Antique sports equipment is passion of alumnus and his faculty mentor

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Dan Hauser ’92 ’97 has amassed one of the most extensive collections of antique sports equipment in the United States. After 13 years of collecting, “several thousand” items fill his basement – from 19th-century baseball gloves to a high-wheeler bicycle, silver trophy cups and vintage uniforms.

“My wife says nothing gets above the basement steps,” jokes Hauser, Ohio University’s associate athletics director for external operations.

An interest that began while working on his master’s thesis at Appalachian State University, Hauser’s hobby has resulted in a book co-written with fellow collectors John Gennantonio of Cincinnati and Appalachian’s Professor Emeritus Ed Turner, his faculty mentor in the physical education program.

“Antique Sports Uniforms & Equipment: 1840-1940” was published in late 2008 by Schiffer Books. The coffee-table book includes old team photos and 600 color images of baseball, football and basketball equipment along with a brief overview of each sport’s history and equipment evolution.

“Athletics competition is such an important part of our culture,” says Hauser. “It’s one of the great environments in which to learn and grow – whether you’re five years old or a professional athlete.”

The book appeals to collectors as well as sports fans. About half of the featured items belong to Hauser. But, his collection encompasses a lot more. His favorites include a baseball bat made from a black wood called lignum vitae and a series of women’s bloomer-style basketball uniforms.

Turner, now an antiques dealer in New England, is particularly fond of pre-1920 football “head harnesses,” as they were called.

“They were designed more like wrestling equipment than the football helmet we know today because they were made to protect the ears, not the head,” Turner said. His favorite: a Chicago-style harness made of leather and wool padding by A. G. Spalding in 1897.

Sports evolution

Visitors to the men’s collections are awestruck to see how primitive the items seem compared to equipment used today. “They really are amazed that people once played sports using equipment like this,” said Hauser.

All sports are considered much safer today, thanks to changes in equipment and game rules. “In the beginnings of football there were a lot of deaths, and the sport was banned in the late 1800s to early 1900s,” Hauser said. “It came back as some of the equipment improved. In baseball, the first gloves were fingerless and skin-colored because players thought it looked unmanly if they wore protective equipment. They also used to throw the ball, which back then was softer, and actually hit the player instead of tagging someone out like we do now.”

Basketball was once such a contact sport that men’s uniforms up until the 1930s included quilt-padded pants.

“Most pieces of athletic equipment were created or invented by the players themselves. Then, companies got involved and mass produced the items,” Hauser said. Today, he said, sports equipment companies drive equipment evolution after investing big money in safety research.

Lifelong mentoring

Hauser earned his bachelor’s degree in K-12 physical education and his master’s degree in health and physical education at Appalachian. He has spent most of his career in collegiate athletics, having worked at the University of New Mexico and Wake Forest University before moving to Ohio.

Turner, who taught at Appalachian 32 years before retiring in 2000, mentored Hauser during the writing of his master’s thesis which focused on the social influences on the evolution of football equipment.

The two formed a close bond that continues today. “I became seriously ill one year and Dan took over a couple of my classes while I was away. I know him well… We go antiquing every year in Maine and have a lot of fun,” Turner said.

Turner won the UNC Board of Governors’ Award for Teaching Excellence in 1998 for his connection with students and devotion to finding new and effective ways to teach.

“He’s been a great mentor and friend,” Hauser said of Turner. “I treasure my time at Appalachian and with Ed. To do a project like this together is just a joy.”