Posts Tagged ‘Vance McCormick’

Vance McCormick’s Life After Carlisle

May 8, 2012

Vance McCormick wasn’t a slacker child who lived with his wealthy parents and coached the Carlisle Indian School football team to give himself something to do, he worked in the family businesses.  After he returned home from Yale in 1893, he helped his father operate his many businesses that included Central iron and Steel, Dauphin Deposit Bank, and Harrisburg Bridge Company.  After his father died in 1897, Vance was in charge of the entire enterprise.  The McCormicks were hard working Scots-Irish Presbyterians who attended Pine Street Presbyterian Church.  At Yale, Vance split with his father on politics and became a Democrat.

In 1900 at age 27, Vance began his career in politics by running for and winning a seat on Harrisburg’s common council from the 4th ward.  About the time he turned 30, he began a term as mayor of Harrisburg.  McCormick’s legacy to Harrisburg is still seen today in the city’s park system.  Less visible, but more impactful, are the water filtration plant that supplied clean drinking water to the residents of Harrisburg at a time when neither Philadelphia nor Boston had such a facility.  He also had 45 miles of city streets paved.  A reformer, Horace McFarland credited him with cleaning up Harrisburg morally as well as physically as fast as he could in his one term as mayor.  And he wasn’t a full-time mayor!  In 1902, he also became publisher of the Patriot-News, which he had ferreting out Republican corruption.  He ran unsuccessfully for Governor in 1914 as organized labor and liquor interests opposed him.  Today, he is perhaps remembered most for what he did on the national level.

McCormick’s restructuring of the moribund state Democratic party was a turning point in his political career.  He was instrumental in shifting the Democrats to progressivism.  Vance became a major player on the national stage.  He was chairman of the Democratic National Committee (1916-19) and served as Woodrow Wilson’s campaign manager.  He chaired the War Trade Board (1916-19) and served on the Commission to Negotiate Peace at Versailles in 1919.

After the war, McCormick returned to Harrisburg where he published both the Patriot-News and the Evening News.  At age 52, he married for the first time to the widow of eight-term Republican congressman Marlin Olmsted.  He died in 1946 at his country home, Cedar Cliff Farms, across the Susquehanna River from Harrisburg.

More on Vance McCormick

May 3, 2012

We need a little more information on Carlisle’s first coach to put the man in proper perspective. Vance McCormick was a great player, but was he a good coach? We already know he was a Walter Camp All America quarterback at Yale in 1891. Looking closer at the caption under his photo in the 1892 Spalding’s Guide reveals that he was also captain of the 1892 Yale squad. In those days being captain meant a lot more than it does today. Captains took a leadership role unknown to today’s players. They were field generals who directed their teammates’ actions when they were on the field of play. Coaches weren’t allowed to send in instructions—even via substitutions. So, a former Yale captain would have been better prepared than an ordinary player to coach a team. But this was no ordinary team. In the beginning, Carlisle Indian School football players had no previous training in the sport. Many had likely played on shop teams but those teams wouldn’t have had coaches (or at least coaches who knew anything about football) and the players would not have been taught the fundamentals of the game.

Vance McCormick probably the extent of the challenge when he took on the job. His teammates at Yale had likely been coached prior to college at the high schools or prep schools they attended and knew the fundamentals before arriving in New Haven. Moreover, they weren’t going to be on the varsity team the first year there anyway. That year would be spent on the freshman team, where they would work on the fundamentals extensively. Given McCormick’s family background, it is likely that he was well coached before arriving in New Haven. Vance McCormick wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth—a whole tea set is more like it. Before coming to Yale, McCormick was educated at Harrisburg Academy and Phillips Andover, private schools that likely had coaches for their football teams.

So, Vance McCormick was probably better suited to coach a team than were his former teammates, but was likely unprepared to coach players who didn’t know the fundamentals or had little prior exposure to the English language. In spite of that, he recognized that the players were athletically gifted and got them started on the road to eventual fame on the gridiron.

Vance McCormick Was First Carlisle Coach

May 1, 2012

While cleaning up the scanned files in preparation of reprinting the 1892 Spalding’s Guide, I noticed a photograph of Vance McCormick on the page opposite page 17. Walter Camp had named the Yale star as the quarterback of his 1891 All-America team, an honor that earned his photo a page in the next year’s Spalding’s Guide. A friend, Nancy Luckenbaugh, taught at Carlisle Indian School and, in 1894, invited him to make the trip from his family’s home in Harrisburg to look over the football material that could be found there. McCormick had graduated from Yale in 1893 and was living at home and working in the family businesses at that time. Liking what he saw, he agreed to become the Indians’ first coach, albeit unpaid. Disciplinarian W. G. Thompson was put in charge of the football team in 1893 when Superintendent Pratt relented and allowed the boys to play against other schools but he was not a coach.

Pratt recalled McCormick’s exuberance in his memoir:

He was on the field one day taking part in instructing the boys how to fall on the ball when chasing it down the field. The ground was moist from recent rain, but he disregarded that and was giving them most enthusiastic incentive. The boys failed to execute the movement properly as he explained, and to show them how, without removing his hat or coat he rushed after and fell on the ball, as the game required. When he got up, his hat and clothing were some admonition against too sudden enthusiasm. The boys gave themselves up to the severest practice, and such energy they soon met all conditions.

Unfortunately, Vance wasn’t a full-time coach and, thus, couldn’t devote the time and energy necessary to lead the Indians to victory against the level of competition they played. He again helped in 1895 but couldn’t devote much time to what could best be called a hobby. He would be followed by other Yale men until 1899.