Left to right, top row: Ralph Lucier, Frank Madden, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Earl Briney, “Six” McDonald, Howard Funk. Second row: Orin Snyder, coach Raymond Sare, Ames Rogers, G.N. Hiffman and Prof. Down.
Bottom row: Dean Achers, Charles Barber, Earl Merrifield, Ron Coleman, Carl Nicolay
By Bill Swank
Special to Reflector-Chronicle
How might football coach Jeff Geist respond if someone suggested Cody Whitehair would return to the Cowboys two years after his 2010 graduation from Abilene High School?
Something like this actually happened over 100 years ago.
Dwight Eisenhower graduated from AHS in June 1909. According to Tim Rives, assistant director of the Eisenhower Presidential Library, “Ike returned to Abilene High School in the fall of 1910 to prep for the West Point entrance exam; he took the opportunity to play another season of football. This is the odd part: he reportedly played under the name of Sweeney. Curious and curiouser.”
Nobody has been able to document evidence of the assumed name which comes from Merle Miller’s book, Ike the Soldier: “In local towns I would be called Sweeney. It was Sweeney this, get out of there Sweeney.... I had to work rather hard. I always like bodily contact, and the coaches, just because I loved to crash into someone, they put me in. I was fairly fast, I guess."
The following local football history can be confirmed. On October 20, 1910, the Dickinson County News reported, “Dwight Eisenhower has entered high school.” At that time, the AHS football team record was 1-1.
The next day, the Daily Chronicle mentioned that, “Eisenhower, Merrifield and Huffman showed up well, but were unable to get going in their unusual stride” as Abilene and Dickinson County School battled to a scoreless tie.
The Daily Chronicle (October 25, 1910) noted that Ike would take his preliminary exams at Jefferson Barracks in January 1911 and added, “Mr. Eisenhower is a good student and will very likely be able to make the high grade required.”
Both the 1910 Daily Chronicle and Dickinson County News identify Dwight Eisenhower as Eisenhower in the last three games of that season against Dickinson County, Enterprise and Salina. The Reflector did not provide much coverage of football, because apparently the editor did not approve of the sport.
The Daily Chronicle heralded Abilene’s 11-0 victory over Enterprise with two sentences of interest: “Eisenhower circled left end for twenty-five yards” and “touch-downs were made by Nicolay and Eisenhower.”
With a record of 3-1-1, the Daily Chronicle proclaimed Abilene as Central Kansas champions: “Oh, you central Kansas champions!”
A Thanksgiving game was organized to play Russell, 90 miles to the west. Although Russell prevailed, 11-0, the Dickinson County News complimented the host team. “The boys (from Abilene) were royally treated in the evening at a big Thanksgiving banquet in their honor by the high school.”
The Russell Reformer listed Eisenhower at left tackle for Abilene. Neither the names Eisenhower nor Sweeney appear in the Chapman, Enterprise or Salina newspapers, so the possible use of an assumed name cannot be verified.
In December 1910, the Daily Chronicle reported highlights from the team’s annual gridiron banquet. Ike proposed a toast entitled, “Kicks,” and Orin Snyder, the team’s coach, toasted “The Bids (whatever that means?)” Snyder was a few years older than his left tackle. They had previously been teammates when both were students at Abilene.
Eisenhower would go on to play varsity football at the Military Academy. The New York Times labeled him, “one of the most promising backs in Eastern football.” In 1912, Ike and a powerful Army team lost to Olympic champion Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indians, 27-6. A football injury later compounded by a serious riding injury at West Point would curtail Ike’s athletic career at West Point.
But in 1910, the 20-year-old future president of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower, played football for Abilene High School two seasons removed from his graduation.