These stories originally appeared in "The Daily Advertiser's History of Acadiana by Jim Bradshaw: Beginning Traditions," published May 26, 1998.
USL's athletic program can trace its formal beginnings to 1904 and the first rally of the Interscholastic Athletic and Oratorical Association (IA&OA). Before that, SLII had held intramural competitions, and had competed in pickup games against other schools in track and in football. But President Edwin L. Stephens saw sports competition not only as a way to bring potential students to his campus, but to involve the community and the school's alumni in its affairs.
Under the direction of J.W.S. Lillibridge of the Institute faculty, a track team had been organized at the Institute at least by 1903. The only competition in the area came from area high schools, so he contacted them to form an association to provide competition, and the first regular rally was held in 1904. At its beginning, the association included high schools from Breaux Bridge, Crowley, Franklin, Lake Charles, Leesville, Marksville, New Iberia, and St. Martinville, as well as SLII.
Under a constitution formally adopted in 1905, “the object of the Association (was) the advancement and improvement of Amateur Athletics, and the fostering of interest in Oratory among the schools of Southwest Louisiana." Under that constitution, schools in Acadia, Assumption, Avoyelles, Calcasieu, Cameron, Iberia, Lafayette, Lafourche, Rapides, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary, Terrebonne, Vermilion, and Vernon parishes were eligible for the competitions.
Athletic events included the 100-yard dash, 220-yard dash, 440-yard run, 880-yard run, 120-yard hurdles, 220-yard hurdles, mile run, discus throw, pole vault, broad jump, shot put, and a relay race.
In preparation for the 1907 rally, Stephens circulated an Institute Bulletin “to say a word about athletics" and to plug for donations toward a gymnasium on campus.
“The Industrial Institute has from the beginning attempted to make provision for the rational exercise and growth not only of the minds of its students but their bodies as well," Stephens wrote in that bulletin. “When the main building was being planned in the year 1900, a special gymnasium for girls was provided on the third floor South, 65 feet long, 30 feet wide and 17 feet high with two convenient dressing rooms. It was filled with double Swedish horizontal bars, parallel bars, stall bars, chest weights, jumping board and standards, wands, dumb bells, hanging rope, swinging rings, and other useful apparatus. A special trained teacher of gymnastics, a pupil of Miss Clara G. Baer of Newcomb College, gives instruction several hours daily in the Swedish system of gymnastics, and all the Institute girls are required to take this subject.
“The boys have not had as yet the benefit of a gymnasium, as the girls have, but they have been encouraged each year in the organization of their athletic teams for foot ball (sic) and baseball and track work, and have been given ‘all outside of doors' to work in. They have also been organized into military companies forming a battalion of cadets, and have secured the excellent physical exercise of the daily drill.
“The result of these efforts with both boys and girls," Stephens continued, “has been the promotion of healthy development in muscle and tissue, deep breathing of pure air, expansion of lungs, oxygenation of blood, and a general good feeling of normal wholeness. Boys or girls who take such exercise always feel better, sleep better, study better and make better progress intellectual development."
Stephens continued, “In the third session of the Institute, 1903-4, a track team was organized among the boys, and it was decided to invite neighboring high schools in S.W. Louisiana to join in Field Day contests. A meeting of Principals to discuss the matter resulted in the organization of the I.A. & O.A. of Southwest Louisiana which provided for an annual Field Day for athletics and also for a contest in oratory.
“The movement was aided by generous offers of gold and silver medals and prizes by citizens of Lafayette for various events, and in particular the gift of a handsome silver championship cup from Mr. T.M. Biossat, a local merchant. The cup was to go each year to the school whose team won the largest number of points in the Field Day contests, and was to be finally awarded to the school winning three times in succession. And when this cup was finally won the third time by the Institute team, Mr. Biossat promptly offered a second cup ... to be awarded under the same conditions. ...
“At the first Field Day, 1904, Albert Talbot, of the Institute, won the medal for the best all round athlete; William Braden of Lake Charles won the contest in Oratory; and the Institute took the Biossat cup. In 1905, Aldwin Talbot, of the Institute, a younger brother of the former champion, was the best athlete; Percy Garrot of Marksville was the best orator; and the Institute team again held the cup. In 1906, James Caffery of the Institute was the champion athlete, though run very close by Dauterive of New Iberia; Albert Kittredge of Lake Charles was the successful orator; and the Institute, though heavily handicapped, held the cup for the third time, thus acquiring the final possession.
“Meanwhile," Stephens continued, “the spirit of track athletics in the schools has been greatly stimulated. Many of the high schools, especially Leesville, Lake Charles and New Iberia, have developed teams that are the equal or superior of the Institute team, notwithstanding the latter has an advantage over them in having a larger attendance and a dormitory system. This advantage, however, has been fully counterbalanced by handicaps. For instance, schools having an attendance of less than 150 boys 14 years old or over are allowed an addition of one percent to their score for each 5 less than 150 boys in attendance ... Also, 10 percent is allowed for all visiting teams, and one percent more for each 10 miles traveled. And in the running events, a contestant 18 years old is placed on the scratch, while those under that age are put forward 1 percent of the distance to be run for each year he is less than 18."
The president continued, “The fourth annual Field Day is to be Saturday, April 20, 1907. Many of the teams that will participate ... have been in training for six to eight weeks and are expecting to beat all previous records. A special professional coach, Mr. Ralph Frame, of Eureka, Illinois, has been employed at a total expense of more than $200, to visit all the high schools in the Association for three days each and (to provide) such instruction and preparation as possible in that time. The track events will be held in the afternoon and the oratorical contest at night. Basketball and tennis contests may be held in the morning and, possibly on the preceding afternoon. Lafayette has five main line passenger trains (that) day each way, and special rates for this occasion have been applied for. Two thousand visitors are expected to be in attendance for the day. The gate fees will be 50 cents for games and track events, and 25 cents for oratorical contest. ...
“What are we driving at?" Stephens asked rhetorically. “Well, we want to lay the physical foundation in our schools for the best intellectual development and the greatest fullness of life for the boy and for the girl. This kind of thing will stimulate interest in athletics and physical development in the schools and will ultimately result in (health and strength), the first requisite of a helpful, useful, enjoyable life. Track athletics is better adapted to general and harmonious development than any other form of exercise. It gives opportunity to all, it lends to no excuses, it is not dangerous. It is the best possible substitute for a school gymnasium. ...
“But what we really want here at the Industrial Institute is a gymnasium. Cost, $25,000. Location, on the campus opposite (the) Boys' Dormitory, forming (a) quadrangle with the dormitory, the main building, and the next big building we get. The need and use for such (an) addition to the Institute is easy to see if you happen to be on the grounds. The mere fact that getting it will be a big undertaking is no deterrent whatever; big undertakings are the only kind undertaken in these days — all you have to do is to want the thing and then, as a great philosopher once said, ‘just blow on your hands.'
“If you will come to witness the big Field Day contests on April 20, you will no doubt be impressed with the plan proposed, and will then be willing to help out. If you, for example, good citizen who reads this circular, will contribute ...perhaps the other citizens of Lafayette and Southwest Louisiana will supplement this amount sufficiently to induce the Legislature of 1908 to complete the appropriation required."
SLII competed in the annual Field Day competition until 1911, when it withdrew from the competition “(because) its advantage (over) the High Schools was considered too great to admit of satisfactory adjustment by handicaps."