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The first intercollegiate athletic event in which Cornell participated was an 1876 game against the State University of Iowa’s (now the University of Iowa) baseball team, which Cornell won, 35–18. The Cornell Athletic Association was organized in 1888, two years after Cornell began playing intercollegiate baseball. Intercollegiate football followed in 1891, and then track and field, basketball, cross country, and wrestling. Cornell’s long-standing football rivalry with Coe College began in 1891.

At first the “gymnasium” was simply the “great outdoors,” which was not so great during Iowa’s long, cold winters. In 1873 the college finally provided in the basement of College Hall “rooms and appliances for regular and careful physical training under competent supervision” for men and women. The men of Cornell built their own gymnasium building, 24 by 40 feet, in December 1889. The building burned to the ground in February 1891. After many years of making do with temporary accommodations, in 1909 Cornell students celebrated the opening of Alumni Gymnasium (now McWethy Hall for the art department). In 1953 the Field House was erected. The Richard and Norma Small Multi-Sport Center, which opened in 1986, features a 6-lane, 200-meter track; four racquetball courts; four courts for basketball, tennis, and volleyball; and practice space for other activities.

Vanessa Gilmore ’84 competing on the 198081 basketball team.

The football team celebrates in 1997.

By 1995 Cornell offered 19 intercollegiate sports: baseball, basketball, cross country, football, golf, indoor track, outdoor track, soccer, tennis, and wrestling for men; basketball, cross country, golf, indoor track, outdoor track, soccer, softball, tennis, and volleyball for women. Cornell has been an NCAA Division III school since that division was created in 1973.

Cornell athletes participated in all the Olympic Games between 1924 and 1964. Eight Cornellians were members of Olympic wrestling teams, and 25 Cornell men have won individual national championships in wrestling. In 1947, under coach Paul Scott ’29, Cornell won both the National Collegiate (NCAA) and the National AAU championships in wrestling. Cornell College remains the smallest college, as well as the only private college, ever to achieve these honors.

The only 10–0 football season occurred in 1992. Cornell disposed of undeafeated Coe College 37–20 to win the South Division of the Midwest Conference and rolled past Beloit 40–14 to capture the Midwest Conference championship. In June 1985 a combined team of 19 Cornellians and 21 gridders from Luther College introduced American-style football to The Netherlands and conducted football clinics in Belgium and Germany.

The 1959–60 men’s basketball team was the first Cornell team to advance to the NCAA tournament. It finished fourth in the nation. The 1979–80 women’s basketball team was the first to win the conference championship. The women tied an NCAA record for best turnaround season, going from 0–17 in 1978–79 to 18–8 the following year.

Cornell was a charter member of the Midwest Athletic Conference, formed in 1921, and won the first of many conference championships that same year. The win was in men’s track and field. This sport achieved its golden age in the 1950s, when the Rams, who had not won a Midwest Conference championship since the spring of 1925, garnered indoor titles in 1956, ’57, and ’58 and outdoor crowns in 1957, ’58, and ’59. These teams competed in the Texas, Kansas, and Drake relays.

In 1997, Cornell withdrew from the Midwest Athletic Conference and joined the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The football team, however, did not play its first IIAC games until 1998. In October 2001 the women’s tennis team became the first Cornell team to win an IIAC championship.

The 1964–65 men’s basketball team plays Ripon.

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