The roots of collegiate sports in the United States reach back to the middle of the 19th century when clubs and teams were developed at Ivy League schools. It’s believed the first intercollegiate sporting event was held in 1852 between the Yale and Harvard rowing teams. Naturally, students at the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute (RAMI, RIT’s name until 1944) were not about to be left out of the action. The earliest report of a sporting event at RAMI was a football game in 1902, a match between Mechanics Institute and Canandaigua High School. Incidentally, Canandaigua won 10-1.
During the first decades of the 20th century, students took part in track, baseball and football through clubs and leagues, with occasional games reported between RAMI and local high schools and teacher-training colleges. More official teams, mainly baseball and football, were given space in the yearbook, and the games were definite rallying points for the student body. By 1919, RAMI had a basketball team, coached by Harold J. Brodie, and became our first major intercollegiate sport. Wrestling made its debut during the 1927-1928 season, coached by Mark Ellingson, a recently hired economics professor—and future RAMI president. These were the only intercollegiate sports until 1952, when baseball and tennis expanded their schedules. Fencing had its inaugural year in 1951 and, for many years, it was the only varsity sport to have a women’s team. A turning point in 1960 marked another milestone with soccer and golf growing out of already active clubs. With the move to the new campus, RIT fielded a football team to much fanfare, and ice hockey took advantage of the new rink to boost the sport to varsity level.
RAMI women were active in sports as well. A 1905 article indicates much interest in sports among women, and basketball, captainball, hockey, swimming, riding and hiking gave ample opportunities to exercise, as well as the chance to challenge another school. Interclass games provided an outlet for spirited play and a chance to earn a “letter.” Women’s sporting events were reported in the student paper, The Psimar, alongside the men’s, testifying to a great interest among the students. Fencing would become the first intercollegiate sport for women in 1951, and a strong team won two Intercollegiate Women’s Fencing Association championships in the 1950s. There were no other women’s teams until men’s and women’s swimming teams started on the new campus. This would change in the late 1970s with the passage of Title IX, which expanded women’s access to collegiate sports.