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Highlights In History: A Strong Sports Tradition For Eight Decades

 

Today, Saint Leo Athletics boasts 19 teams for male and female student-athletes. See how this solid program began.

Saint-Leo-UniversityThis is the fourth in a series of feature stories, profiles, and anecdotes recounting the significance of important events in the history of Saint Leo University, which is currently commemorating the 125th anniversary of its founding in 1889.

By Kim Payne, University Communications

The first inter-school football game was played in 1923 when Saint Leo was defeated by Jesuit Sacred Heart College. A year later, the Saint Leo Lions played their first full football schedule.

In September 1932, Father Marion Bowman, O.S.B., was appointed the varsity coach and athletic director and oversaw the program for a quarter century until he was elected abbot in 1954. During his tenure, Saint Leo became a statewide sports power among Catholic high schools, private academies, and club teams. During the 1930s and 1940s, Saint Leo won so many sports championships that the trophy case soon had no room to hold all the awards. The four major sports at Saint Leo were football, basketball, track, and baseball. The school regularly won state championships in these sports.

Father Bowman was so closely connected with athletics at Saint Leo that the campus activities center was named in his honor in May 1970. Beginning with the charter bachelor’s degree commencement in 1967, the Abbot Marion Bowman Activities Award has been conferred on the “member of the graduating class whose participation and leadership in extracurricular activities have been of the highest order” (Bowman interview, Oct. 22, 1987).

In May 1928, Saint Leo created the annual statewide track and field meet among Florida’s Catholic high schools. The Lions dominated the competition throughout its two-decade lifetime.

Francis “Red” Barrett was the outstanding all-around athlete of his day (1928-1932). He was the first Saint Leo student to go on to a professional career in major league baseball (St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Red Sox and Braves, and the Pittsburgh Pirates). He pitched a total of 104 major league games between 1939 and 1950, with a 15-17 overall record.

The first indoor gymnasium at Saint Leo was completed in 1937, constructed by outside carpenters with lumber from the abbey’s own trees. While the new facility was being built, the Lions played their home games on Holy Name Academy’s outdoor court.

In the fall of 1947, Father Bowman began a $10,000 drive to build a football stadium on the site of an old sinkhole, known as “The Pit.” The pit was filled in by bulldozer in the spring of 1948 and a natural bowl was carved out of the terrain. More than 50 years later, “The Bowl,” with its contours softened by new landscaping in the 1960s, is still the site of informal sports contests and provides the most scenic views of Lake Jovita and the Saint Leo University campus.

In 1987, the college inaugurated an Athletic Hall of Fame to commemorate notable student-athletes from earlier years. The four charter members were 1923 graduate Father Marion Bowman; 1932 graduate Francis “Red” Barrett; Joseph Orchulli, of the charter class of 1967, who embraced the junior and senior college years, won academic distinctions, and set the school record in basketball with 1,974 points; and Frederick Cambria, 1970 graduate and the first of the new college to play major league baseball. Since 1987, 120 student athletes, coaches, and administrators have been inducted into the Saint Leo University Athletic Hall of Fame.

Other notable “firsts” for Saint Leo athletics include:

1964
Saint Leo introduces baseball as its first intercollegiate athletics team since becoming a four-year college.


1965
Men’s basketball and men’s cross country are introduced at Saint Leo as intercollegiate sports.


1966
Men’s golf begins competition as an intercollegiate sport.


1967
Men’s tennis becomes an intercollegiate sport at Saint Leo.


1968
Men’s soccer begins play at Saint Leo as an intercollegiate sport.


1969
Fred Cambria becomes the first ever Saint Leo College baseball player drafted by professional baseball. He is selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the third round.

Saint Leo College baseball team defeats University of Florida, Florida State, University of Miami, Duke University, University of Connecticut, Fairfield University, and the United States Coast Guard Academy.


1975

Saint Leo joins the Sunshine State Conference as a charter member. It is the only intercollegiate athletics conference of which Saint Leo has been a member. 

