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2014 Know Your Foe: Morgan State Bears

August 4, 2014

As the 2014 football season approaches, it’s time to take a look at EMU’s opponents for the fall.

Morgan_State_WordmarkEMU will kick off the season at home in Rynearson Stadium — newly rebranded as “The Factory” — by hosting the Morgan State Bears. This will be the first-ever meeting between the Bears and the Eagles — and just to be clear, the men from Ypsilanti never played Morgan State when they were the Hurons or Normalites either. The game is scheduled for 6 pm on Saturday, August 30, and is set to be webcast on ESPN3.

Morgan State University

Photomontage of the Morgan College campus, circa 1922.

The Morgan College campus, circa 1922. Carnegie Hall is the central photo.

Morgan State University traces its roots to a Methodist Episcopal seminary, the Centenary Biblical Institute, founded in 1867 and initially offering classes at Baltimore’s Sharp Street Methodist Episcopal Church. Over the next several decades the school expanded its mission from simply training black men for the ministry to educating men and women to become teachers, and in 1890 it was renamed Morgan College, in honor of Reverend Lyttleton Morgan, the first chairman of the board of trustees and a major donor of land to the school.

In 1915, the college received a $50,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation,1 which was used to pay all outstanding debts, purchase a new site in what is now northeastern Baltimore,2 and construct Carnegie Hall, now the oldest building on campus.

In 1939, a state study indicated that Maryland needed to provide more and better educational opportunities for black citizens, and the state purchased the school, renaming it Morgan State College. In 1975, the school added doctoral programs, and the Maryland General Assembly approved a name change to Morgan State University.

Today, Morgan State is one of just two Maryland public universities that are not part of the University System of Maryland.3 84% of the 8,000 students enrolled at Morgan State are black. 78% of the students are Marylanders, and 63% of students come from Baltimore,4 Baltimore County, or Prince George’s County.

Morgan State athletics

The Morgan State Bears compete in the North Division of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), a Football Championship Subdivision conference made up of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) including Coppin State, Howard, Norfolk State, and Florida A&M.

The Bears field varsity teams in twelve sports. Men’s sports are basketball, cross country, football, tennis, and track & field; women’s sports are basketball, bowling, cross country, softball, tennis, track & field, volleyball, and cheerleading. Wait, that’s thirteen.

Technically, cheerleading isn’t a varsity sport. It’s not sanctioned by the NCAA, and courts have repeatedly found that it cannot be counted as a varsity sport for Title IX purposes. However, as far as I’m concerned, competitive cheerleading is unquestionably a sport, and the Bears compete at a high level, finishing third nationally in 2013 and second nationally in 2014 in the National Cheerleaders Association All Girl I Division.

Morgan State Bears

Morgan State athletic teams are the “Bears”. Why are they the Bears? I’d love to tell you — the stories behind nicknames and mascots can be among the more interesting bits of sports lore — but I don’t know, and apparently neither do they, or if they do they aren’t saying.

Football history

From 1929 to 1959, Eddie Hurt led Morgan State football and track & field to 33 CIAA championships and produced 2 NFL Hall of Famers and an Olympic gold medal winner.

Morgan State played their first season of football in 1898. In their 116-year team history, they’ve compiled a 422-409-37 record. Their period of greatest success came from 1929 to 1959 under Eddie Hurt (173-54-18) and 1960 to 1973 under Earl Banks (95-30-2). Hurt took the team to 14 Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (originally the Colored Intercollegiate Athletic Association) titles, five of them perfect seasons, while Banks followed up with six more CIAA titles — including three consecutive perfect seasons — and an MEAC title in the team’s first year in the league.

Since then, however, the Bears have only won one more MEAC title, in 1979 under Clarence Thomas (no, not that Clarence Thomas). That’s right, Morgan State has gone even longer than EMU without a conference championship! They’ve managed just three winning seasons in the last 34 years, finishing 7-5 in 2002 and 6-5 in 2003 and 2009.

The coach

Like EMU, the Bears are breaking in a new head coach this fall. After 12 seasons, with losing records in each of the last four, Donald Hill-Eley is out, replaced by first-time head coach Lee Hull. Hull spent the last six years as the wide receivers coach at Maryland, before which he spent five years as a position coach at Oregon State (two years as running backs coach and three years as wide receivers coach). As a player, he was a wide receiver (I know, you never would have guessed) who played several years in the Canadian Football League for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Toronto Argonauts.

Last year

Last year did not go terribly well for the Bears. After ending 2012 on a six-game losing streak, Morgan State dropped their first five games of 2013, losing at Army, at Robert Morris, at Liberty, at Western Kentucky, and to Norfolk State. They finished strong, however, going 5-2 for a final MEAC record of 5-3, good enough for third place.

  1. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $1.2 million in 2014 — a surprisingly small amount. []
  2. Residents of the nearby white community of Lauraville were so incensed by the prospect of a “negro” school on their doorstep that the filed a lawsuit in the local circuit court to prevent the sale on the grounds that it would constitute a public nuisance, and then appealed their loss to the state Court of Appeals. []
  3. Morgan State and St. Mary’s College of Maryland opted out of the system, and instead they each receive funds directly from the state and are independently governed. []
  4. Baltimore is one of 41 independent cities — cities not part of any county — in the US, and one of just three outside Virginia. []

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