Sound Minds, Sound Bodies
Athletics and academics went hand-in-hand in Saco in 1914.
- By: Joshua F. Moore
Photograph McArthur Public Library of Biddeford, Maine
No pain, no gain.” Never mind that these Thornton Academy girls are dressed in bloomers and bows — teacher Harriet Desmond, standing left of center, made certain that her physical education class was as rigorous as the geometry and literature courses being taught across campus from the brand-new George Addison Emery Gymnasium.
Judging by the grimace on the face of the girl at far right, not every student relished Miss Desmond’s calisthenics. But for most Thornton Academy students, athletics were as important as academics. Thornton had one of the best football teams in the state, and boys and girls alike were fond of the sport of swinging the “Indian Clubs” in the wall-racks at far right, as well as fencing, basketball, and gymnastics (note the rings hanging at center). The $27,000 Emery Gymnasium, modeled after a new gym at Bowdoin College, was built in 1913 so that such sports could take place in comfort and style. Tall windows, at right, and rafter lights take advantage of sunlight, which is then reflected by the birch and maple floors. Steam radiators have been placed high on the walls, no doubt to prevent a collision with a player diving for a rebound, and the seating area has been situated high above to allow the best visibility. This new facility was “among the finest gyms in New England,” according to a newspaper report of the time, though Thornton’s first victory in it — a basketball game against arch-rival Deering — was marred by a protest when Deering pointed out the lack of sidelines!
By the time an unknown cameraman took this photograph, Thornton Academy had survived — with a notable pause or two — for more than a century. Thomas G. Thornton and thirty-six other local residents actually petitioned the Massachusetts legislature for a Saco Academy eleven years before Maine became a state, and in the years since the school had solidified its reputation as one of the finest in Maine. The next century would see even more prosperity for the academy. It has grown to become the fourth-largest high school in the state, serving some 1,470 students in sixth through twelfth grade. Although tuition for non-local children has risen from the three-dollar per quarter rate it was back in 1811, Thornton’s status as a town academy allows local students to attend absolutely free. Festivities are planned throughout 2011 celebrating the academy’s bicentennial.
But for Miss Desmond and her group of two-dozen high school girls nearly a century ago, festivities and celebrations were the farthest thing from their minds. Instead, the focus was on keeping a straight back, fingers pointed toward each other — and trying not to fall down before this photographer captured their athletic stance.
- By: Joshua F. Moore