The women’s basketball team begins its first season of intercollegiate competition.


1976
Saint Leo College’s baseball team is ranked 19th in the NCAA Small College poll. The tennis team also completes its first winning season in history, with a 15-5 record.


1979
President Southard institutes free admission to athletics events for all faculty and staff. The first free event is a football game against the University of Central Florida (UCF).


1980
Saint Leo volleyball team begins intercollegiate competition.


1981
Saint Leo’s first women’s softball team takes the field for intercollegiate competition, playing slow pitch.


1983-85

Four men and two women qualify for national competition in men’s and women’s tennis.


1985
Saint Leo women’s softball team moves to fast pitch.


1997
Soccer player Jon Akin becomes the first Saint Leo athlete to be named Sunshine State Conference Athlete of the Year.


2000
Women’s soccer team plays its first season of intercollegiate competition.


2005
Men’s soccer team makes history by winning Saint Leo’s first Sunshine State Conference Championship, finishing the season 15-2.


2006
Men’s lacrosse is introduced as an intercollegiate sport and goes 3-9 in its inaugural season.


2011
Women’s lacrosse team hits the field for its first year of intercollegiate competition. The Lions post a 5-9 record in their inaugural season.


March 2013

Five members of the men’s swimming team compete at the NCAA Championships. Despite taking only five representatives to the championships, the Lions still manage to earn 108 points, finishing 13th in the nation.


April 2013
Marcus Ruh is named the 2012-13 Capital One Academic All-America of the Year for Division II men's basketball, posting a 4.0 grade point average in business administration. The award is the highest academic honor bestowed in the sport. In conjunction with receiving the nation's highest honor, he is selected as a member of the Capital One Academic All-America First Team. Ruh is one of only 10 student-athletes in Saint Leo history to receive that distinction.


November 2013

The Saint Leo University men’s cross country team is the first team in school history to advance to the NCAA National Championships. The Lions finish in 26th place.


January 2014
The Saint Leo men’s and women’s track teams begin its first full season as an official intercollegiate sport, taking part in the Jimmy Carnes Indoor Track & Field Meet at the University of Florida. Herns Agyemang-Duah makes Saint Leo history by becoming the first track athlete at the school to provisionally qualify for the NCAA Championships, doing so in the 800-meter run.


May 2014

The women’s tennis team advances to the NCAA National Championship and makes school history by becoming the first Saint Leo team to play in the national semifinals.


June 2014

The Saint Leo athletics department finishes 18th in the Learfield Directors’ Cup Standings with 490 points, surpassing its previous best of 232.75 points posted during the 2011-12 season. The Learfield Cup ranks the top Division II athletic programs in the country. The Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup was developed as a joint effort between the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) and USA Today.

 

Next Issue:  The Saint Leo University alma mater

Read Previous Issues:

How Did The Benedictine Monks Arrive In Florida?

When Did The Benedictine Sisters Arrive?

The Many Names Of Saint Leo

 

Do you have any ideas for future issues of Highlights in History?

Kim-Payne-Saint-Leo-UniversityKim Payne joined Saint Leo’s University Communications office in 2013 as the staff writer and media coordinator. A 30-year professional communicator, he has worked in environments ranging from corporate to health care to advertising agencies and non-profits. Outside the office, he and his wife, Sue, enjoy playing golf and are huge hockey fans.  You can reach Kim in UC at 352-588-7233 or kim.payne@saintleo.edu.

Sources: Information excerpted from Pioneer College: The Centennial History of Saint Leo College, Saint Leo Abbey, and Holy Name Priory by James J. Horgan (Saint Leo College Press,1989). Additional information provided by the Saint Leo University Athletics Department, Fran Reidy ’02, intercollegiate athletics director, and Thomas (Tim) Crosby ’67, Saint Leo College, former associate professor of physical education, assistant baseball coach, and head men’s and women’s tennis coach.

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