Camp Lewis 91st Division football team plays the Mare Island Marines in the Rose Bowl on January 1, 1918.

  • By Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D.
  • Posted 12/24/2013
  • Essay 10686

On January 1, 1918, two armed-services football teams, composed largely of former star college players now on active duty, meet in the 1918 Rose Bowl. The Camp Lewis 91st Division team from Washington loses to the Mare Island Marines from California by a score of 19 to 7. The unusual meeting in what is normally a college bowl game comes during World War I. College football teams have been depleted as students leave for military service, while the armed services have been able to field teams with all-star players. Military leaders particularly emphasize football, considering it excellent combat training and arguing that it teaches discipline, teamwork, and following orders. For the 1917 season, Camp Lewis, the large army base south of Tacoma in Pierce County, organized a 12-team intramural league. The best players from that league have been selected for a camp team, the Camp Lewis 91st Division, which played against colleges and other service teams. The Camp Lewis team has proved to be one of the best service or college teams on the West Coast, winning a berth in the 1918 Rose Bowl.

College Sports During Wartime

With the mobilization that followed U.S entry into World War I on April 6, 1917, many college athletes joined or were drafted into the military. Universities found themselves with diminished enrollments and, in a patriotic move, colleges dropped or cut back their sports programs. For example, in 1917 the Washington State College football team had a limited schedule, which included a game against the Camp Lewis team. When Tournament of Roses officials considered their January 1, 1918, game, the Rose Bowl, they debated canceling it. In discussions that reached the White House it was decided for public morale to play the New Year's Day game.

Two top teams available were the Mare Island Marines and Camp Lewis 91st Division football teams. Both were loaded with Pacific Coast Conference regulars and all-stars. In 1917 seven University of Washington players were at Camp Lewis, significantly depleting the UW team. The camp team also featured stars from the University of Oregon team that had won the 1916 Rose Bowl. The team from Mare Island Navy Base in California was also loaded with star college players.

Camp Lewis Football

Military officials considered football excellent war training. The sport taught leadership, teamwork, and following orders. These were viewed as essential in preparing soldiers for war. Football became a significant part of a broad military athletic program. The War Department assigned Captain Trevanion G. "Van" Cook (1871-1945) to Camp Lewis to lead its athletic program. He had considerable experience in leading sports programs, including teaching physical education in Spokane. Captain Cook drew up a list of 88 sports activities for the camp. Because the camp opened in September 1917 with football season starting that sport assumed an early priority. Captain Cook created a camp league of 12 teams that would play each other. They had games every Wednesday and Sunday. The teams included the Medical Corps, each infantry regiment, and other units. The best players would be selected for the Camp Lewis 91st Division team that would play other posts and colleges.

Helping to run the sports program was assistant camp athletics director Lieutenant Edgar H. Kienholz (1889-1974), a graduate of Washington State College (later Washington State University) and a player and coach there. He would also play on the Camp Lewis team. By October 27 the camp league was well developed and in a game that day the Medical Corps team played the Camp Lewis 91st Division, holding it to a scoreless tie. Quickly the Camp Lewis team was filled with outstanding former college stars. It had six all-Pacific Coast players.

Captain Cook arranged for Tacoma Stadium to be the Camp Lewis home field until a stadium was completed at the camp. The first Camp Lewis 91st Division game with an outside team was against the Pacific Coast Conference champions, the Washington State Cougars. The game, played on October 13, 1917, in Tacoma Stadium, ended up a 0-0 tie. Washington State then went on to win six victories. (In 1918, with most players in the service, Washington State would give up football and its coach, William "Lone Star" Dietz (1884-1964), would go to Mare Island to coach the Marines.)

At Camp Lewis Lieutenant William L. "Fox" Stanton (1874-1946) served as head coach. Leading the 1917 Camp Lewis team in scoring were quarterback Douglas C. McKay (1894-1949) and halfback Ernest Lowell "Dick" Romney (1895-1969) from Agricultural College of Utah (Utah State). Dick Romney had played for Utah from 1914 to 1916. Corporal Douglas McKay had been a star back at the University of North Dakota. A crowd of 15,000 at Tacoma Stadium on November 10, 1917, watched as the Mare Island Marines held Camp Lewis scoreless, wining 13 to 0. On November 17, Camp Lewis defeated the Multnomah Amateur Athletic Club from Portland at the not-yet-finished camp stadium. Camp Lewis, minus three of its regular players, had to struggle to achieve victory over the Portland team. McKay scored all the Camp Lewis points with field goals and one touchdown. One week later Camp Lewis had an easy victory over the Chemawa Indian School of Salem, Oregon, defeating the Indian School team 49 to 0 at the camp stadium. McKay scored 25 of the Camp Lewis points.

