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Janie Harris | | February 20, 2017

President's Day: A look at U.S. presidents in college sports

President’s Day, which was originally established in 1885 to recognize President George Washington, is now popularly celebrated to recognize all current and former U.S. presidents. For more than 220 years the U.S. has rotated through leaders, and while it has never been a requirement, a number of U.S. presidents has participated in some way with college sports. 

So, to honor the POTUS position, here is a look at some of the former presidents' impact on college athletics:

Theodore Roosevelt


While Teddy Roosevelt didn’t compete as part of any collegiate teams, he actually had a large hand in the formation of the NCAA, according to The Sports Historian. Football was just beginning to pick up popularity in U.S. colleges, but many colleges began dropping the sport due to the dangerous nature of the game at the time. When Harvard’s president called to abolish the game at Roosevelt’s alma mater, he decided to step in. His intervention eventually led to a reform movement, which brought about the creation of the Inter Collegiate Athletic Association to enforce rules in college athletics. The group changed its name to the NCAA in 1910. Each year, the NCAA gives out The Theodore Roosevelt Award to a distinguished citizen of national reputation and outstanding accomplishment. To be eligible the recipient must have graduated from an NCAA member institution and earned a varsity athletics award, or participated in competitive intercollegiate athletics.

William Howard Taft


  Taft was Yale's first intramural heavyweight wrestling champion.
Known to be one of the heavier men to sit in the Oval Office, Taft participated in wrestling while in college. At the time, it was an intramural team, but he became Yale’s first intramural heavyweight wrestling champion.

Woodrow Wilson


While Wilson only attended Davidson for a year before transferring to Princeton, he was able to squeeze onto the baseball team to play during his freshman year.

Herbert Hoover


  Hoover served as Stanford's football manager.
While he didn’t play on the team, Herbert Hoover was Stanford’s football manager. In fact, during the first “Big Game” between the Cardinal and California, he was there collecting tickets. The problem? He only printed 10,000 tickets and ran out, so he had to collect coins at the gate, filling empty wash tubs and boxes to keep the coins organized.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

West Point

  Eisenhower broke his leg during a game, which prevented him from playing for more than two seasons.
In 1911, Eisenhower enrolled in the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. LIFE Magazine reported he played two seasons with the Army football team as a halfback, and he looked to be a promising player for West Point until he broke his leg. The injury prevented him from coming back onto the field, so he turned to fencing and gymnastics to stay in shape.

John F. Kennedy


Kennedy, while attending Harvard, spent time on the Harvard football team. But, he wasn’t exactly great at it, according to The Harvard Crimson, so he joined the swim team. 

Richard Nixon

Whittier College

  Nixon never saw the field during his time as a football player for Whittier.
While attending the private college in his small hometown, Nixon participated in both football and basketball. He wasn’t a great footballer, though. He never saw the field.

Gerald R. Ford

Michigan, Yale

According to Michigan Athletics, Ford earned three varsity letters as the Wolverine’s starting center. In 1994, Michigan retired his No. 48 jersey, but in 2012, Michigan pulled his number from retirement to name Ford a Michigan Football Legend and allow linebacker Desmond Morgan to wear No. 48 for his time with the Wolverines. Also, while gaining his law degree from Yale, Ford served as the assistant football coach to the Bulldogs in 1941.

Ronald Reagan

Eureka College

The 40th President of the United States enrolled at Eureka College in Illinois in 1928. The school reports that he lettered three times while playing guard for the football team. However, he was also known for being the college’s leading swimmer and a star member of the track team.

George H.W. Bush


  Bush made it to the College World Series twice while at Yale.
From 1946 to 1948, Bush Sr. served as a first baseman for the Bulldogs. During his time, he and the team made it to the College World Series twice, and in 1948, he was the team captain.

"I guess playing in the first two College World Series also stands out as being special," said Bush in an exchange of emailed questions and answers with Yale Athletics. "We had a wonderful coach in Ethan Allen and some terrific pitching in Frank Quinn and Walt Gratham. I can't say I contributed much on offense, but it was a heck of a ride nonetheless."

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