The Growth of the College’s Athletics Facilities
by Marty Jo Moyle
On December 7, 1941, the United States would be attacked by Japanese air forces and drawn
into World War II. But on that Friday in November, fans of Moravian College football were gathered
in Bethlehem for battle against the Beavers of the College of the City of New York. There was much
to look forward to.
Just three years earlier, the College had played its first football game on its
newly acquired field. The following spring, a new baseball diamond was laid out; and in the spring
of 1940, the Health and Physical Education Department submitted a plan for a field house/ student
center/physical education building to the Board of Trustees.
But the path of athletics at Moravian hadn’t
always run so smooth.
Before 1941, the “big four” sports at Moravian (an all-male college
at the time) were football, baseball, basketball, and tennis. Football at Moravian dates back to
1898, when three games were played: against Freemansburg, Nativity Guild, and Nazareth Hall. Back
then, the athletes were not the Greyhounds; they were known as “The Blue and Grey” or
They scrounged their playing fields wherever they could find them.
A 1935 football program has a neat handwritten inscription: “Played at Liberty High School
Field, Saturday, November 16, 1935.” They
also scrounged up their opponents. In the days before the National Collegiate Athletics Association
was formed, games were held whenever they could find a team to play. In 1900, Easton High School
appears on the football schedule; in 1908, the Moravian Parochial School, a K-12 school, bragged
in its newspaper, “Parochials
Overwhelmingly Defeat Moravian College!” referring to a baseball game played on May 11.
was played at Moravian from 1898 until 1906, when it was abandoned for 24 years. Then, in
1929, the sophomore class challenged the freshman class to a football game. The sophs, buoyed by
victory, then challenged the juniors to a game and then played a third game against a team
comprising seniors and theological students. These generated so much excitement on campus
that a petition was circulated to reinstitute football as a College sport in the fall of 1930.
After “borrowing” fields
for years, football finally found a home in 1938 and was played in the heart of “North Side
almost three decades, at the location of the current Quad, where soccer and women’s lacrosse
now are played.
The second sport to be played at the College was baseball, added in 1903. The Blue
and Grey Nine played three games their first season. Basketball was added in 1907, after the College
dropped football. All three sports struggled during those early years. One season baseball
would be dropped, then re-introduced the next. The basketball squad suffered the same
woes. Things began improving in 1912 when a new gymnasium was constructed. Now known as Monocacy
Hall (and rehabilitated as administrative offices), the gym became home to the basketball
team and provided such amenities as dressing areas for the baseball, tennis, and (later)
football teams, a suspended running track, and space for physical education classes and
intramural competition. A portrait of the first basketball team to call the Gymnasium home is on
display in the Johnston Hall trophy case. The men’s uniforms feature lace-up flies and leather
belts, and the men pose on Oriental rugs.
In 1914, Professor Howard Hoffman ’13
began a tennis program at Moravian. The first-year schedule consisted of seven matches.
Hoffman, for whom the current courts are named, devoted several decades to tennis and
by 1941 had developed an excellent program, played on eight on-campus courts. In 1969,
a bequest from Hoffman—“Alumnus, Faculty Member, Tennis Enthusiast, Coach,
and College Benefactor”—established the current tennis courts.
Plans for the
field house/student center/physical education building that had been proposed to the
Board of Trustees in 1940 were shelved at the outbreak of World War II and not dusted
off again until the spring of 1947. By then, the gymnasium that had been built in 1912
was not only too small but also had been declared a fire hazard in 1934 and interdicted
for public use. While intramurals and physical education classes could be held there,
home basketball games were played at Liberty High School and practices were held at the
The proposed new building was the largest single item of a 10-year, $1 million
dollar fundraising drive announced by the Board of Trustees in 1947. Ground was broken in March
1951 on the site of a practice field adjacent to the center-campus football field for
the Moravian College Health and Physical Education Building, the first postwar building
to be constructed. Between groundbreaking and its formal opening on December 13, 1952,
prior to the Moravian-Muhlenberg basketball game, it was christened College Hall. Included
among many items placed in the cornerstone box of College Hall were a key from the old
gymnasium, signatures of faculty, staff, and students, an 1887 coin uncovered by the
excavating bulldozer, and copies of the Comenian, the Bethlehem Globe-Times, College
catalogues, and a yearbook.
In 1958, the building was rededicated and named Johnston Hall
in honor of Archibald Johnston, first mayor of the incorporated City of Bethlehem, president of Bethlehem
Steel, and for 45 years a trustee of Moravian College and Moravian Theological Seminary. During
World War II, during what some have called Moravian’s “darkest hour,” when
a large part of the all-male enrollment was enlisted in the armed forces, Johnston’s
words of vision, faith, and encouragement in April 1943 persuaded his fellow trustees
to keep the school open in spite of deficit spending. By 1947, with the G.I. Bill, student
enrollment at the College was burgeoning at 50 percent and more above pre-war norm.
The facility now known
as Rocco Calvo Field existed during the early years of Moravian College athletics, but
the Blue and Grey did not play there. Built on what was then the northernmost outskirts
of the city on property acquired from the Moravian Congregation, it was owned at the time
by the Bethlehem Steel Company and first was known as the Elizabeth Avenue Field and later
as the Bethlehem Steel Athletics Field.
It was home to the Bethlehem Steel Soccer (Foot-Ball)
Club from 1913 to 1930, arguably the most winning soccer team in U.S. history, winning the American
Cup in 1914, 1916, 1917, 1918, 1919, and 1924, and the National Cup in 1915, 1916, 1918, 1919, and
1926. The Steel Workers (or Steelmen) posted an astounding 162-6-16 record from 1913 to 1919.
Many of the soccer players were “imported” from foreign
countries to play and were employed by the Steel works. In 1925, Bethlehem Steel
transferred ownership of the 9.67-acre property to Lehigh University.
In 1962, Moravian
College acquired Lehigh Field through a three-way agreement with Lehigh University
and Bethlehem Steel, which had reacquired the rights to the field. Moravian renamed
the facility Steel Field and proceeded to develop the athletics complex there throughout
the 1960s, adding a baseball field, tennis courts, softball field, and practice field. In the fall
of 2005, the football field was renamed in honor of longtime Moravian coach and athletics director,
and Bethlehem native, Rocco Calvo, becoming Rocco Calvo Field at the Steel Field Athletics Complex.
The NCAA recently named Steel Field as one of the 13 most unique facilities in all of
intercollegiate athletics. According to Michelle Brutlag Hosick of the NCAA: “While
some institutions are tearing down the old to make way for the new, others are
celebrating their uniqueness by restoring or renovating older facilities. These buildings often come
with a storied history that bears frequent retelling or bring an element of fun to the campus.”
Marty Jo Moyle is secretary to the Athletics, Physical Education, and Recreation Department at Moravian