The Tacoma Stadium game on Thanksgiving Day pitted the Camp Lewis eleven against the Navy all-stars from the University of Washington naval station. It was named the Army-Navy Classic and more than 15,000 fans attended. Camp Lewis won the game by a score of 14 to 13. McKay was the leading scorer. The Navy team included Claude Norris (1899-1989), a star at Seattle's Broadway High School and after the war a Whitman College fullback. Leonard Anstett (1896-1977) of Bellingham and Washington Normal College (later Central Washington University) was another outstanding member of the Navy team.

Rose Bowl Game

Once it was decided to play the Rose Bowl, the committee looking for teams settled on a service championship between Camp Lewis and the Mare Island Marines. Payments were made to both teams to fund travel and living costs. Camp Lewis officials hired a special train and the team left camp on December 23, 1917. The team would be entertained by the Pasadena, California, community and practice there. The game was played before an estimated 42,000 fans, who watched a hard-fought battle. The Mare Island Marines scored first with a field goal in the second quarter. Soon after that Camp Lewis halfback Dick Romney ran for a touchdown and quarterback McKay kicked the extra point. These would be the only Camp Lewis points. Minutes after the Camp Lewis touchdown, the Marines scored a second time on a running play. They missed the point after. In the fourth quarter the Marines scored a touchdown, point after, and field goal. The final score was Marines 19 and Camp Lewis 7.

The Mare Island Marines capped a fantastic season in which they won eight games with no losses, and held all their opponents, except Camp Lewis, scoreless. They defeated the University of Oregon 27 to 0, the University of Southern California 34 to 0, and the University of California 26 to 0. For the season the Marines scored 200 points and gave up only the single touchdown and extra point that Camp Lewis scored the the bowl game. The Mare Island Marines had another successful year in 1918 and returned to the Rose Bowl only to lose to the Great Lakes Naval Station. The 1918 Camp Lewis team did not have returning players. It was a young team that had a good season, but not championship caliber.

Camp Lewis 91st Team Members at War

Following the Rose Bowl, the Camp Lewis team returned to Washington and resumed war training. Several players were on the camp basketball team, but most focused entirely on preparing for battle. They went to France in the summer of 1918 and fought with the 91st Division. First Lieutenant Frank J. "Deke" Gard (1892-1918) had been an end on the Rose Bowl team and an outstanding rugby player at Stanford before he enlisted in the Army on June 13, 1917, following his graduation. During the fierce battle at Gesnes, France, on September 27, 1918, as a member of the 362nd Infantry Regiment, he went forward to observe enemy positions. He was killed by enemy fire. Lieutenant Gard is buried in the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery and Memorial in France.

Another Camp Lewis football player killed in action was Captain Elijah "Lige" Worsham (1886-1918) of Seattle. Captain Worsham had played football at Purdue and was team captain. He moved to Seattle and from there enlisted in the Army. Assigned to the 362nd Infantry Regiment, he commanded a machine gun company. In the battle for Gesnes he was at the front line leading his company when he was killed by enemy fire. Captain Worsham was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for heroism in this battle and is buried in the Meuse Argonne Cemetery and Memorial.

Postwar Life and Sports

In an era before professional football, coaching and recreational positions were the main options for those who wanted to continue in sports. Dick Romney, the Camp Lewis halfback, following the war became a head football and basketball coach at Utah State. He coached there from 1919 to 1949. The Utah State University stadium was later named in his honor. The Army deemed Captain T. G. Cook, the Camp Lewis athletic director, as essential to training so he was not sent overseas. Following his military service he ran a Seattle fitness center.

Most Camp Lewis players returned to civilian career pursuits. However Douglas McKay, who had attained the rank of lieutenant, became a participant in World War II. In 1937 he and his family went to the Philippines and he managed a gold mine. When the Japanese captured the islands the McKay family fled into the jungle and hid with guerrilla forces. Lieutenant McKay survived the war but died soon after due to poor health.

Camp Lewis Head coach "Fox" Stanton served as a Caltech University coach for twenty years. Edgar Kienholz, the former Washington State player and coach, was retained at Camp Lewis to coach the 1918 team. He was also on the basketball team. After the war he became a high school coach in Long Beach, California.


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