The name of a well manicured playground in St. Cloud has perhaps gone
unnoticed. It’s certainly not an impressive name and is most unyielding in it’s origin. But Stagg Field is named
after one of West Orange’s most forgotten sons. Nearly a century and half ago, before the town even had playgrounds,
a talented West Orange boy would grow up to become famous as " The Grand Old Man of College Football" elected to
both the college football and basketball Hall of Fame.
On August 16, 1862 Amos Alonzo Stagg was
born in West Orange. He died over a century later on March 17, 1965 in Stockton, California. His amazing life spanned over
102 years from the time of President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War to President Lyndon Johnson when US Marines first
landed in Vietnam. He is actually one year older then the Township of West Orange itself which wasn’t formed until 1863.
It could be argued he was actually born in Orange because at that time it wasn’t yet West Orange. But this town has
always rightfully claimed Stagg as one of it’s own. The Stagg homestead built in 1848, where he grew up, is still standing
at 384 Valley Road in West Orange today.
Stagg was born into a poor family and was the fifth
of eight children. His mother died when he was young and his father carved out a living supporting the family as a shoemaker.
Stagg was raised with stern virtues that followed him his whole life. Fortitude, self reliance and discipline became part
of his moral fiber at a young age. He began working as a laborer which he did willingly and cheerfully. Aware of his father’s
struggles he recognized the need for higher learning. In his day however, just a high school education was a goal that few
achieved. In 1878 Stagg joined the First Presbyterian Church of Orange and became further influenced by both education and
religion. He later enrolled in Orange High School because West Orange had none and he had to pay tuition. He participated
in athletics and gained notoriety as a star pitcher for the baseball team. The combined elements of a strong body and mind
helped mold his moral character. He graduated Orange High School in 1883 and despite financial struggles went on to college.
In 1884 he enrolled in Yale as a divinity student. It was here that he really excelled in baseball. He turned down
$4200.00 per month to play a professional baseball season at a time when that was a small fortune. He believed a college man
should be able to make money at a real job. He also called into question the character of professional baseball since alcohol,
which he despised, was sold at games. In 1887 he started playing college football and by 1889 he was selected to Walter Camp’s
first All-American football team.
After college he went on to a legendary football coaching career spanning over 60 years and won two
national championships. He was only born seven years before the first intercollegiate football game ever played between Princeton
and Rutgers but went on to become a living icon of the sport. Stagg had a great impact on the game by developing many of basic
tactics that are still used to this day. He was also influential in the development of basketball as a five-player sport.
On March 11, 1892, Stagg played in the first public game of basketball at the Springfield Massachusetts YMCA. He was elected
to the College Football Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach in the charter class of 1951. He was subsequently elected
to the College Basketball Hall of Fame in it’s first group of inductees in 1959.
Stagg wrote a touching and revealing letter to his 14 month old son. The timeless advice of the letter read in part, "Your
father wants you to detest evil. No curiosity, no conversation, no story, no reading which suggests impurity of life is worthy
of your thought and I beg you never to yield for an instant but turn your attention to something good and helpful. Never use
liquors, tobacco, nor profane language." Shortly before his death in 1965 some kids were playing football on Stagg’s
front lawn. A neighbor noticed and informed him that the grass will never grow that way. Stagg smiled and replied, "I’m
not trying to grow grass, I’m trying to grow kids." Stagg Field in West Orange was named after him at dedication
ceremonies on May 8, 1954. Perhaps a few kids will grow here as enduring testimony to a truly remarkable man.