Way back when, Transy-Kentucky rivalry created fireworks

Long-dormant rivalry created sparks in early 1900s

Special to the Herald-LeaderOctober 30, 2011 

In 1908, when the University of Kentucky was still known as Kentucky State College, KSC swept both basketball games from Transylvania, but the all-time series is tied 7-7. Left to right were: Manager Leo Brewer, Harold Downing, Maury Wilson, Richard Barbee, Walter Fox and Shelby Post.

  • Wednesday

    Transylvania at Kentucky(Exhibition)

    When: 7 p.m.

    Where: Rupp Arena

    TV: WKYT-27 and Fox Sports South

Fights in the streets of Lexington. A mysterious stolen arch. A secret game. Expulsion from athletic associations. A football funeral. Bloomers. What do these all have in common? They're part of a brief but colorful athletic rivalry between two universities within walking distance of each other.

The basketball series between the University of Kentucky and Transylvania has remained dormant for more than 100 years, but at one time this rivalry was arguably more intense and controversial than any experienced in UK's history.

As the schools prepare to meet for a pre-season exhibition basketball game Wednesday night in Rupp Arena, that rivalry is long forgotten.

The two schools fought like siblings, which they were given that they were part of the same university after the Civil War. Only in 1878 did the A&M College become independent and soon thereafter moved to the south side of Lexington, eventually becoming the University of Kentucky. The two would be uneasy "sister-schools" from then on, competing in everything from oratorical contests to football games.

Basketball was no exception. The two played each other as soon as both schools took up the sport near the turn of the century. In Kentucky's third game ever played in 1903, it was blown out by Transylvania 42-2. Transylvania was led by some of the city's best athletes including the Yancey brothers, Hogan and Worth, along with Howard Guyn, whose brother White happened to play for Kentucky at the time.

This marked a nearly 10-year run of squabbling, hard-fought basketball games and oftentimes no games at all because of various disagreements and petty arguments between the teams. Even the women were known to get into the act. In 1904 the women's teams canceled a game because of a disagreement over whether it was proper to wear bloomers in the presence of male officials.

Basketball was simply a continuation of an already-established football rivalry, which made sense given that many of the athletes at the time played multiple sports.

The key event was an annual Thanksgiving Day football game, considered the big moneymaker for the year and capable of supporting all athletics at the schools.

The football games were also a constant source of antagonism between the schools as it was easy to play "ringers" and schools took advantage.

Eligibility rules were ill-defined and easily sidestepped. One point of contention was Transylvania's Hogan Yancey (he later became mayor of Lexington in the 1920s), who played professional baseball during the summers. Transylvania withdrew from an earlier athletic association after Yancey was ruled ineligible, and later delayed entering the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Association specifically because of this issue. The local KIAA and regional Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association — Kentucky belonged to both — were formed to deal with eligibility issues, but more times than not they muddled the issues and contradicted each other, which hampered scheduling.

The worst came during the infamous 1903 "Ringers" game where, after the two schools failed to agree to terms, Kentucky brought ringers in from all over the country in a "bring on your team and no questions will be asked" game. They lost anyway, 17-0. The game gained national scrutiny as an example of excess in football, and both schools were blacklisted by the SIAA.

The basketball games were rough with many fights and injuries, although they attracted great interest from the students. Kentucky player Thomson Bryant said about those early games: "We didn't play for championships but for bloody noses."

When the Transylvania faculty decided to ban all athletics for a time in 1906, the disappointed students held a mock funeral on the football field. The Transylvania basketball players secretly met with Kentucky anyway. To avoid raising suspicions, the Kentucky players met their foes at the downtown YMCA and while they won the game, the score was never recorded.

When Kentucky wanted to change its name from "Kentucky State College" to "Kentucky State University," it presented a problem as Transylvania was at that time named "Kentucky University," promising much confusion. Kentucky ended up paying its neighbor $5,000 to return to its original name: Transylvania. Even the name change didn't eliminate all confusion. To this day, Cincinnati and Ohio State among others still list in their media guides games played against Transylvania as occurring against UK.

The squabbles continued as games were abruptly cancelled, and in some years not scheduled at all. In 1908 an iron arch inscribed with the words "Kentucky University" was cut away and stolen from the Transylvania campus gate, presumably by Kentucky students.

In 1911, after a shocking football victory, Transylvania students wearing night shirts and carrying clubs took to the streets of Lexington to hold a parade. When they came upon a group of Kentucky supporters, a riot nearly ensued until the president of the university, Henry Barker, waded into the crowd and persuaded people to let the parade pass. The Kentucky student newspaper accused its rivals of attempting to "beat their way through the mass with clubs." The Transylvania monthly claimed the parade would have been peaceful except for "some southside hoodlums."

After the melee, Transylvania administrators passed a resolution breaking off athletic relations with their ancient foe, although they expressed interest in renewing the rivalry once hard feelings had died out. They never did, apparently.

Kentucky students were upset that the ban eliminated three basketball games that had already been scheduled, yet still held a rally expressing their desire to renew relations. Meanwhile the school made good on its long-standing threat to leave the KIAA in favor of the SIAA, leaving their state rivals behind.

In the summer of 1912, Kentucky did leave, just before the KIAA handed down a suspension of the school. Someone, presumably from the KIAA, sent their findings to the SIAA trying to get Kentucky banned from that group, too, which they did briefly. This further soured Kentucky toward the local schools.

Only many years later did Kentucky agree to renew relations with members of the KIAA. The only school with which it didn't was Transylvania. The football series stopped in 1911, with UK holding a 14-6-1 advantage. The basketball series record has remained tied at 7-7, frozen for more than 100 years.

Jon Scott is a UK historian who maintains the Web site bigbluehistory.net. To read more about the Kentucky-Transy rivalry visit http://www.bigbluehistory.net/bb/rivalTransylvania.html.

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