2014 marks exactly 100 years since Scott Field became a part of Mississippi State’s campus, a century-long history of athletic achievement dating back to the earliest days of sport in Starkville. It’s been so long, in fact, that back in 1914, MSU was still called Mississippi Agricultural and Mechanical College.
The home of Bulldog football (then the Aggies), Scott Field is named after Don Magruder Scott, one of the best athletes to ever play at MSU under any name or sport, and he was also one of the first to compete at Scott Field, though it did not yet bear his name.
But here’s the weird thing: Don Scott wasn’t known for football. He only started tossing the pigskin midway through college (he’s listed as a “scrub” for 1912-13), and he only managed a spot on the varsity team his senior year.
He was a military man who starred on the track and field team. He played basketball, too, but most importantly, Don Scott was MSU’s first Olympian.
Scott competed in the 1920 Summer Olympics in Belgium, an event they were reportedly awarded after the hardship they faced in World War I. You see, the 1916 games, the first Olympics following Scott’s time at MSU and the first he qualified for, were canceled due to the war.
Scott then returned to international glory when he competed on behalf of the United States in the 1924 Olympics in Paris, France.
A record-breaker in the 800-meter sprint, Scott also competed in the modern pentathlon, which includes shooting, fencing, riding, running and swimming.
Courtesy: Mississippi State University Libraries
His legend in Mississippi began years before any of that, however. From Woodville, Miss., according to old yearbooks, Scott was one of the few underclassmen to work his way onto the playing surface of any sport at A&M. In those days, playing time was generally reserved for juniors and seniors.
Not only did he make varsity as a youngster, but a report from the 1913 State track Championships referred to the sophomore Scott as “the star of the event,” running one mile in 4 minutes and 52 seconds, and setting a southeastern regional record by running the half mile in 2 minutes and 18 seconds. Both of those times were good for first place in competition.
In fact, it was Scott’s absence (presumably due to injury) at the 1914 Southeastern Championships for which A&M was credited with its second place finish. The Reveille in the following year shared its thoughts on his absence.
“It is bad policy to say what might have been,” the anonymous writer wrote, “ but we can safely claim that had Scott been able to take part in the S.I.A.A. … A. & M. and not L. S. U. would be the Southern champions.”
Earlier that spring at the statewide track meet, Scott had run an incredible 2-minute and 3-second half-mile, so the claim had its merits.
By the time his senior year began, Scott and classmate C. R. “Dudy” Noble (yes, that Dudy Noble) were stars of the track world, captains of one of the nation’s elite teams.
Don Scott and “Dudy” Noble on the track and field page of the 1914 yearbook. (Courtesy: MSU Libraries)
Scott’s senior yearbook offered hefty praise for the senior electrical engineering major.
“We believe that there is not a better-liked man in the class than ‘Scoot,’” his description begins, “and we never see him when he doesn’t wear a smile. Although only twenty years of age, he is a handsome young giant and all-around athlete of most marked ability, holding the Southern record in the half and quarter-mile races. He is unpretentious, friendly, studious, and withal knows how to blush.”
In the spring of 1915, Scott and his teammates had a brand new field to compete on, and that’s exactly what they called it for the next several years: “New Athletic Field.” Accurate, if not particularly subtle.
On May 2, New Athletic Field held its first-ever intercollegiate event, welcoming Alabama to compete against A&M in track and field. The Aggies won in a landslide, led by multiple first-place finishes from Scott and Noble.
The Reflector, the student newspaper of the school, offered a deliberate message in its recap of the event.
“Although the A. and M. team won this meet by an overwhelming majority of points, let us try to boost our track team, putting new life into the entire team, for there are still greater honors to obtain.”
By the time the all-important S.I.A.A. competition in New Orleans drew close in early summer, The Reflector was reporting Scott to be one second off the world record for both the quarter mile and the half mile. Surely, he’d lead the Maroon and White Aggies to victory.
On May 16th, 1915, one headline ran in large font across the sports page of The New Orleans Item. In all-caps: “SCOTT, OF AGGIES, ASTOUNDS SOUTH’S ATHLETES BY WONDERFUL FEATS.” The sub-headline read: “Orleans Experts Call Mississippi Runner Best South Has Ever Produced.”
Scott set records in his two specialty events, running the quarter mile in 49 seconds and the half mile in 1 minute and 55 seconds, breaking the record he had set there himself as a sophomore two years previously.
The Reflector was no less effusive in their praise of Scott than The Item had been.
“Donald M. Scott is the greatest runner in the south and one of the greatest middle-distancers in the world,” the story began. “Other records were smashed – records that have stood the test of the South’s best for years. Everything is forgotten in the recollection of that sturdy Mississippi boy of 20 years of age, tearing down to the finish line, making his own race, with his nearest competitor yards behind and finishing with a burst of speed that made the old-timers wish to see him matched with Ted Meredith, Olympic champion and the world’s greatest runner.
“The Southern athlete has arrived!
“Through Scott the South will gain recognition in the athletics of America, if not the world … It is of Scott we must sing our praises now. He is our lone claim to a place in the Sun of athletics. He is rich in promise and in qualities which go to make the man and athlete.”
To be sure, few have gone out with such style or so clearly on top as Don Scott. Nor have many done it with such youth, finishing his college career at the young age of 20.
However, his name might have been easily forgotten, were it not for the thoughts of one student five years later, the fall following Scott’s first Olympic appearance.
Before that day, Don Scott was a name which might have eventually been forgotten as the sands of time wiped away his records, memories and numerous friends.
But inspiration hit and a suggestion took hold within mere weeks of being made public.
Tired of calling the place where the Aggies played their sports “New Athletic Field,” a column was published in The Reflector about the facility on October 5th, 1920.
Appropriately enough, the story without a listed author was titled,
‘What’s In A Name?’
“The name of a thing, in order to be appropriate, must bear some direct relation to whatever thing that bears the name.
‘New Athletic Field’ does bear a direct relation to our athletic field in the sense that it is news, but why not call the baby ‘The New Baby;’ or the store ‘The New Store.’
In selecting a name for our athletic field we ought to stop and say, ‘Ink has written A. and M. athletic history’ and select the name of some great athlete whose feats have added the most laurels to A. and M.’s athletic glory.
If we review the records of the great foot-ball men, there is not a man whose feats are outstanding enough to warrant the naming of the field in his honor. The same may be truthfully said about our base-ball men.
There is but one A. and M. athlete who has gone out from this institution and demonstrated his superiority over any athlete he has come in contact with. Don Scott, A. and M.’s great half-miler, has met and defeated the best athletes of this country. He now holds the S. I. A. A. record for the half mile and his records still stand unbroken for the same distance in the Western Conference and the National A. A. U.
Why not name our new athletic field ‘Scott Field’ in appreciation of Don’s untiring efforts to bring athletic fame to his Alma Mater.”
In August, Mississippi State will celebrate 100 years of Scott Field, one full century since one of the greatest athletes in the school’s history first stepped foot on the field which would later bear his name.