On Saturday, Oct. 22, 1892, Bloomsburg State Normal School played its first football game. This fall will mark 125 years since that match. In those early years at Bloomsburg, there was no certainty it would last. In addition to losing that first game, college football itself had existed for less than 25 years.
There was keen interest in football at Bloomsburg by the early 1890s, but until 1892 no formal football team existed. The force behind creating one was the new professor of history and civics at the school, Warren Detwiler. A tackle and senior captain at Haverford College and eager to continue competing, Detwiler served as coach of the newly organized team. Money was raised and uniforms were ordered.
With no place to play or practice on campus, the team made a half-mile walk to the Bloomsburg Town Athletic Park, located between Seventh and Eighth streets across Iron Street from the county jail. Practice went on in the late afternoons for six weeks until the end of October, when the four-game schedule began.
The first game was against an experienced Wilkes-Barre team. The Normal players, with Detwiler at halfback, gave their all, but the visitors won that initial game 26-0. The victors effectively used the V-formation offense, also known as the flying wedge. Players formed themselves into a V-shape before the snap and charged the line of scrimmage. The ball carrier was inside the “V” and the wedge of players slammed into the opposing line. It was very violent and highly successful against lighter-weight teams.
It took two more games before Bloomsburg achieved its first victory on Nov. 5 over a team from Nanticoke by a score of 24-0. Football was new to most of the spectators, who didn’t know the rules or fully comprehend what they were watching. But it was exciting and generated a lot of interest. While the team had just two wins in 1893, the groundwork for future football success was laid with the hiring of Bloomsburg’s first director of physical education, Albert Aldinger.
Aldinger, a native of York, trained in physical education from the age of 14 and previously worked at YMCAs in West Philadelphia and Oil City. In addition to class instruction, he became coach of the Bloomsburg baseball and football teams. His record in football for the first five seasons through 1898 was good, 18-14-1, against some tough opponents, including close losses to Penn State, Bucknell, and Lafayette.
Eventually, the close games led to difficulties in completing a schedule, so official football was dropped in 1899 and 1900. When football returned in 1901, the excellent players Aldinger had recruited made the team dominant. Over a four-year span, Bloomsburg had 28 wins and two ties in 37 games, with 27 shutouts. Other innovations to Bloomsburg included a training table providing food for the players, secret practices with guards posted to keep away spies, a bonfire to celebrate victories and cheerleaders with megaphones to boost school spirit.
The final game of 1904 season was the high point of Aldinger’s career. Wyoming Seminary of Kingston, the fiercest rival in the early years, came to Bloomsburg and was beaten 28-0. It was the largest margin of victory the Normal School would have over the Seminary and was the eighth win of the year, a total not reached again until 1948. After a .500 season in 1905, Aldinger resigned on Jan. 15, 1906, to teach physical education in New York City, ending with a career coaching record of 50-25-3. His win total was not surpassed for 94 years until Danny Hale reached 51 during the 1999 season, on his way to a school-record 173 victories.
The early years of Bloomsburg football were an exciting time, as fans at the school and in the community learned to follow and take to heart a new sport that captured their devotion and imagination. It is a love that has grown over the succeeding 125 years, ever since those first pioneers of football donned uniforms, marched to the Town Athletic Park, and gave their all for Bloomsburg Normal.•
Robert Dunkelberger is Bloomsburg University archivist.