The Erskine College Board of Trustees had a difficult decision on their hands as they met in October 1896. Competition between class teams in the sports of baseball and football had grown extremely popular and now the Erskine students wanted to play “outside” teams. The Board agreed that day to allow the two teams to play one game each against “outside” competition that season, launching what has become a proud 104-year history of intercollegiate athletics at Erskine College.
The Erskine football team traveled to Charlotte in November 1896, where it was defeated 34-4 by the Charlotte YMCA. The baseball team met Presbyterian College in Greenwood, South Carolina in April 1897 and defeated the Blue Stockings 21-5 in Erskine’s first game against an intercollegiate opponent. Erskine has fielded a baseball team in every year since, except for the war years of 1943-45. Spring 2000 saw our 102nd season of intercollegiate baseball.
After 1896, the Board of Trustees had second thoughts about football and did not allow the college to field another intercollegiate team until 1915, though class football continued during many of the intervening years. In 1900, men¹s tennis joined baseball as an intercollegiate sport, and Erskine dominated both sports during the first decade of the 20th century. Erskine won state baseball championships in 1903, 1907, 1909, 1910, and retired the State Intercollegiate Tennis Trophy with victories in 1906, 1907, and 1910. Erskine¹s 104 years of athletics have been marked by one of the state¹s greatest athletes and great coaching.
The athlete, David G. “Dode” Phillips, led Erskine to football victories over South Carolina, Clemson, and The Citadel between 1917-1921, scoring on every opponent during a 1921 season culminated by a 13-0 victory over Clemson. A baseball third baseman, he also hit 17 home runs his senior season and later played several seasons of professional baseball. In 1939, he was voted South Carolina¹s all-time greatest athlete.
The coaches include South Carolina Athletics Hall of Fame members Billy Laval, Phillips, Jake Todd, Gene Alexander, and Red Myers. Laval, who went on to coaching fame at Furman, South Carolina, and Newberry, coached Erskine to three South Carolina Intercollegiate Athletic Association baseball championships in his four years at the helm between 1907-11.
Basketball was started in 1915, and Erskine played outdoors until Alumni Gym was built in 1924. In 1926, Jake Todd took over the program and coached four teams to the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association tournament, leading the team until 1941. Coach Gene Alexander coached Erskine Basketball until 1957, and brought national attention with his fast break, high scoring style. Alexander later went on to great success at Wofford.
Red Myers took over the basketball program for Alexander in 1958 and won 413 games over the next 25 years, taking three Erskine teams to the NAIA National Tournament. During the same period Harry Stille was leading the Erskine baseball program back to a place of prominence in the NAIA, winning three district titles as well. For their accomplishments, both Myers and Stille were elected into the NAIA National Hall of Fame.
Erskine was one of the first southern colleges to have a soccer team, starting the program in 1966. The men’s team enjoyed national success in the NAIA during the 70’s and 80’s. Coach Ralph Lundy led Erskine to five NAIA National appearances during 16 seasons, winning 184 matches. The women’s soccer program was started in 1984, and this team earned Erskine it¹s highest national finish ever, losing 1-0 to Berry College in the 1987 NAIA National Championship game.
The 1990’s were highlighted by the men¹s basketball team 1991-1992 season. The team was coached by the late Robbie Hicklin, and reached the NAIA National Quarterfinals. The team finished the season 27-7. Hicklin spent the season battling stomach cancer and lost his battle in July 1992.
Since 1992, Erskine has been a member of NCAA Division II, after previously participating under the auspices of the South Carolina Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SCIAA), Southern Intercollegiate Athletics Association (SIAA), and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). In 1995, Erskine became a charter member of the Carolinas-Virginia Athletic Conference (CVAC), a NCAA Division II conference with 12 members from the Carolinas and Virginia.
Our Men’s Tennis program has enjoyed great success since moving to Division II and the CVAC. Under the direction of 33-year head coach Vardon Cox, the team has enjoyed three NCAA Regional appearances and a trip to the Division II Nationals in 1998.
Over the past century Erskine has played a role in South Carolina athletics far exceeding its size. The quality of South Carolina athletics bears the imprint of Erskine’s great coaches and their players who have gone on to coach and teach thousands of other young people. The current popularity of such sports as soccer owes much to the vision of Erskine College and to its coaches and players.
As Erskine enters its 104th year of athletic competition, it continues to serve as a model of what an intercollegiate athletic program can be.