at Foreman Field.

The final chapter draws comparisons between ODU football from the 1930s to its resurgence today, recalling when "Director Edgar Timmerman and Tommy Scott put a team on the field in about two weeks" and approximately 20 percent of the student body at the Norfolk Division tried out for the first squad in 1930.

Among the vintage pictures are a close-up of a concerned-looking coach Scott, sitting in coat and tie on the bench during the last game of the 1938 season, and a photo of Wilson "Dick" Dozier, who played halfback and quarterback from 1933-35. Dozier, who also excelled in baseball and basketball, was editor of the school newspaper and went on to play for William and Mary. He was killed in action during World War II, two days before the Japanese surrendered, the authors note in the book.

There is, indeed, much history in ODU football's relatively brief legacy, and new chapters remain to be written. In the Foreword, Harris says: "In some respects, Old Dominion becomes a real university on September 5; not just a place for the important work of becoming well-educated and prepared for what's down the road. But it becomes a social universe to thousands, where past, present, and future Monarchs congregate, celebrate and, only occasionally I hope, commiserate with each other, side-by-side, arm-in-arm, bumper-by-bumper. Life at ODU will never be the same."

"The Legacy Renewed" is available for sale at the University Village Bookstore.

This article was posted on: August 27, 2009

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