100 Years of Ferry Field (1996-2006) -- Story

By Leah Howard, U-M Athletic Media Relations Intern PHOTO GALLERY

Red Simmons remembers competing at Ferry Field as a Redford High School freshman at the 1924 Michigan Class A Interscholastic Championships, raking the long jump pit for Jesse Owens at the 1935 Big Ten Conference meet, watching famed Wolverine multisport star Ron Kramer take off his baseball spikes mid-game to concurrently compete in the shot put at the neighboring track meet in the mid-1950s, and coaching U-M's first women's track and field team in 1978.

Simmons, now 96 years old, will have another chapter added to his memory bank this weekend at Ferry Field, which will celebrate its 100th year of entertaining U-M intercollegiate competition when the Wolverine men's and women's track and field squads host the Len Paddock Invitational -- their lone home event of the outdoor season and the only event held at Ferry Field in its centennial year -- on Friday and Saturday (May 5-6).

In conjunction with the anniversary, the men's team will also initiate its own U-M Track and Field Hall of Fame with the induction of an 11-man inaugural class, consisting of one outstanding athlete from each decade and a coach of the century selection.

"The athletic program at Michigan has evolved around Ferry Field," said U-M head men's coach Ron Warhurst. "It has been in the same location for 100 years. It's had several facelifts, but it's still the same basic track. It was the site of the greatest track and field accomplishment ever with Jesse Owens' performance in 1935. Going down the list from the last 100 years, I would say there have been maybe 75-100 different Olympians who have performed on that field. No other athletic facility on this campus has seen that number of Olympic superstars. I think that really sets the stage for the history of this track."

"Ferry Field holds a very significant place in track and field," said U-M head women's coach James Henry, "not only for the University of Michigan but for the entire world. A hundred years is a long time, and this track has seen a lot of outstanding accomplishments, including Jesse Owens' four world records. To have been an athlete here as well as a coach has been such a valuable experience for me."

The history of Ferry Field could be said to mirror that of Michigan athletics itself. Over its 100 years of service, it has served as a symbol of athletic excellence and has carried the Michigan tradition from its infancy at the turn of the century into the modern era.

Following four consecutive Michigan football national championships from 1901-04, it became obvious that old Regents Field could no longer meet the demands of the ever-increasing U-M fan base. Due chiefly to the generous donations of successful Detroit businessman and philanthropist Dexter M. Ferry, the new stadium, named Ferry Field by the Regents, was completed in 1906 with the addition of an ornamental gateway at the northeast corner, today's only remaining fixture of the original design.

Dexter Ferry

Dexter Mason Ferry was born in Lowville, N.Y. on August 8, 1833. After a boyhood shaped by the accrual of vast farming experience, Ferry, just shy of his 20th birthday, headed west to Detroit, which was largely considered the center of horticultural interest at the time, to combine his extensive knowledge with ambitions of a career in business.

In 1856, he joined with partners Milo T. Gardner and Eber F. Church to create Gardner, Ferry & Church, noted for its creation of the seed packet, allowing gardeners the freedom to make their own assorted purchase decisions from convenient store displays. Ferry also stressed the importance of quality, assuring customers of the freshest seed available by removing unsold product from the market after the growing season was over.

Upon the retirement of his partners over the next decades, Ferry established the firm of D.M. Ferry & Co. before selling the company to Charles Copeland Morse in 1877. Ferry died in 1907 at the age of 74, but the subsidiary of his company, The Ferry-Morse Seed Company, continued to prosper throughout the 20th century. In 1981, the company was integrated into Frances Groupe Limagrain, which remains among the largest breeder/producers of horticultural seed in the world.

Those gates opened for the first time on Oct. 6, 1906, as the Michigan football team rolled to a 28-0 season-opening win over Case. Junior fullback John Garrels scored the Wolverines' first touchdown in the new stadium on a short run and contributed to the shutout victory with exceptional punting, including a pair that traveled 55 yards. Garrels, in fact, was the star of all three U-M home games during the 1906 season. Against Illinois on Oct. 27, the Wolverine returned the opening kickoff 95 yards en route to a 28-9 Michigan win, and, a week later against Vanderbilt, he converted a 65-yard run off a fake punt to break a dead-locked score and lead U-M to a 10-4 victory.

