Exactly a year ago today, I wrote a column on the life of Gardner Dow, the only UConn student-athlete to ever die from an athletic injury. For those who may not know, Dow passed away on Sept. 27, 1919 after taking an inadvertent knee to the head while tackling a punt returner in the fourth quarter of a football game between the Connecticut Agricultural College Aggies (now the UConn Huskies) and the University of New Hampshire.
After being carried off the field, Dow’s condition quickly deteriorated, and he eventually passed away a little after 7 p.m. at a New Hampshire fraternity house. As word reached Storrs, Connecticut, the school was devastated by the news.
An excerpt from the October 3, 1919 edition of The Connecticut Campus produced after Dow’s death described the ceremony as students and faculty gathered at Hawley Armory to mourn the loss of one of their own.
“All who attended said that never before was an exercise held at this institution which surpassed this one,” the article read. “It was short, it was plain, but it was impressive. Just as Gardner Dow’s memory will always be with us, so will the remembrance of the College Exercsises in his honor be an everlasting jewel to us.”
With the 97th anniversary of his death occurring this past Monday and The Daily Campus celebrating 120 years in print, it seemed fitting to not only revisit Dow’s life and legacy, but also the field that bared his name and stood at the center of campus for so many years.
Shortly after the news of Dow’s death, members of the Athletic Association voted to name the school’s athletic field in his memory. Just a few months later, Gardner Dow Field was officially dedicated on May 22, 1920. A plaque commemorating the dedication was attached to Hawley Armory, and although it has moved slightly from it’s original location, the plaque can still be seen today on back side of the Armory, facing out toward Oak Hall.
Dow Field served UConn athletics in some form for over 40 years since it was officially dedicated in Dow’s name as a home to the football, soccer, baseball and track teams. The area the entire field itself covered was huge, beginning at the back of Hawley Armory, extending out wide to Fairfield Way and the way to where the Psychology Building is today.
Football was played at Dow Field up until Memorial Stadium was erected in 1953 and soccer was played there all the way until 1968; one of the last teams to use the field. One year later, Morrone Stadium was constructed and the Huskies moved their soccer games over there. Eventually, the cinder track and baseball fields would fade away as well.
As time went on, Dow Field has been occupied by a multitude of buildings in the center of campus, including Oak Hall, the business school, the Whetten Graduate Center, the library and Connecticut Commons, now the spot of the future student recreation center.
As the buildings were built, Dow Field and the memory of Gardner Dow began to fade away. During this time, the plaque outside of Hawley Armory was blocked for many years by the old Co-Op building, but was made visible once again when the Co-Op was brought down to make way for Oak Hall.
With Dow’s plaque and legacy back in visibility, it feels right to shine a light on his story. After all, this student-athlete quite literally left his life on the field and was by all accounts someone who truly embodied what it meant to be apart of the school we now call UConn. His unique and tragic story should continue to live on through the field named after him. Although it doesn’t exist in its original form anymore, every UConn student has walked on it in some form, so it should be remembered justly.
This poem from the October 17, 1919 issue of The Connecticut Campus says it best:
“No monument or stone have we, to help hold dear the memory, of one who with us worked and play’d.
But on that field where oft we fight, to hold on high the Blue and White, We’ve placed the name that cannot fade.
And as he fought and played the game, Let those who follow do the same. Play hard! With victory, not shame, Upon that field which bears his name.”
While the field is no longer in existence, keep in mind the legacy that Gardner Dow left and continues to leave on this ever-changing campus.