A GA/PC Day Retrospective
BY EDWIN PROBERT 1760, November 2003
The traditions, which have sprung up around this game, are a microcosm of the athletic history of GA. The place of athletic activity has always been high at GA, because of the school's commitment to the dictum "sound mind, sound body." The modern GA-PC Day combines some the outstanding elements of GA athletics: inclusion, sportsmanship, and continuity. In 1887, when George Hartley Deacon took to the rugby field with his students in the first GA-PC game, he had no idea what would be the heritage of the event. It was just another game for them and him.
Their enthusiasm was high: playing that game, as we know, must have had its own adrenaline rush. We know the equipment was rudimentary, the play was tactile, the competition rough, and the score was GA 20, PC 6. The score tells us how exciting the game was for the GA spectators and even more exhilarating for the GA team. That GA-PC rivalry that has gone on for over 120 years.
That first game was really but today its descendant is now known as American Football. In those early days, the visiting team and their supporters came by train to GA's field to play just another game on their roster. For the first 50, or so years, the GA-PC football game was just that, a straight forward game. In the first phase of the rivalry, GA was usually the more powerful team because the school had outstanding facilities on campus and thick alliance with the Germantown Cricket Club. This GCC connection was a fine asset.
Then in the 1930's, William Penn Charter School moved right into GA's bailiwick and only a few blocks away on School House Lane. Moreover, almost in coordination with PC's move, many of its families moved from Center City to the suburban areas surrounding Germantown. What was once a predictable school competition, having to do with games, was now an invited rivalry having to do with proximity and comparison. The once urban schools now had facilities that outshone GA. What once had been solely GA's catchment area was now shared turf. The presence of Penn Charter certainly underscored GA's lack of land. The tower at PC pierced not only the sky but also perhaps the ego of its rival, GA. The GA-PC football game thus took on a new perspective and intensity.
In those days of the Depression through the first years following World War II, the football world was dominated primarily by collegiate and scholastic competitions. Professional football had yet to come into its own. Those people who loved the game followed favorite college and school teams. The Friday afternoon Inter-Ac games allowed the players' families, friends, and their schools' alumni or enthusiasts to catch a game before the weekend began. The GA-PC game took the limelight because of the schools' proximity, the rising awareness of its lengthy traditions, and acknowledged level of competition. Just as sports are an extension of school's image, the big game represents the school's reputation and pride. During these mid-twentieth century years, the once powerful GA had an uphill struggle, not only in football but also in other sports. GA both was land poor and had fewer students than other Inter-Ac School.
Nonetheless, the GA-PC game was taking on a life of its own, as spectator betting, alumni and team father-drinking and student hijinx, not to mention the time honored, post game destruction of the goal post, were all exhibited.
In time, the event became something like a homecoming activity. Alumni would return, each school had a special pep rally, but with typical Philadelphia upper class reserve, there was no homecoming queen program with its appurtenant glitter and no certainly no marching band. However, the day had a major social event, the post-game cocktail party. Like the burgeoning gridiron rivalry, this party began to take on its own life. One GA Old Guard commented, "Well, if we didn't win the game, and we usually didn't; we always won the cocktail party!" This glib comment underscores how far the GA-PC game had moved from the days of George Hartley Deacon with its roots in "muscular Christianity."
When GA moved to Fort Washington, the GA-PC rivalry no longer was one of geographic proximity. To be exact, GA became the possessor of outstanding athletic facilities and was now co-ed. The tide was changing. Yet, the big game remained a great alumni event! Under the headmastership of Mr. Kast, both schools realized that change was needed: away from adult socializing and toward scholastic sportsmanship. The focus needed to be on the players, the students, and their games.
Shortly there after, the post-game partying was substituted with an emphasis on a pre-game alumni lunch. Both schools declared their campus as "dry" as regards tailgating and hipflasking. With the rise of professional football, scholastic-gridiron book-making dried up. In recent times, larger changes have happened. Penn Charter became co-ed and has expanded its property holdings to provide more playing fields. Both schools have begun to take a position against the schoolboy "hijinx" that were devolving into preppy hooliganism. Both schools on GA-PC Day field Girls and Boys Soccer, Girls and Boys Cross Country, Field Hockey, Girls tennis, Girls and Boys Water Polo and, of course, Football.
In recent years, the big game has become the big day. Leading up to the day, each school encourages spirit-building activities that range from an extravagant pep rally to a bonfire. Then in a genteel way, administrators read the Riot Act to the students about drinking and property destruction. On alternate years, each school is the host. Alumni return in increasing numbers to lunch under a big tent. Both schools now have spirit bands and cheerleaders. In 2000, both schools joined in mounting a student art show. All the fall sports team participate and prizes are awarded.
This brief retrospective of the GA-PC tradition offers telltales of GA's athletic history: the early halcyon days in uncrowded Germantown; the alliance with the Cricket Club; the increasing awareness of the paucity school's facilities; some of the unsavory aspects of scholastic competition; then GA's serendipitous move to Fort Washington and going co-ed.
What would George Hartley Deacon, the Father of GA Athletics think of the descendant of that first 1887 GA-PC rugby match? How would he appraise the contemporary GA-PC Day? Well, he had a keen wit, imagination, and foresight. He knew the future could not be a continuance of his own day. To use a phrase of his time to answer the question: what would he think? "He'd be more pleased than punch."