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Minnesota Football: Fighting 1916 Gophers and WWI #TBT

With the centenary of the Battle of the Somme starting July 1, and the United States celebrating the 4th of July I figured it's a great time to profile a remarkable chapter of Gopher history. The 1916 University of Minnesota Football team went 6-1 (shoulda been 7-0) and when war was declared nearly the whole team enlisted.

Mpls Tribune
Mpls Tribune

Article by John Paul Keefe originally appeared in the January 12, 1919 Minneapolis Tribune.

Minnesota 1916 Football Team Makes Sparkling War Record

Greatest Gopher Eleven Just as Brilliant in the Strife for Democracy

Never was there a football team in the West like that at Minnesota in 1916. In all but one game that team was perfection, and was hailed by every critic who saw it in action as one of the greatest gridiron machines ever developed anywhere any time.

War Record Is Beyond Compare

Never was there an aggregation like that in this section of the country and seldom has there been grouped on one football team a squad of such lion-hearted, do-or-die, patriotic young Americans. The war history of that 1916 Minnesota football eleven is beyond compare. It is practically 1.000 per cent, and members of that team have made records in the fight against the Hun which long will stand in the annals of the university and in their own homes as monuments to the eager boys who left their school, left their homes and all that was near and dear to them to fight for the cause.

Two Win Decorations

Of the 23 men who composed that record breaking football squad in the fall of 2016, all but one are now in
active service, many took part in the heaviest of fighting overseas and two of them have been wounded and two decorated. Some didn't get across the Atlantic but that was not their fault. They were like fighting bulldogs under a strong leash.

Look over the names of the men who compose that memorable 1916 football eleven - Baston, Townley, Ballentine, Wyman, Long, Sinclair and the rest of the stars of the chalk-marked field- and you will be looking at a list of some of the bravest fighters Uncle Sam had.

Hardly had America entered the war than the team members enter into the various branches of service. Most of them went into first officers' training up at Fort Snelling and all but one came out a commissioned officer.

Heading the list of the fight against the Hun is Capt. Albert Baston captain of the 1916 team, and now a captain in the marine corps. Everybody knows what Baston was when in the marines and everybody knows that Baston is the only Minnesota man ever to be named on Walter Camp's All-American eleven on two different occasions. Everybody also knows that he hails from St. Louis Park and has nearly as many friends as the former kaiser has enemies.

Bert Baston Wounded

Captain Baston took an examination for a commission in the marines. He was named a first lieutenant and sailed for France in July, 1917. The next heard of him was when the marines made their colossal stand at Chateau-Thierry, the saving of the world for democracy. Baston so conducted himself in the engagement that he was decorated by both the American and French governments, winning the Distinguished Service Cross and the Croix de Guerre. He was wounded severely and for months has been recuperating from the injuries. When last heard from he pronounced himself almost as good as ever, although he came within an ace of losing his legs.

Jack Townley, a lieutenant in the infantry is the other member of the team to win a decoration. Lieutenant Townley was commissioned from the first officers' camp at Snelling, and after serving at various camps in the United States he was sent overseas. Near the close of the war in an offensive against the Germans in the Argonne sector, he showed such bravery that he was awarded the distinguished service cross. He was also in the thick of the fighting at the St. Mihiel salient.

Lieutenant Townley hails from Fergus Falls and besides playing tackle, guard, and center at Minnesota, also studied law. He was the unanimous choice for All-Western teams in 1915 and 1916.

And Jimmy Ballentine!

Lieut. James Ballentine, Minneapolis product and as fleet-footed as they make them, was the second memeber of the team to sustain wounds in conflict. "Jimmy" was also commissioned from the Snelling camp and sailed for France in September, 1917. He attended a machine gun school at Langres and was excused from "schooling" just in time to see a lot of real action. In leading a machine gun company against the enemy in the Argonne region he was wounded to an undetermined degree.

Ballentine was also a law student at the university and was a member of the track team as well as the football eleven. He was one of the several halfbacks on the 1916 team.

Arnold "Pudge" Wyman, fullback extraordinary, is now somewhere in Germany, with a pair of silver bars on each shoulder. Captain Wyman was another to be commissioned at Snelling and went overseas with Ballentine and Liet. Claire Long. He also was stationed at Langres for some time and when the armistice terms were signed he was named as a member of the army of occupation.

"Pudge" a gridiron hero of the Lorin Solon type is also a Minneapolis product. Besides being a football wonder he also partook of track and basketball. Providing the army of occupation is removed from its present position within a reasonable period of time, Wyman will likely be back for a third year in the moleskins next fall.

Long in Third Army

Also there is Claire "Shorty" Long, a quarterback of All-Western caliber and named as such by most experts. Fort Snelling also made a lieutenant out of Long and in September, 1917, he sailed for France with Ballentine and Wyman finally settling down at Langres. With Wyman he is also in the army of occupation, although a member of the cavalry.

