Calvin College athletic teams are known as the Knights. But why? The name now, of course, conjurs up images of noble folks who lived to do good deeds. And Calvin College would like to think that its student-athletes live up to high ideals. But the roots of the nickname, in fact, do not extend back to the time when Knights wore armor and roamed ancient kingdoms atop mighty steeds. Instead the nickname is somewhat of an accident. Before we get to that a short history of Calvin College athletics might be in order.
Calvin began in 1876, but became a four-year college, granting bachelor's degrees, in 1921. In those early years, according to former Calvin athletic director and professor Dave Tuuk, students had little in the way of an athletic outlet. In his book "Maroon and Gold Will Bind Our Hearts," Tuuk notes that students had to go to the YMCA for physical activity, even though it was three miles from Calvin's Franklin Street campus.
Working at the YMCA was a young man named William Cornelisse and he helped the Calvin students form an unofficial basketball team which played a few games against Grand Rapids Junior College, South High School and a few others. They had no nickname. In 1917 an unofficial group of students played a basketball game at Hope College under the name "Calvin Y." Later a group of freshmen formed a team called the "Rivals" which played an extensive schedule of games at various Grand Rapids locales. During 1920-21 they played a 23-game schedule, but did not officially represent Calvin College. Meanwhile a group of Calvin co-eds formed a basketball team called the "Rivalettes" under the leadership of coach Cornelisse. They went 7-0 their first year, again as an unofficial representative of the college.
The presence of such groups eventually led to the Board of Trustees sanctioning college athletics. And an official Calvin team was formed in 1920 (the same year the Rivals were playing unofficially!). William Cornelisse was the first coach and served for 15 years (from 1920-1935). The first official game in 1920-21 came on December 16, 1920 and saw Calvin, still without a nickname, take on Hope College in Holland. Calvin led 1-0, but then was outscored handily before falling 30-13. Calvin went on to play such schools as Hillsdale, Kalamazoo and GRJC and finished with a 4-11 record. The Rivals often played the preliminary game.
It would take another six years for the school's nickname to arrive. Between 1920-21 and 1926-27 accounts of the team's athletic contests often spoke of the "Calvin-ites." And finally, in 1926-27, the first reference to "Calvin Knights" appeared. It's still not certain who coined the new nickname. Tuuk, in his fascinating history, notes that Durand Smith had been appointed as business manager and raises the possibility that "Knights" was Smith's brainchild.
Whoever made the transition from Calvin-ites to Calvin Knights might never be known. But what is certain is that in 2001-2002 Calvin College athletic teams will celebrate 75 years of being known as the Knights. A happy coincidence has led to a long tradition of athletic success and a wearing with pride of the Knight nickname.
Come Knights of Calvin College join in our song;
Cheer, Cheer together, let it ring out strong
RAH! RAH! RAH!
Sing, sing of all her glory, now and of old;
Cheer for her colors, the Maroon and Gold.
Hail, hail, we sing thy praises, our team of Knights,
On, on, to vict'ry, win for us tonight!
RAH! RAH! RAH!
Fight, fight, O Knights of Calvin, dauntless and bold;
Wave high in triumph, the Maroon and Gold.
Music: "Our Director March" by Jean M. Missud
Words: Mildred (Reitsema) Zylstra, Class of 1932