It’s mid-June, and Longhorn baseball fans are jubilant over the team’s record 36th appearance in the College World Series. They have good reasons to be happy. Over the last 108 seasons, the team has had but five coaches: Billy Disch, Bibb Falk, Cliff Gustafson, Augie Garrido, and second-year coach David Pierce (Blair Cherry stepped in for Bibb Falk for part of World War II and coached the team from 1943 – 1945), who have collectively compiled six national championships and more than 70 conference titles, a unique and remarkable achievement in college baseball.
For the veteran fans who fill the stadium seats each spring, the team’s history, coaches, and names of players who went on to the major leagues are all familiar. But almost no one remembers the senior UT student whose quick – and perhaps desperate – actions saved the baseball program from being cancelled outright. The achievements of UT baseball might never have happened, or at least would have been delayed, if it hadn’t been for Maurice Wolf.
In early January, 1906, the prospects of a baseball season were dim. The University’s Athletic Council, chaired by math professor (and future UT president) Harry Benedict, had officially adopted a policy of “no cash, no schedule.” While football had been marginally profitable, other sports were usually in the red, and baseball was the worst offender. A $1200 deficit plagued the ledger. In the past, faculty and alumni members of the council often donated out of their own pockets to keep the athletic ship afloat, but Benedict was determined not to let serving on the council “run the risk of personal ruin.” The deficit had to be erased before Sewell Myer, the student manager of the baseball team, was allowed to set-up a schedule.
Baseball wasn’t all that popular with the general faculty, either. Too many players had run afoul of academic eligibility rules. Only a few years before, on an out-of-state road trip, an ineligible player boarded the train and suited up for play with his costs covered by his teammates, despite being expressly prohibited from doing so by the University president. If the $1200 could not be raised or guaranteed, both the Athletic Council and the faculty were ready to discontinue baseball.
The students didn’t want to lose the team, and searched for for a quick solution. After some delicate diplomacy and uneasy agreements, $900 was promised from library deposits. The final $300 was pledged by 30 students who signed an agreement to pay $10 each by May 1st if needed. Among them was Maurice Wolf (pictured), who was told that the bond was simply a formality, the team finances would be fine, and the money wouldn’t actually have to be paid.
The Athletic Council accepted the solution, and Sewell Myer set out to arrange a schedule, but because of the late start, there were fewer opponents available. The team managed an eight-game, out-of-town trip to Texas A&M, Louisiana State, and the University of Mississippi, and the UT hosted Kansas, Baylor, Saint Edward’s, Southwestern, and the Austin League Team. But as with previous years, some of the best players collided with faculty regulations and had to be benched. Rain cancelled one of the games against Kansas and another with Baylor, which hurt the all-important gate receipts. Texas swept a home series with Texas A&M to finish with a 10-9 record and claim a winning season, but it also ended with a $500 deficit. The $10 pledges due on May 1st would have to be filled.
As might be expected, the students weren’t prepared to pay. At the time, $10 was a sizable sum. It would more than cover a month’s rent and meals at B. Hall, the men’s dorm on the campus. If Maurice and the others were unable to find the money, not only would their reputations suffer, but an exasperated faculty was more than ready to shelve baseball.
To rescue the program, Maurice convinced his fellow students to host an ambitious fundraiser in the form of a circus performance. Dubbed the “Varsity Circus,” the entire campus helped with organization and preparations, and within a few weeks all was ready. Late on the warm afternoon of Friday, May 25, a circus parade proceeded down Congress Avenue, much to the delight of thousands of spectators. The participants included the University Band, posing as a “celebrated musical company from Italy,” automobiles decked out in University colors with campus coeds as “Duchesses of Marseilles,” a troupe of clowns, acrobats, wild elephants, camels, lions, and bears (UT students in homemade costumes), “Ben Hur and Ben Hill” riding Roman chariots, and other eclectic acts.
Above: The Varsity Circus parade strolled down Congress Avenue. The University Band, dressed in white jackets and colorful buttons, posed as a musical group from Italy. Behind them, UT co-eds, dressed as “Duchesses from Marseilles” and carrying parasols, rode in a decorated automobile. Ahead of the band in the horse-drawn cart rode Maurice Wolf, who concocted the idea as an athletics fundraiser. Click on the image for a larger view.
With the parade finished, the public made its way to the campus and Clark Field, the University’s first athletic field, where the O’Donnell Building and the Gates-Dell Computer Science Complex stand today. There they found a “promenade of curiosities,” where for one thin dime a person might get a glimpse at the bearded lady, the human frog, “Ana Conda Baby,” the wild man (who some discovered was actually baseball umpire Speilberger in disguise), a living mummy from Egypt, and other wonders. Refreshments could also be had at modest prices.
The circus proper began at 8 p.m., as more than 1,200 onlookers stood, sat on the ground, or packed the single, inadequate set of stands. The acrobats were in top form, the wild animals knew their routines, the chariot races across the field were exciting, and the clowns kept everyone in stitches. After the acts, the University Band and Glee Club gave a performance, and everyone reluctantly left for home sometime around midnight.
The hero of the day was Maurice Wolf, who had devised, engineered, and produced the spectacle, and the results were gratifying. The Varsity Circus raised enough funds to retire the athletic debt, provide a $150 contribution to the band, and another $100 to the glee club. The University of Texas baseball team would continue for another year, and the Varsity Circus became a biennial tradition well into the 1920s.
Great article, Jim! I loved it!
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