John Carroll University was founded as an all-male collegiate institution on Cleveland’s west side in 1886, but it was not until after World War I that an intercollegiate athletics program was implemented.
The first varsity contest of any kind in school history took place on January 20, 1920, when the St. Ignatius College Saints (as the school was known back then) defeated the Forest City Knights of Columbus, 29-17, in a game of men’s basketball. The Saints would go on to win games over Kent Normal, Hiram, Niagara and Ashland in that inaugural season, setting the stage for things to come. Football was added in the fall of 1920, and by 1923, the St. Ignatius College name had given way to John Carroll University. The nickname “Blue Streaks” would soon be added to the lexicon in the mid 1920s, purportedly by a graduate who wished his team to play one more time before passing on.
Over the next 40 years, there were many changes on the athletic front as well as for the university as a whole. In 1935, the school relocated to its current home in University Heights. Hockey, boxing, golf, track/cross country and tennis would be added to the list of sports offered at the school. By 1960, however, hockey and boxing were no longer part of the picture.
The addition of wrestling and soccer in 1964, followed by the first-time admission of female students in 1969 that brought about women’s basketball, volleyball and tennis in the early 1970s, expanding the athletics base at John Carroll considerably. Swimming & diving (1970), baseball (1973), softball (1984), women’s track & field/cross country (1985), women’s soccer (1989) and women’s golf (1999) have pushed the number of sports sponsored at John Carroll to its current total of 21.
As a small liberal arts university, the path that John Carroll chose to follow in collegiate athletics was established at a pivotal time in its history. Over its first 35 years, John Carroll had competed in football and basketball against the likes of Syracuse, Bowling Green, Xavier and Toledo, just to name a few. Eventually, John Carroll chose not to pursue the road toward what is now known as “major college athletics” and instead became a charter member of the Presidents’ Athletic Conference in 1956. The intent was that athletics would not be an end in itself, rather as a part of the educational process.
Throughout the years, John Carroll has maintained a healthy balance between academics and athletics. Whether it has been someone who has won more games than any other coach in NFL history (Don Shula, class of 1951), led his team in tackles in a Super Bowl victory just two years removed from college (London Fletcher, class of 1998), or moderates “Meet the Press,” the most watched Sunday morning interview program in America and the most quoted news program in the world (Tim Russert, class of 1972), many graduates of John Carroll have brought this institution notoriety within their chosen professional fields.
The JCU Athletic program has produced one team national champion (1975 wrestling) and over 20 individual national champions. Just as importantly, over 25 student-athletes have earned Academic All-American honors. John Carroll, which has competed on a Division III level as a member of the NCAA since 1974, officially became a member of the Ohio Athletic Conference on a full-time basis in 1989.