Readers of westwords are very special. Readers who write are worth double. You know who you are.
David Irwin is 14 years retired from a Knox County teaching career, Halls and Carter and a touch of Gibbs. He says he is not a professional writer but I am enjoying what he sends more than what I find in several newspapers.
“I have been researching the history of college football, hoping to produce a scholarly study of the sport, era by era,” says Irwin.
That’s how he grabbed my undivided attention.
David says he did not play football but he did run track, once upon a time, at South High for coach Bob Neff. He has almost forever been a football fan – of varying degrees.
“I have had a blast discovering the history of this wonderful sport.”
He is not nearly finished, he says, because he keeps finding things that don’t pertain to the main subject “but are, nevertheless, downright interesting. I want to share one such nugget …”
Irwin proceeded to tell me about Knoxville’s first all-American, Lee McClung.
He was born in 1870 into one of our most prominent families. He was a great-grandson of Charles McClung (who drew the original plat of Knoxville). Lee’s father, Frank, is the honoree of the McClung Museum. His brother, Calvin, was the merchant who gave us C.M. McClung and Company.
Lee went to prep school at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. He graduated from Yale in 1892. He was a two-time consensus all-American halfback on a football team that won 54 and lost two.
No doubt you are aware that Yale did not permit a point in 1891. Lee McClung was captain. He was elected most popular student. He was a member of the Skull and Bones secret society. He is in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Before you get the wrong impression, that young McClung thought he was too good for University of Tennessee football, there was none when he went east.
Irwin says McClung became the first football coach of the California Golden Bears. He didn’t stay long. He evolved into a railroad executive. He was named treasurer of Yale. He modernized accounting methods.
In 1909, President William Howard Taft appointed him treasurer of the United States. McClung gave his predecessor a receipt for $1,260,134,946.88 ⅔, an acknowledgment of the money and securities in the department as of the day he took office.
His name was on all our currency for a few years.
McClung had many interests. He was an investor in Phoenix Mutual Life Insurance, a director of the Marion Institute of Alabama and a national councilman of the Boy Scouts of America. He was treasurer of the American Association for Highway Improvement when there weren’t all that many.
He traveled widely. He caught typhoid fever in Frankfurt and died a few months later in London at age 44. Brother Calvin had hurried there to care for him.
One of his obituaries reminisced: “Ah, a remarkable athlete, a wonderful football player, a lovable classmate, a diligent student, a manly man – the type Yale men idealize for emulation. Such was Lee McClung.”
“He was buried in Knoxville’s Old Gray Cemetery,” said Irwin.
This reader who writes will, hopefully, tell us more in time. His football research is focused on the beginning of the NCAA, the legalization of the forward pass, the AP poll, bowl games, platoon football, coaching innovations, power conferences and the playoffs.
He may discover new insight about the rise and fall (and fall) of the Volunteers. Stay tuned.
Marvin West invites reader reactions. His address is email@example.com