Hoosier Legacy Player: Halfback Zora Clevenger (1900-03)

 Indiana halfback Zora Clevenger circa 1901.  Image: IU Archieves

Indiana halfback Zora Clevenger circa 1901. Image: IU Archieves

Written by: TJ Inman (@TJHoosierHuddle)

The Hoosier Legacy Series continues here on Hoosier Huddle! Today, we take a look at one of the greatest athletes to ever “lace ‘em up” for the Cream and Crimson: Zora Clevenger. 
Playing a Division I sport is an incredibly impressive accomplishment. Playing two sports at that level is a rarity and the sign of a terrific athlete. Playing three sports at a top-level college like IU? That’s unheard of. But it’s something the great Zora Clevenger did at the beginning of the 1900s and his accomplishments, while they are truly history to us today, should not be forgotten or glossed over. 

Clevenger was born in December of 1881 in Muncie, Indiana. He grew up playing every sport he could and excelled at nearly everything he tried. Despite being only 5’7” and 145 pounds, became a tremendous halfback for the Hoosiers. While at IU, he also played shortstop for the baseball team and basketball. Amazingly, Clevenger became a captain on all three squads. Imagine the kind of ability, hard work and natural leadership he must have exhibited to be the captain of three different big-time varsity sports. 

On the football field, Zora Clevenger was a member of IU’s first Big Ten team and he starred from 1900-1903. He earned All-America honors for his play as a center during his senior season. Clevenger’s greatest contributions to football, and to IU, came after his playing days were over. He moved into coaching and administration and created the “Straight-T” formation. Clevenger began his coaching career by coaching football, basketball and baseball at Nebraska Wesleyan before making his first big splash. In 1914 he introduced the revolutionary formation at the University of Tennessee and turned the Volunteers into a national powerhouse. Clevenger’s Volunteers went 26-15-2 in football, winning a conference championship and going unbeaten in 1914. He also coached an unbeaten basketball squad in Knoxville during the 1915-1916 season and served as the athletic director before moving on to Kansas State University. He was the head football coach, head basketball coach, head baseball coach and the school’s first athletic director. In 1923, Clevenger returned to IU to become the school’s athletic director. He held the position for a remarkable 23 years before retiring in 1946. He helped found the East-West Shrine Game and under Clevenger, IU athletics had a terrific run of success.

Indiana University and the “I Association” now presents the Z.G. Clevenger Award to living I Men who have made outstanding contributions to Indiana University through service to the athletic program.  Clevenger was rightfully enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1968 and passed away in Bloomington in 1970 at the age of 88. He was born a Hoosier and died a Hoosier. While he lived, despite his average stature, he had a larger than life impact as an athlete, coach and administrator that will be forever remembered.