An infographic displays the Millersville varsity football team’s rich and intriguing history. Courtesy of Morgan Huber / Snapper
For most colleges across the country, the biggest moneymaker and the talk of the town is the football team. A unique and symbolic American tradition, football dominates the sports scene as a popular pastime for people of all ages. The famed sport’s influence is so great that, for many colleges and universities, their quality or relevance may be judged by some based on the quality of their varsity football team.
Although Millersville’s football team has had rough patches in recent years, they nonetheless remain a major source of income and pride for the community. Students, faculty, and alumni often attend almost if not every game, hoping to catch the next win or at least the next touchdown. Regardless of whether one follows collegiate athletics, the football team’s reputation is considerably well-known on campus, with many wondering what the glory days were like, and if we can look forward to such times again in the future.
Both our football team, and the sport itself, has a long and fabled history. Created as an interesting spin on soccer and rugby, the sport remains uniquely popular in the United States, with only a handful of professional minor-league teams existing abroad. Less than 20 years after American football was invented in 1869, Millersville State Normal School, today known as Millersville University, decided to jump on the fledgling physical activity.
The Millersville football team is the second oldest varsity sport on campus, after baseball, forming in 1888 and playing their first game the following year against Franklin & Marshall College. The team experienced much success in their early years, finishing with undefeated seasons in 1903 and 1940 before male students began leaving school in droves to serve in the Second World War.
After a three-year hiatus due to the war, the team experienced a rocky two decades, losing most of their subsequent seasons. It was in 1971 when Gene Carpenter, then a 30-year-old assistant coach at the University of Utah, took on the role of Head Coach at Millersville, giving the opportunity for the team to realize the potential of their success.
Dr. Gene A. Carpenter was head coach from 1970 until 2001, a tenure which arguably remains known as the “glory days” of Millersville football. A dedicated and beloved coach and professor of wellness and sports science, Carpenter served at the helm of the football team for 31 seasons, 27 of which were winning seasons.
He led the team to nine Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) championships and was twice awarded PSAC Eastern Division Coach of the Year. It was during his tenure that the team experienced some of its highest highs in history, and his last season as coach before retiring in 2001 was also Ville Football’s last winning season.
The following year, Carpenter was awarded an honorary degree from Millersville, and in 2006, he was inducted into the Millersville Athletics Hall of Fame. The Carpenter-Trout Athletic Training Facility, as well as the men’s locker room at Biemesderfer Stadium, are named after him. Carpenter passed away in 2009, and in 2012, was posthumously inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Carpenter’s resilience, perseverance, and genuine care for and faith in his players opened the door for hundreds of brilliant young athletes to thrive and flourish, and although the team has yet to score a winning season since his retirement, his spirit lives on within the spikes of the turf and the cheers from the sidelines. Such days of glory may seem to have gone, but they are certainly not forgotten, and in time American football will find its pride in the black and gold, whether that be through the touchdowns on the field or the cries of joy and spirit from above.