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BELOIT COLLEGE AND THE MIDWEST CONFERENCE A HISTORY

Students cheer on Beloit College then known as the Blue Devils and Gold. Beloit College would adopt the "Buccaneers" mascot/nickname in 1949.

Beloit College has a long and storied history with the Midwest Conference dating back to the league’s inception in 1920. A charter member of the conference, Beloit is one of three institutions that remain with the league since its formation 100 years ago. Through the years, Beloit has stood with the conference through war time, a scandal, formations of national organizations, implementation of Title IX, and the sponsorship of varsity women’s athletics.

In December of 1920, the leaders of six liberal arts colleges met to discuss the formation of an athletic conference. Following a successful first meeting, a second was scheduled for May 12, 1921 and, on the very next day, the first athletic event of the newly formed Mid-West College Athletic Conference was held. The track meet on May 13, 1921 was the first championship to be held by the league with six colleges taking part in the historic event including Beloit, Carleton, Coe, Cornell, Knox and Lawrence. The official constitution for the league was adopted a year later on May 19, 1922.

Photo: Ron Bontemps, a star leading Beloit to multiple Midwest Conference Championships on the hardwood, went on to captain the 1952 U.S. Olympic gold medal basketball team.

The philosophy of the conference put forth by the league’s leaders in the official constitution was seemingly ahead of its time and closely resembles the modern day spirit of Division III. Although there have been changes to the conference’s constitution throughout the years, the concept that those participating in intercollegiate athletics within the Midwest Conference are students first and athletes second has remained an important aspect of every decision made.

It is important to note that publications and correspondence refer to the league as the Midwest College Athletic Conference, the MCAC and the Midwest Conference as early as 1922. The official change to Midwest Conference wouldn’t be adopted until years later when the MCAC united with the women’s conference.

Early on, the conference saw some institutions come and go but by 1923, the league was moving forward with nine teams competing in three sports. Track and field was the first championship sponsored by the league in 1921 with football following in the fall of 1922 and basketball being held during the 1922-23 academic year. Beloit College captured the first two basketball titles awarded by the league. Cross country was the next to be sponsored, six years later, in November of 1929 followed by tennis in 1931, golf in 1932, swimming in 1936 and finally wrestling in 1938. It would be 16 years before the conference would bring on another sport as baseball was approved in 1954.

Track and field was solely outdoors in the early stages of the league. However, despite not officially sponsoring indoor track and field, the top finishing league member at the University of Chicago Indoor meet was considered the MCAC champion starting in 1951. In the inaugural year, it was Beloit College that brought home the honors.

Photo: The 1923 Beloit College basketball team captured the first MCAC basketball title in school and league history

As Beloit’s representative and elected officer for the league in its early stages, Athletic Director Thomas E. Mills was an integral part of decisions made on sports sponsored and championship format. During his six-year tenure as athletic director, which also included a stint as the league’s vice president, Mills coached football, basketball and baseball leading Beloit to championships in football and basketball including the first-ever conference basketball title awarded by the MCAC. In addition to AD, coaching and league VP roles, Mills was the first in a succession of conference delegates sent to attend the official sessions of the National Collegiate Athletic Association in 1922.

Gaining prominence in the world of collegiate sports, everything changed with the onset of World War II. The MCAC suspended all competition at the end of 1942 as thousands of students were in uniform. Still, athletics continued on. Many member colleges hosted military officer training units on their campuses, Beloit hosted an Army unit, during this time. Those units would compete against each other on college campuses or on military bases during war time. After the war, the MCAC published “The MCAC Honor Roll” recognizing 113 lettermen from the league’s nine colleges for their bravery and sacrifice including 16 Beloiters.

Photo: The 1923 Beloit College football team

The league resumed competition in the 1945-46 academic year with the basketball season. Beloit’s success on the hardwood with the legendary Dolph Stanley at the helm grew to national prominence almost immediately. Dominating competition within the league and across the country, Stanley’s teams won 40 consecutive league games and six straight MCAC titles since his first campaign in 1945-46. By 1951, Beloit was the top scoring team in the nation earning an invite to the National Invitational Tournament at Madison Square Garden. During their reign at the top, Stanley coached a number of greats including John Erickson, Beloit’s first 1,000-point scorer who went on to coach at the University of Wisconsin and later served as General Manager for the Milwaukee Bucks, Johnny Orr who went on to coach at the University of Michigan and Iowa State University, and possibly most-notably Ron Bontemps who went on to star on and captain the United States’ 1952 Olympic gold medal team.

The success brought publicity and fans in droves but dissent was brewing within the conference. Accusations of Beloit failing to adhere to the philosophy of the conference culminated in a vote and eventually the expulsion of Beloit from the MCAC in May of 1951. The Buccaneers were never charged with breaking any official rules, rather with actions not adhering to the spirit and tradition of the conference. Many thought it wouldn’t be long before Beloit would once again join the league but in the end it would be seven years before the Buccaneers were allowed back in.

Photo: Legendary coach Dolph Stanley (middle) is joined by star players Johnny Orr (left) and John Erickson (right)

As Beloit pursued its re-admittance to the MCAC, a number of changes within the athletic department were made. Chairman of the Beloit faculty athletic committee, Professor Clarence Von Eschen was integral in the college’s journey to reinstatement. After a number of meetings and much correspondence with league leaders over the course of six years, Von Eschen met with MCAC leader in 1957 to officially apply for admission to the conference. League leaders took immediate action sending out a mail ballot that was returned with unanimous approval. In May of 1958, Beloit, a charter member of the conference, rejoined the fray of the MCAC. Von Eschen went on to be elected president of the MCAC in 1963.

