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Central YMCA College

Chicago, Illinois



I was able to purchase the 1930 Crucible, the Central YMCA College yearbook, on ebay.   The library of George Williams College provided a photo of the Hyde Park campus.  Google has an e-copy of the 1920-21 Bulletin on line.


Central YMCA College developed from two sources.  Around 1890 the Young Men’s Christian Association of Chicago began offering evening business classes for working men.  Also about this time the Chicago Y.M.C.A. began hosting summer training programs for Y.M.C.A. leaders from across the country.  These programs were held at Lake Geneva,WI.  By 1915 the Central YMCA College had become permanently established in the Hyde Park section of Chicago, and the summer training programs continued.  The college was first accredited by North Central in 1924.


In 1929-30 Central YMCA College had around 160 undergraduate students (all male) and another 15 graduate students.  Most students were not from Chicago.  The 43 seniors represented 17 states and 3 foreign countries. The two degrees offered—Bachelor of Physical Education and Bachelor of Applied Science—represented the two sources of the college.  By 1944 the school had grown to more than 2,500 students—more than a half either Jewish or African-American.


The campus had chapters of five social fraternities and four literary societies, suggesting that a large percentage of students were members.  Among other campus activities were a glee club, a drama club, and organizations promoting regional interests and married life. A publications fraternity was comprised of the staff for both the yearbook and the newspaper. 


All of the men who had earned a letter in a sport were made members of the C Club. 


In its closure, Central YMCA spawned two present institutions.  Fearing that the board of trustees wanted to institute a quota system for minority students, President Amos Sparling refused to provide them with data on school demographics.  Fired, he and many of the faculty and students left to found Thomas Jefferson College, now Roosevelt University, in 1945.  The Y.M.C.A.-sponsored college took the name George Williams College, continuing the work of training students for service to others.  Today it is part of Aurora University in Williams Bay, Wisconsin.

Bricks and Mortar

The Hyde Park campus was at 5200 Drexel Avenue in southeast Chicago.  The building was a five-minute walk from Washington Park, which was used as a sports field.  After the Sparling exodus, the new George Williams College occupied the campus for a time.   The site is now the home of a multi-family dwelling complex.



      Team Name:  Braves

      Colors:  Gold and Blue


College Football Data Warehouse shows that Central YMCA College played football from at least 1916 through 1929.  The Braves played Wheaton every year; other frequent opponents were Lake Forest (Illinois), Western Michigan, North Central (Illinois), Wabash (Indiana) and Butler (Indiana).  Michigan State appeared on the schedule three times.  The 1921 team was undefeated.


Just before the start of the 1930 season, Central YMCA announced that the school was dropping football.  Reasons given were that many of the players were working their way through college and didn’t have time for practice and games; the other was that football was not in keeping with the mission of the college in training future YMCA leaders.

In addition to football, Central YMCA College had varsity teams in basketball, track, volleyball, baseball, handball, tennis, swimming, gymnastics, and wrestling.   One of the big nights in the college calendar was Gymnite, in which students demonstrated their gymnastics prowess.


A 1945 article in The Crisis notes that the Y.M.C.A. had closed its athletic facilities to African-Americans, leading to the end of compulsory physical education and school sports. 

(Above) The 1929 team had a 1-3-1 record.  The Braves won a homecoming game with Wheaton 20-0.  They played Crane JC (Illinois) to a scoreless draw.  Otherwise the team lost to Carroll (Wisconsin) 20-6, to Grand Rapids JC (Michigan) 20-14, and to Wabash 14-6. This was the school's final team. (Photo from the 1930 Crucible).

Note: Images are used in accordance with their “terms of use” as I those terms.  Recopying or republishing these images may be restricted or forbidden.

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