I always thought that the first-ever night football game in the United States was played at Westville High School on Sept. 21, 1928.
I grew up in Westville, and our “first” was a big deal. An image of a football player proudly appears on the Westville centennial medallion. There’s a coal miner on the other side.
So imagine my shock when I read a recent Associated Press story about Pennsylvania’s Mansfield University. It said that Mansfield hosted the first-ever night football game on Sept. 28, 1892. The game, against Wyoming Seminary, ended at halftime when a ref declared it “inconvenient to continue” because the lighting was so awful.
Just last month, Mansfield — a state school of 3,400 students in northern Pennsylvania — played its second home game under the lights. That time, it played Princeton.
“We got a little bit burned by technology, and we weren’t ready to jump back on again until we were sure that all the bugs had gotten worked out,” joked Steve McCloskey, Mansfield director of athletic operations. “After 121 years, we’re pretty sure this night football thing is going to catch on, and we want to be right there at the forefront.”
In 1892, General Electric was working hard to sell rural America on electric lights. The football field lights were powered by a GE dynamo, but the light was so dim that players were tackling their own teammates. Oh, and the ball carriers had to dodge a lamp post in the middle of the field.
After that fiasco, Mansfield University played its football games on Saturday afternoons.
But earlier this year, electric lights were installed around the field that is used for Mansfield football, field hockey and soccer.
OK. OK. OK. So Mansfield University had the first night football game. Maybe Westville hosted the first night high-school football game.
But the folks in Midwest, Wyo., say they were first. Their Oilers played Casper High School under the lights on Nov. 19, 1925. A white ball was used.
Despite all that, the official Westville village website contains a link to a 1973 Westville centennial article in The Heritage of Vermilion County, published by the Vermilion County Museum Society.
“Westville won the game over Milford by a 25 to 6 score,” it says. “Thus it was that the first night football game in the United States was played at Westville on September 28, 1928 … Coach Clayton Miller, Principal Russell Guin, and all members of the team will long be remembered by their fans. Any time great moments in sports are discussed you can almost count on the first night game coming up. It will always be remembered that it was played in Westville.”
Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, narrows the definition of “first,” big time. It says: “Westville played the first regular-season night high school football game, that counted toward the season record, under permanent lights, in the United States in 1928.”
Try squeezing that onto a “Welcome to Westville” sign.
Danville native Kevin Cullen is a former Commercial-News reporter. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.