Long is still another Minneapolis product and a law student at the university. He also intends to return to the Gophers next fall if Uncle Sam doesn't need him where he is.

Then there is Lieut. Frank Mayer who experienced lots and lots of difficulty in breaking into a khaki uniform. He was first accepted at first officers camp but was soon rejected because of a weak knee, injured in gridiron battles. Next he went to Fort Omaha where he sought entrance into the balloon service. This time an absolute disregard for equilibrium defeated his plans. Then he went to Camp Dodge as a drafted man and finally wound up as a lieutenant at Camp Hancock.

Mayer was also a law student hailing from East Grand Forks. He has already expressed his intention of returning to school next fall and his expression is nothing more or less than an assertion that Minnesota will have an All-Western left tackle next fall.

Hauser in the Navy

George Hauser liked the navy better than the army and liked it so well that he's now an ensign. Hauser finished his forestry course at the university before entering service and was captain of the 1917 team He hails from Iowa and is now cruising the high seas in search of excitement.

Gilbert Sinclair has been in France longer than any of members of the team over there and although not in actual fighting all of the time he has perhaps seen more of the gruesomeness and terror of the war than any others. Sinclair is a lieutenant in the aviation corps. When he first went overseas he drove a French ambulance for several months but later joined the Lafayette esquadrille. He then obtained a transfer to the American flying unit where he stayed. It has not been learned whether or not he bagged any Hun birdmen or not but it is presumed that if he engaged in a battle with any he certainly came out on top.

Sinclair too is a Minneapolis boy. On the varsity eleven he played a guard position and did it so well in three successive years that he was All-Western choice of most critics. Paul Flinn who played the opposite wing to Capt. Baston is still in America although he has been in the service for many months. Flinn obtained a commission as lieutenant in the ordnanee department at Camp Gordon, where he is still stationed.

Lieutenant Flinn's home is in Duluth and it was there that he learned so much about playing a wing position at football. In a recent letter he stated that he will be back at Minnesota next fall and right away the stock went up with a jump.

Ed Buckley, supplementary end for both Baston and Flinn, is in the navy, stationed at the Great Lakes naval training station. He left the university shortly after the 1916 football season terminated and was not heard from until his named appeared as a member of the football team at the Great Lakes.

Ekhlund at Great Lakes

Conrad Ekhlund is also in the navy and stationed at the Great Lakes naval training station. Ekhlund, a Minneapolis boy, played guard on the famous 1916 aggregation and he, too, was often chose for All-Western honors. Last fall he played with the Great Lakes team and conducted himself in the same manner as he used to on Northrop field.

Harland C. Hanson, also the possessor of silver shoulder bars is over in France with Lieut. Parker Anderson. Both were members of the tam and both were in the forestry class. Upon their graduation they were given commissions in the forestry service and sent to France immediately. Little has been heard of either since they arrived overseas. Hanson played center when Jack Townley didn't and was also used at the guard positions. He was a player of exceptional ability, especially when his comparatively light weight is taken in consideration. Parker Anderson one-half of the twin halfbacks, Anderson and Carlson, was not discovered until his last year at school. Carlson is also in the service and has been for more than a year.

Joe Sprafka commonly applicably termed "The Galloper," has been in the medical corps for nearly two years, but Uncle Sam  has never had occasion to call on him. Hence Joe is still at school and bemoaning the fact there there was a war and he wasn't there. It is hardly necessary to say that Joe was a halfback and a good one too.

Others over there

Norman Kingsley, Wyamn's understudy, and captain of the 1918 team, has been attending the university as an S.A.T.C. member. Joe Hartwig, a substitute lineman, is in France with an engineer unit. Walter Haertel, former North high demon, is with an engineer unit in France and has seen plenty of action. Haertel will very likely return to the university as soon as he is discharged from his present occupation. Bros and Wise, substitute backfield men are also in khaki.

Harold Hanson, fleet halfback, is the only member of the squad not in service and he had a reason, no sooner had the 1916 schedule been completed when Half led his bride to the altar and left school. Last fall he coached the St. Thomas team.

Then to cap the climax Perry Dean, and Wingate Anderson, manager and assistant manager of athletics, respectively, in 1916 are both in service, the former being commissioned a lieutenant at the Snelling school and later being promoted to captain and the later a member of Minnesota Base Hospital Unit No. 26 now in France. Captain Dean arrived back in the United States last week. He is in the 335th artillery.

In conclusion there is Lieut. Boleslaus Rosenthal, assistant coach of the 1916 team. Boles is in the navy and stationed at an Eastern port. He was the first of those mentioned to go into the service after the United States entered the war.