The Wolverine track and field team made its debut at Ferry Field the following spring with the annual Varsity Field Day (intrasquad) on May 11, 1907. Garrels again stole the show, setting a new world record in the discus throw with a mark of 104-4 1/5 and claiming additional victories in the 222-yard low hurdles and shot put competitions. Ferry Field's first intercollegiate competition came a week later, on May 18, 1907, with the Wolverines earning a 104 1/3 - 57 2/3 victory over Ohio State behind a quartet of individual wins by Garrels. A year later, the accomplished dual-athlete claimed a pair of Olympic medals -- silver in the 110m high hurdles and bronze in the shot put -- at the 1908 London Games.

During head coach Keene Fitzpatrick's reign through the first decade of the 20th century, the Michigan track and field team established itself among the premier programs in the nation, and, as such, drew many of the top local and regional talents for the next 40 odd years. Discarding the 11 seasons that Michigan did not participate in Big Ten Conference competition (1907-17), the Wolverines won 12 conference indoor titles and 18 outdoor titles through the first 40 years of the century.

In 1923, the Michigan track and field team captured the NCAA championship, becoming the first U-M team other than football to accomplish the feat. The Wolverines were led by a pair of NCAA individual champions, William DeHart Hubbard and James Brooker, who claimed the long jump and pole vault titles, respectively. Ferry Field served as the host site for the Midwest Olympic Trials the following year and ushered the Wolverine pair to the 1924 Paris Olympic Games. Hubbard captured gold in the long jump, carving his name in the history book as the first African-American male to win an Olympic gold medal, while Brooker claimed bronze in the pole vault to give the United States a medal sweep of the event.

The U-M football team spent 21 years at Ferry Field, boasting an impressive 90-13-2 record during such time and claiming six conference titles and a pair of national championships in 1918 and 1923. Following the 1926 season, the football team moved up the road to Michigan Stadium and the old stadium came down as the end zone bleachers were destroyed and the north bleachers made way for the new Intramural Sports Building. The playing field became devoted exclusively to the Wolverine track and field program.

With Ferry Field as the backdrop for the 1935 Big Ten Conference Championships, Ohio State sophomore Jesse Owens set three world records and tied another in a little more than an hour's time. It was questionable as to whether Owens would even compete in the meet after an accidental fall in the preceding weeks left the Buckeye athlete with a severely strained back. His performance in the 100-yard dash, in which he matched the five-year-old world record in the event, was enough to convince his coach to keep him in the competition.

A time chronology of Owens' feat indicates he tied the 100-yard dash record (9.4) at 2:45 p.m. before setting the broad jump record (26-8 1/4) -- a mark that remains the Ferry Field record -- on his first and only jump of the day at 3:25 p.m. He established the 220-yard dash record (20.3) at 3:34 p.m., and at 4 p.m. set the 220-yard low hurdles record (22.6). A plaque commemorating Owens' accomplishment, considered by many to be the greatest day in track and field history, is displayed at the southeast corner of Ferry Field.

During World War II, Ferry Field served as training ground for several military programs. Perhaps the most notable was the Navy V-12, designed to provide training for apprentice seamen for the Navy, Coast Guard and Marines. The V-12 program quartered its members in West Quad, which became know at the time as "The Ship," and ushered in numerous U-M student-athletes for the 1943-44 academic year, including football standouts Bill Daley (from the University of Minnesota) and Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch (from the University of Wisconsin).

Following a complaint from an Army ROTC officer that universities were fostering a "hot-house, indoor, flabby manhood," Fritz Crisler devised a mandatory "Physical Education for Men" program. All male students not physically disabled were required to complete four and a half hours per week of individual and group exercises, many of which were conducted at Ferry Field.

In its first season as a varsity sport at Michigan, the women's track and field team debuted at Ferry Field on May 13, 1978. The inaugural Wolverine squad was a derivative of "The Michigammes" Track Club, founded by Simmons 18 years earlier to give local females opportunities in athletics long before the implementation of Title IX in 1972.

The facility has served as host site for a total of nine Big Ten Outdoor Championships, with the Wolverine men claiming no worse than second place in all but the most recent occasion (1988). That year the women's team placed sixth in its only bid as conference host site.

Throughout its 100 years, Ferry Field has bore witness to 43 Wolverine Olympic competitors, whether U-M student-athletes or coaches, representing 10 different nations and accounting for 21 medals (10 gold, five silver, six bronze), as well as 34 individual national champions and countless Big Ten champions.