NFL celebrating Dayton’s role in historic beginning 100 years ago
By Beth Langefels
The National Football League (NFL) was founded Aug. 20, 1920, and few people know that the first game was played right here in our hometown of Dayton at Triangle Park in October of that same year.
The Dayton Triangles football team was originally organized as a recreational team from three Dayton factories: The Dayton Engineering Laboratories Co. (DELCO), Dayton Metal Products Co. and the Domestic Engineering Co. The team got its name because it played at Triangle Park in north Dayton and it was one of the 14 original teams that started it all a century ago. This year the NFL is honoring the towns that hosted those teams.
“This is a pretty momentous occasion for us,” says Matthew Shapiro, vice president of event strategy for the NFL. “We are doing a lot of different things. It’s more than looking back. We are also looking forward.”
Shapiro says there are three elements to the 100th anniversary celebration, including $10,000 grants given to each of the 13 original towns. Those dollars will be important to help support recreation in the city of Dayton.
The NFL also plans to install a state-of-the-art turf field at a yet-to-be-determined site in Dayton, which will be the only field the city has for its teams.
“The NFL grant will go to programming at the football field which will be a huge benefit for us,” says Stephan Marcellus, recreation division manager with the city of Dayton, “We have been using makeshift fields in our parks for years for our flag football teams.”
Marcellus says the city also wants to expand its current youth football programs to middle school and adults. The city only offers a flag football program because it’s a safer option and parents like it, especially as a first-time option for their kids.
“The second big piece for us is day three of the draft,” says Shapiro, “Over the last number of years we have been bouncing around to different team markets to find out what is important to them.”
The NFL set up events at each of the 13 original towns. In Dayton, that event was conducted on April 27 at Triangle Park in conjunction with the Cincinnati Bengals draft. Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley announced one of the draft picks live from the event on that day.
”We planned the event and invited people out tell them about the history of the Dayton Triangles,” says Marcellus. “We worked closely with the Bengals and gave out 7,000 free tickets.”
Of course, the third component of the NFL donation is the actual turf, which had been planned to be installed at the place where the original team played the first football game a century ago in Dayton.
“We want the Dayton community to have a special place on the exact footprint where the game took place, but with new artificial turf and new technology,” says Shapiro. “We hope groundbreaking will begin in the coming weeks.”
At least that was the goal.
Shortly thereafter local Native Americans raised concerns about the football field being built because they say Triangle Park is also the site of several Native American burial mounds.
“This needs to be investigated,” says Guy Jones, a local Native American who says the project should not move forward. “I’m very adamant about this because we don’t know enough about it.”
Jones says he has maps that validate the burial grounds at the site of Triangle Park and though some excavations of the site took place between 1880 and 1920 he says there is no evidence that all artifacts have been moved.
“There is one mound left at Triangle Park,” Jones says. “There needs to be something in place in the city of Dayton with regards to archeological historical assessments.”
Originally part of the Edwin Best estate also called Idlewild, Triangle Park was created in 1916 by Charles Kettering and Edward Deeds as a recreational park. Jones says maps of Idlewild clearly show the burial grounds.
“I don’t have any verification that they are delaying construction, but the city says they are looking into it,” Jones says.
City officials later confirmed that the new field would not be installed at Triangle Park after a survey of the site found possible evidence of American Indian artifacts or remains.
The city and NFL are now working to find another location for the turf field the NFL wants to donate.
The NFL Foundation will be supporting the overall field turf installation and overseeing the grants to the 13 original towns (Chicago had two original NFL teams). Shapiro says the opportunity to look back in history and see how the NFL has grown has been incredible.
Dayton is one of the eight cities outside the current NFL markets being honored where the original teams were located when the NFL was founded.
“That tie to Dayton and that piece of history is a nice fit,” says Cincinnati Bengals Executive Vice President Katie Blackburn. The Bengals originally planned to practice at the field later this year before the burial grounds issue was raised. “We’ve enjoyed going up to Dayton to practice in the past,” says Blackburn.
Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley says anything that shines a positive spotlight on Dayton is great so something like the new field will be a wonderful addition.
“We are really excited,” Whaley says. “We hosted the first NFL game and had the first touchdown and that makes Dayton really special. To celebrate that with a field our kids can play on solidifies our relationship with football.”
The artificial turf field that is scheduled to be installed somewhere in Dayton is expected to cost about $440,000.
“A lot of us that work at the NFL have been honored to be involved in this,” Shapiro says. “It’s been amazing. Even the most avid fans don’t know this part of the history and all these different places. It’s a fascinating, almost quirky look at the NFL that I think we will continue to highlight.”
For more information about the NFL 100th anniversary and how you can participate log on to Nfl.com/100