Past Treasure of the Month – November 2020
This month, visit Rosenberg Library and view a ca. 1920 leather football helmet which belonged to Clifford Paisley, a member of the early 20th century amateur football team, the Galveston Hurricanes. The Treasure of the Month was displayed on the library’s second floor near the east entrance.
During the late 1870s, Walter Crump, a star rugby player at Yale University, spearheaded a campaign to make several significant changes to the English Rugby Football Union rulebook in order to make the game better organized and safer for student athletes. Among his recommendations were lowering the number of players on the field from 15 to 11; establishing a line of scrimmage; and snapping from the center to the quarterback. After these rule changes were adopted by the Intercollegiate Football Association in 1880, several more were proposed: legalizing blocking and creating requirements for down and distance. With these revisions, the unique sport of American football was created.
Football became a popular sport at high schools and colleges across the United States during the early 20th century. By 1920, the first professional league was formed to allow non-student players to play on paid pro teams. This organization was later renamed the National Football League. In addition to professional teams, local amateur teams were established across the country. One such team was the Galveston Hurricanes.
Organized in 1920, team members were young men from various parts of the city, and many of them were employed by Santa Fe Railway Company. According to an article published in the Galveston Daily News in October of that year, all of the Hurricanes players were former high school or college athletes. The team practiced at the Ball High School athletic field, then located in the island’s downtown district.
In 1925, the Galveston Hurricanes joined the newly-formed South Texas Amateur Football League. The regional league included teams representing Galveston, Houston, and Baytown. Football games were held at Gulf View Park, an athletic complex located at 39th and Avenue T during the 1920s.
The Hurricanes had a strong record throughout the 1920s and 1930s, and the roster included numerous standout players. The team won the South Texas Amateur Championship title in 1939. However, enthusiasm for the team declined, and the Hurricanes lacked a fan base and financial support after 1940. Coach Johnny Burgess left the team in 1941, and the organization dissolved soon after. A newspaper article from January 1942 indicated that the lack of interest in Galveston’s amateur football team was a result of an increased interest in local sports at the junior high and high school level.
Today, the Galveston Hurricanes legacy continues to live on through the island’s youth football team which has carried the same name since 1993. Currently part of the Gulf Coast Premier Football League, the Galveston Hurricanes is a non-profit youth organization encouraging children to become involved with sports.