Flu of 1918-20 took its toll on sports world


By Tony Lamke - WNJ Columnist



From the professional sports world down to youth sports, the current Covid-19 pandemic has hit hard. Most of us take for granted the sports news will always be there.

Well it is not.

It always was the first page I turned to in the daily paper. Now it is the obituary page.

Like a lot of things, we will appreciate the sports news and many other things we miss today but have taken for granted.

And it all will return.

I did some research and learned the loss of our sports due to the flu or virus is not new. The so called Spanish Flu, 1918-1920, took it’s toll.

By the way, it did not start in Spain. Newspapers during WWI in the United States, Great Britain, France and Germany did not print much on the flu, probably in order not to give the enemy an advantage. However Spanish papers did cover the flu and because their King almost died from it, we got most of our news on the pandemic from Spain, thus, Spanish Flu.

An estimated 500 million people around the world had this flu and 100 million died from it.

How did it affect the sports world? It would be hard to pinpoint all of the ways but let’s look at some.

The final game played for hockey’s Stanley Cup between Montreal and Seattle was never played due to many players from both teams with the flu.

A heavyweight fight between Jack Dempsey and Battling Levisky was postponed.

Many college and professional sports teams canceled their seasons or called off games due to ill players.

A full season of Major League Baseball, however, was played. Babe Ruth supposedly caught the flu twice but continued playing.

In Europe, even with WWI in its final hours, they refused to cancel professional soccer matches with huge crowds in attendance. Many deaths occurred in Europe as a result of the war but mostly the Spanish Flu.

Locally, all Clinton County schools were closed in October 1918, not sure for how long. However Wilmington High School played a full football schedule that fall. In fact, the pandemic did not seem to stop any Clinton County sports unless a team lacked players. The town sports team known as the Clintons played year round in 1918, 1919 and 1920.

In March 1919, the Clinton County high school basketball tournament was played and Clarksville beat Martinsville in the final game.

Unlike today, the only people who were quarantined were families that had the flu. Everyone else was free to do as they pleased. We have learned from this pandemic but now, in addition, we need to learn how to not be stir crazy.

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By Tony Lamke

WNJ Columnist

Tony Lamke is a former coach. He has researched the history of Clinton County sports and writes a periodic column for the News Journal. He can be reached at tlamke@cinci.rr.com.

Tony Lamke is a former coach. He has researched the history of Clinton County sports and writes a periodic column for the News Journal. He can be reached at tlamke@cinci.rr.com.