The following essay first appeared in the Sept. 18, 2023, Do You Know Your Lowcountry column in the Post & Courier.


So the state’s football season got off to a bit of a shaky start for our two flagship universities. But that’s okay. We can take a history lesson from our own College of Charleston to see how there can be a silver lining even when things look bad. Really bad.

Founded on the eve of the American Revolution, the C of C is America’s 13th oldest institution of higher education and the nation’s first municipal, or city-affiliated, college. Among the College’s founders in 1770 were three men who would sign the Declaration of Independence, three who would help frame the U.S. Constitution, seven who would become governors, five who would be among America’s earliest diplomats, the first U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice (appointed by President Washington, though never confirmed by Congress), and one who would be the Federalist Party’s candidate in the 1796 Presidential election. Now that’s pretty impressive by anybody’s standards.

Yet none of it counted for squat when the College fielded one of the first – and unfortunately among the worst – football teams in American history.

Known as the Maroons, the team was organized in 1897, about a decade after Rutgers University and the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) played America’s first collegiate game. Though I found only scant documentation of the Maroons’ history at the College, data gathered from their opponents paint a grim picture.

1903 – The earliest recorded game I found was a loss to the University of South Carolina, 6 – 0. But hey, they were a state university and we were a municipal college, so I can live with that.

1904 – The Maroons played three games against local high schools with no recorded score; another against USC’s junior varsity team, also without a recorded score; one against their own junior varsity team, which the Maroons won 22–0 (thank goodness!); and one against their own freshman class with an 18–0 victory.

1906 – The Maroons met their hometown rival, The Citadel, in the first of 12 matches I could find, losing 23–0. That’s okay, we’ll get ‘em next year.

1907 – And we did. In perhaps the Maroons’ best season, they beat The Citadel twice (5-4 and 7-5), but lost to USC, 14–4.

1908 – This season’s first game against The Citadel was a tie, but the second a rout with a 27–0 Citadel win. Other opponents that year included Porter Military Academy (the high school that evolved into the Porter-Gaud Academy we know today) and a private club called the Athletics, perhaps a local YMCA team, which the Maroons beat 5-0. A friend and fellow alumnus (who said he definitely did not want to be identified for this story), also had documentation of another loss to USC, 17-0. 

1909 – The Citadel added two more victories against the Maroons (36–0 and 21–5), and USC another (17–11).

1910 – The Maroons beat The Citadel 11–0, as well as a “pick-up” team from Charleston’s Naval Shipyard. They balanced those two wins with three losses: USC (8-0), Davidson College (maybe 27-6, but documentation was ambiguous), and the University of Florida (34-0).

1911—At this point, things started looking really bad. The Maroons lost all five of this season’s  games: USC (16-0), Davidson (43–3), Florida (21-0), and twice to The Citadel (21–0 and 21–3).

1912 – The Maroons failed to score any points at all against four opponents this year (Florida, Stetson, USC and The Citadel), ending the season with a combined score of 273–0.

1913 – In its last recorded game against The Citadel, C of C lost 72 – 0. They lost another two against Furman (38-0 and 30–0), and one each against Newberry (39-0) and Presbyterian (12–6).

With the outbreak of World War I, the Maroons took a break before returning to the intercollegiate field in 1921 under a new coach, alumnus Fritz Von Kolnitz. Still, the Maroons were shut out in three games: Erskine (74–0), Newberry (41–0) and Rollins College (41–0).

In the 1922-23 season, the Maroons declined all invitations for intercollegiate play, instead playing a single game against the local YMCA, which the Maroons lost 13-0. 

Yet that was the Maroons’ last defeat, meaning that proud alumni can legitimately sport collegiate t-shirts that boldly proclaim: “College of Charleston Maroons  - Undefeated since 1923!,” because it has indeed been a century since C of C lost a football game. 

I’d love to hear from  anyone who has additional information about or photographs of the Maroons. For regardless of their record, I remain a loyal fan of my alma mater, through good times and bad.

College of Charleston "Maroon Mascot" at the 1912 game against the Citadel.
The 1909 team lost two games against the Citadel and one against USC. No wins have been found for this season.
A photograph of the 1912 game between the Maroons and The Citadel. The Maroons were completely shut out this season in games against Florida, Stetson, USC and The Citadel -  with a season total of 273-0.

On a more victorious note ...

Alumnus Dan Ravenel '72 recalls the success of his fraternity's football team. According to Dan, the Pi Kappa Phi team beat Alpha Tau Omega, the Deltas (who would evolve into the Kappa Sigmas), and a pick-up team from the airforce base one year. They staged a charitable game in 1971 against Baptist College at Charleston (now Charleston Southern) at Stoney Field to benefit the Red Cross. About 500 people filled the stands, Dan says. Pi Kap borrowed uniforms from Bishop England High School while Baptist College borrowed uniforms from Summerville, meaning both teams wore green. The Pi Kapps won 18-0.

1905 Maroons in front of Porter's Lodge

Sources and more information:
Dr. Nicholas Butler, "The First Football Match in Charleston, Christmas Eve 1892," Charleston County Public Library blog Charleston Time Machine, Dec. 15, 2023.
The 1904 Maroons beat their own junior varsity team, as well as the College's freshman class team. Yea !!!!?