From Sport in American History by Andrew Boyd Hutchinson:
Current dispute between sponsors Nike and Foot Locker threatens to create a schism in high school cross-country racing in the US.
The sport of cross-country running began almost exactly 200 years ago at Shrewsbury School in England (earliest documented year: 1819), and from the very beginning was an adolescent’s dream game. Rebellious youths took to the swampy moors and dark woods “out of bounds” to harness their adrenaline as they imitated equestrian fox hunts. It’s important to begin our story here, for no other reason than to note that this “hunt” was started for students, by students, and was never expected to develop globally the way it did.
Largely due to émigrés, the game expanded quickly beyond England, and within a generation (spurred by the popularity of Tom Brown’s Schooldays, a book that catalogued the sport at Rugby), landed in America as early as 1860. Once there it was ingrained in the East Coast Ivy Leagues, where Yale tried the sport for the first time in 1870, and Harvard followed suit in 1876. Gentlemen Amateur adult club teams sprouted up in New York (1878 in Harlem) and beyond soon after.
For high-schoolers, the sport first legitimized as a result of the New York Interscholastic Athletic Association “Interscholastic League” in the late 1890s. From there, major interscholastic cross-country meets, like the inaugural “American Interscholastic”, held by the University of Pennsylvania in the fall of 1903, sent invitations up and down the Eastern seaboard urging schoolboys to converge in Philadelphia on the first Saturday in December to compete for what was called a “national” prep championship.
Categories: Sports History