After 13 years of losses in league games, the men of sprint football still play to win

From left, Bob Dougherty ’15, Chad Cowden ’17, Kevin Ma ’14, John Wolfe ’14 (kneeling), student coach Ben Foulon ’14, and Chris McCord ’15
From left, Bob Dougherty ’15, Chad Cowden ’17, Kevin Ma ’14, John Wolfe ’14 (kneeling), student coach Ben Foulon ’14, and Chris McCord ’15
Beverly Schaefer

The sprint football team holds an unenviable record — it last won a league game in 1999, when Harold Shapiro *64 was Princeton’s president. Some losses have been categorical sweeps — 98–0 against Navy, 70–0 against Penn. So it’s a wonder the team’s players show up undaunted, their commitment unwavering. 

“Some people think that because we lose all the time, we must not care,” said Ben Foulon ’14, a former captain. “But we take it personally.” 

Though it is played according to the same rules as traditional football, sprint displays more hustle than heft since players may not weigh more than 172 pounds. It is an official varsity sport at Princeton, though the team competes in the seven-school Collegiate Sprint Football League, not the Ivy League or the NCAA. The Tigers have captured nine championships since 1934, the last one in 1989, and had several competitive seasons until 1999 (Princeton did defeat Virginia Military Institute, a club team, in 2005). The team foundered after the University cut all slots for recruited players, athletic director Gary Walters ’67 told The Daily Princetonian. 

Recruitment often is carried out by the players. John Wolfe ’14 scouts Dillon Gym for “anybody under 200 pounds with some semblance of athleticism.” He spotted Spencer Haldeman ’15 as a freshman bench-pressing 165 pounds. “Ever played football or heard of sprint?” Wolfe asked. No, Haldeman replied. But he agreed to attend a practice, and today, he doubles as a defensive end and an offensive lineman.

Most sprint players have proven themselves in athletics, but not in football. Kevin Ma ’14 battled opponents over a pingpong table, Adam Grabowski ’17 on a tennis court. Coach Stephen Everette begins practice in the classroom. “We call it Football 100,” he said, noting that he often helps rookies identify the line of scrimmage. Some guys have “never made a tackle in their life,” said Wolfe. 

Though 13 years of defeats loom large, the squad refuses to buckle. Last season, the team lost by just one touchdown in three games, and was close to a victory over Post University. 

“There’s no fame or glory in sprint,” Wolfe said. “These guys show up for the right reason, for the only reason: to play football.”