An Advocate of Athletics and Baseball
Frederick Gunn was an early proponent of athletics and physical exercise as an essential component of a successful educational curriculum and character development.
- Every Gunnery scholar had to belong to a baseball “nine,” as the teams were called.
- Students played an early form of hockey, called “shinney,” and a form of football that more closely resembled rugby.
- Mr. Gunn particularly enjoyed baseball and Clarence Deming, Class of 1866, who went on to become a sportswriter of some note, reflected on his athletic ability in “The Master of The Gunnery,” writing: “He played thrower and catcher with equal facility, and he was famous for the unerring precision with which at long distances he hit the base-runner.”
- Gunn Scholar Mark Rhoads ’04 brought to light how important baseball was to The Gunnery through his research on the first photograph of a baseball game in progress, now held in the Paula and George Krimsky ’60 Archives and Special Collections. Mr. Gunn appears in the photograph (below), which was taken on August 4, 1869, during the first Gunnery alumni reunion and was featured as the frontispiece of Ken Burns' book on baseball.
- The first team of nine was established even earlier, in the 1850s. They played on the village green.
- Also playing for Gunnery in that “grand” match in 1869: John Brinsmade, an alumnus who was at that time in college but would later marry Fred and Abigail’s daughter, and become the school’s second headmaster. Writing in the Stray Shot in June 1908, Brinsmade said: “Baseball, the national game, was played here as early as in any place, outside of a few large cities … The Gunnery was playing the national game with out-of-town clubs before Yale and Harvard had begun their matches.”
The Gunnery was among the first of the Yankee villages to adopt the “New York” game governed by the Knickerbocker rules due to the school’s connection with the Van Cott family. Judge William H. Van Cott was President of the National Association of Baseball Players and played professionally for the New York Mutuals from Mount Vernon. His three boys, Daniel, William Jr. and Leonard, were students at The Gunnery in the late 1850s. All three played baseball and Daniel started as a shortstop in the first alumni weekend game versus New Milford, depicted in the 1869 photograph (above).
Future headmaster William Hamilton Gibson, bottom right, played baseball for Gunnery in 1899.