Triangles Started It All
By Research and writing by Mark Fenner, Dr. Carl Becker,
James “Rocky” Whalen and Marc Katz
It is a little patch of ground dressed as a baseball field for more than 50 years, sloping gently toward a winding road through the middle of Triangle Park.
Baseball continues to be played there, and on the field below, soccer. Across the street is a tennis center, and all around, leafy trees turning to bare-limbed sticks as fall takes over, turning to winter.
Originally the place was a football field, used by high schools, but the spot is much more significant for something else. On the warm fall afternoon of Oct. 3, 1920, the Dayton Triangles beat the Columbus Panhandles 14-0 in a game heralded as the first ever in what became the National Football League.
Pro football had been around for awhile, but was scattered, mostly in small towns. Those wanting a football fix usually attached themselves to a nearby college.
Then, in August of 1920, four representatives from teams in the Ohio League – Canton, Akron, Cleveland and Dayton – met in Canton to discuss a new league.
A month later, on Sept. 17, 1920, 11 team reps showed up at Ralph Hay’s (who also owned the Canton Bulldogs) Hupmobile showroom from leagues in Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and New York. They would form the American Professional Football Association (A.P.F.A.). Within two years, the name would be shortened to the NFL.
Carl Storck, representing the Triangles, was elected treasurer of the new alliance.
Pro football was considered semi-professional in those days, as games were played mostly on weekends for little pay and by those who had other, full-time jobs.
Who were those Triangles?
Founded in 1916, F.B. McNabb, a patent attorney, developed the Triangle Athletic Association. The Association also fielded a basketball and a baseball team. Financial support for the Triangles came from a triad of Dayton industries – Dayton Engineering Laboratories Co. (DELCO), Dayton Metal Products and Domestic Engineering Co. (Delco-Light) - owned by Charles F. Kettering and Edward A. Deeds.
In that Oct. 3 game, Lou Partlow, a Miamisburg native who worked for the West Carrollton Paper Company, scored the first touchdown for the Triangles, and Hobby Kinderdine kicked the first extra point.
Kinderdine, also from Miamisburg, did not play football in high school or college, yet loved the game so much, an injury that hobbled him did not keep him from the field, giving him his nickname.
Nelson “Bud” Tabott, a former Yale All-America, coached.
Today, the site of that first game is Howell Baseball Field, named after a long ago judge. A steep hill fit for bleachers lines much of the North side of the field, or what is now the first base line. There is plenty of room for what was considered a 5,000-seat park that once swelled to an estimated 6,000 fans when legendary Red Grange came to town.
A National Historic Marker heralds the game just beyond the left-centerfield fence, although you have to drive into the parking lot, then walk up a short embankment
to see it.
It wasn’t only who played for the Triangles. Jim Thorpe played here against them, as did Red Grange. Fans packed Triangle Park to see those games, but not many others.
By the end of the decade, the Triangles gave way to bigger cities and better-funded teams. While Dayton was a decent-sized city to compete in the 1920 NFL – even the soon-to-be Chicago Bears started out as the Decatur Staleys – by 1929 more than half the teams were in the bigger eastern and Midwestern cities such as New York, Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis and Philadelphia (Frankford).
To learn more about Dayton football from high schools through the University of Dayton and the Triangles, strap on your leather helmet without the face mask and look around.