The hierarchy between major and minor sports dissipated throughout the years. Meanwhile, the NCAA moved to a three division structure in 1973 with the Midwest Conference and all of its members competing in Division III. The conference philosophy with a focus on the complete student and academics adheres to the overall Division III outlook making the affiliation a perfect fit. It wasn’t long before another sweeping change would come to the forefront.

Photo: News clipping from the 'Bulletin of Beloit College'. Tim Boudreaux is one of the best wrestlers to have taken to the mat for the Bucs. Boudreaux tallied 29 wins in 30 duals in his senior campaign in 1958 going on to represent Beloit in the NCAA championships that year. Also pictured: Phil Thompson. Thompson was highly-regarded as one of the most versatile athletes in Beloit's history. Named Most Valuable Player on the football team, Thompson was also a star in the pool and on the track for the Bucs.

With the passage of Title IX in 1972 that provided equal opportunity for women and men in collegiate athletics, the serious discussion of adding varsity women’s athletics to the conference slate began. In 1977, five member schools came together to discuss the formation of a women’s conference with a structure similar to that of the MCAC. Thus, the Midwest Athletic Conference for Women was born. Initially, the MACW competed in the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, a rival national association to the NCAA. Three years later, Beloit joined the MACW for the 1980-81 academic year, coincidentally the first year the NCAA began sponsoring women’s sports. By the spring of 1982, the MACW voted to transition to NCAA.

From 1977-1983, the MACW sponsored seven sports including volleyball, cross country, tennis, basketball, swimming, softball, and outdoor track and field. Indoor track and field was added in 1983 followed by women’s soccer in 1986.

With ten member schools, the discussion of merging the men’s and women’s conferences became a reality in 1994. Beloit College alumna and long-time administrator Ruth Peterson was instrumental in uniting the two conferences during her tenure as the MACW Commissioner from 1985 to 1994. At the onset of the new, modern-era Midwest Conference in 1994, wrestling was dropped while women’s golf added to bring the league to a ten-school membership sponsoring ten men’s and ten women’s championships.

Photo: Long-time Beloit College administrator and MACW Commissioner Ruth Peterson

More changes were on the horizon in the late 80s and early 90s as the MWC added postseason tournaments. The new structure saw a limited number of teams make the league tournament with an automatic qualifier to the NCAA Division III Championship on the line. The first Midwest Conference Tournament took place in softball in 1984. By 1999, the conference was hosting postseason tournaments in men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s soccer, baseball and volleyball with the winners advancing to compete in the national tournament. The Bucs’ men’s basketball program was the first to win a league tournament title and participate in the NCAA championship with the automatic qualifier in 1993. Beloit would hoist another title on the hardwood in 1995 alongside the Bucs’ women’s program. The women’s tournament championship in 1995 was the first of three in a four-year span for the Bucs. Volleyball was the next to bring a tournament title back to Beloit in 2006 adding a second championship in 2010. Baseball has also captured two tournament titles, the first in 2009 and the second in 2016.

Photo: The Buc baseball team celebrates after winning the 2016 Midwest Conference title and earning a berth into the NCAA Division III tournament

In addition to winning the first basketball title in 1922-23 and first indoor track championship in 1951, Beloit has gone on to hoist the league trophy on a number of occasions throughout the years. Full list of championships: Men’s Basketball – 18 (1922-23, 1923-24, 1945-46, 1946-47, 1947-48, 1948-49, 1949-50, 1950-51, 1966-67, 1967-68, 1976-77, 1978-79, 1980-81, 1981-82, 1982-83, 1988-89, 1992-93, 1994-95); Men’s Tennis – 7 (1933, 1935, 1936, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1951); Women’s Tennis – 5 (1991-92, 1993-94, 1999-00, 2000-01, 2001-02); Men’s Outdoor Track and Field – 4 (1923, 1949, 1950, 1951); Men’s Swimming – 4 (1941, 1948, 1949, 1950); Men’s Soccer – 4 (1971, 1972, 1974, 2006); Football – 3 (1923, 1925, 1940); Women’s Basketball – 3 (1994-95, 1996-97, 1997-98); Volleyball – 2 (1995, 2006); Baseball – 2 (2009, 2016); Men’s Golf – 2 (1941, 1962); Men’s Cross Country – 1 (1939); Women’s Cross Country – 1 (1998); Softball – 1 (1996)

Photo: The 1991 Buccaneer women's tennis team with Coach Bob Hodge

Individually, Beloit boasts nearly 100 conference champions over the course of their 100-year history with the league.

Just as the conference has seen members and sports come and go, Beloit’s offering of sports has fluctuated over the years. Currently, the Buccaneers offer 18 varsity sports including baseball, basketball, cross country, football, lacrosse, soccer, swimming and diving and indoor and outdoor track and field on the men’s side. For the women, Buccaneers can compete in basketball, cross country, lacrosse, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, volleyball and indoor and outdoor track and field. Both men’s and women’s lacrosse currently competes in a separate league (the Midwest Lacrosse Conference for men and Midwest Women’s Lacrosse Conference for women) as the Midwest Conference does not sponsor those championships.

Photo: Members of the Buccaneer track and field squad pose with their individual medals following the 2019 Midwest Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships

A 100-year partnership is sure to have its ups and downs and Beloit’s affiliation with the Midwest Conference is no different. However, the school’s philosophy surrounding athletics closely aligns with that of the conference and NCAA Division III making it, still after all this time, the perfect fit.