Kickoff at Moravian

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 simply “Moravian.”

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.

Football 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 Campus” for 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 Bethlehem Armory.

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 College.

The cover of the football game
program from November 7, 1941,
features a fierce-looking uniformed player superimposed on a huge American flag. Little could anyone foresee how dramatically the world would change in exactly one month.

 

A fundraising brochure of 1947 demonstrated the inadequacy of the existing gymnasium by showing that six men could span its entire width. The campaign sought $1,000,000 over ten years for new facilities.