Left: The 1893 championship baseball team’s photograph was taken on the church green.
Below: This early form of football was played on KUA’s first athletic field, The Old Playground.
The Old Playground is located above Munro House, the Head of School’s home. A few granite fence posts are still visible, but it has been more than one hundred years since it held an athletic competition. KUA bought the pasture in 1843 from John Bryant’s brother Levi who now owned the old Kimball Store, for $100 and spent a further $75 to level the field. Over the next 50 years, intramural track events and team sports, such as baseball and football, took place on the new field. In the 1929 Kimball Union Academy Bulletin, Maurice Duncklee, class of 1893, described the school-wide excitement on game day.
“A beautiful afternoon in early October. The maples are clothed in their autumn beauty, and there is just enough chill in the air to make physical exercise a joy. The Academy bell has announced release from class room activities and a horde of eager boys are racing toward the playground. Two leaders by common consent begin choosing sides and soon every boy from the youngest and smallest in stature to the oldest and most stalwart is on one side or the other lined up, one line near the East fence and the other near the West. The leader on the East side kicks off nearly over the West fence and a mad scramble ensues. Back and forth the tide of battle rolls. Shins are kicked as the ball is missed, smaller boys are toppled over, ruthlessly until finally a lucky kick sends the ball over the West fence. Then the struggle begins all over again. ‘Association’ football. Glorious exercise for everybody.”
Duncklee added that Robert Penman of Meriden, class of 1890, and Charles Alden Tracy of Cornish, class of 1893 (and future headmaster), became “so expert in kicking goals that they were debarred from kicking off. The present modern game was not attempted until the fall of 1892, when a Dartmouth man came down from Hanover and taught the rudiments. A game or two was played with teams the result of which I have forgotten.” In the first of over 110 football games in the third oldest football rivalry in the country, KUA played Vermont Academy in 1897 at The Old Playground. Vermont won 22-0.
Old “base ball” was also exciting as Duncklee continued with the summary of an early game, “A Saturday afternoon the first week in June. The wooden stands filled with the girls of the school. The baseball team at grips with an ancient rival. The last of the ninth inning. K.U.A. leading by one run. The visitors at bat. Two out and bases full. A long hit which appears to be over the fence and the men on bases scamper for home. The center fielder races back, rests on the fence leaning backward and spears the ball with his gloved hand. The game is saved! Great excitement and rejoicing. The Academy bell sends the good news pealing over hill and valley.”
The first baseball game with an outside school was played away against Windsor High School, Windsor, VT, on April 16, 1892. KUA won 10-5, “by seasonable hitting, sharp base running, and nearly perfect field work,” according to the school newspaper.
Duncklee continued, “Yes, in each case the scene is the same. It is the ‘old playground.’ To the southwest are the twin hills, the rugged Cliffs, while farther to the south is Ascutney, blue in the distance, dominating the landscape in symmetrical, majestic beauty. The old playground, with the solid ledge showing through here and there, scene of so many hard won victories and some heart-breaking defeats, place where strength of body and character were gained, where lifelong friendships were cemented, dear to the hearts of so many loyal sons and daughters of the school.”
By the end of the nineteenth century, it was felt that a larger field than the “one acre and sixty-seven rods” that made up the playground was needed in order to compete with KUA’s “old time rivals.” In 1900, a Boston lawyer, Samuel L. Powers, class of 1870, purchased and gave KUA the land for the new athletic fields below Chellis Pond. This was done with the cooperation and assistance of John D. Bryant, class of 1845, who owned some of the land. The Old Playground was deeded back to Bryant in 1910, the same year he donated Bryant Hall. The stone columns and iron gates, given by the classes of 1915 and 1916, still stand at the street entrance to Powers Field, now home to the new, twenty-first century sports complex containing an artificial turf field with lights, three grass fields and a baseball field.