LAWRENCE, Kansas — Football’s rich tradition at Haskell Indian Nations University extends back to the late 1800s, but there won’t be any history made on the field this season.
The school announced in a press release in May that “the football program will be suspended for the upcoming season to determine the viability of the program for the long term.”
Long ago – in the early decades of the 1900s – Haskell played against the big boys, including Alabama. Haskell faced coach Knute Rockne and Notre Dame in South Bend and notched wins against LSU, Nebraska and Texas. The team’s home is Haskell Memorial Stadium, which the school lists as being on the National Register of Historic Places.
As a Haskell linebacker in the 1970s, Moses Jumper Jr. experienced the team’s history firsthand.
“There’s a lot of tradition,” Jumper said. “It goes back 100 years. They played football through the Depression.”
But to Jumper’s disappointment, Haskell won’t play football in 2015.
“It’s sad,” he said.
Jumper said he feels badly for the student-athletes who participated in spring practice and won’t have a chance to play this fall unless it’s somewhere else.
“That’s 58 Native Americans that planned on playing for Haskell [this] year,” he said.
The announcement to halt football surprised Jumper because it came about a week after he and other members of the Seminole Tribe of Florida – including Tribe Treasurer and former Haskell quarterback Pete Hahn – traveled to the Lawrence, Kansas school and made a $100,000 donation on behalf of the Tribe to help the football program. Combined with separate donations from other Tribes, Jumper said he believed the funding that the school sought was in place for the season to be played.
“It was a done deal. Our thought was we’d be looking forward to seeing football at Haskell,” said Jumper, who noted that the Tribe’s long history with Haskell football includes Chairman James E. Billie and Brighton Councilman Andrew J. Bowers Jr.
However, the school still pulled the plug, citing costs for maintaining a 10-sport athletics program, including equipment, facilities and travel; the dependency of its teams on university funding; and even the impact of concussions as factors in its decision to suspend football and an “anticipated reduction” in other sports. The school also noted that it has received “occasional one-time donations,” but no long-term commitments from donors to support athletics.
The Tribe’s donation will remain in Lawrence.
“The Council decided to allow Haskell Foundation to continue to manage the donation it received,” Hahn said.
Hahn said the donation is still earmarked for football with hopes that it can assist the program if football resumes in 2016.
In its announcement, the school said it is seeking long-term external funding and donations that can be made through Haskell Foundation. Hahn said the situation will perhaps spur others to provide support.
“Maybe it will be a catalyst for friends and alumni of the program to support the program,” he said.