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Eugene L. Roberts, Athletic Pioneer

Eugene L. Roberts, chair of the Department of Physical Education, ca. 1910

Eugene L. Roberts, chair of the Department of Physical Education, ca. 1910

Eugene Lusk Roberts was born in Provo, Utah on May 13, 1880. He was the 10th child of William and Julia Maria Lusk Roberts. His family moved around several times during his youth. He entered Brigham Young Academy at the age of eighteen and engaged in the full spectrum of activities available at the young school. He participated in gymnastics, track and field, and football. In fact, he captained the track and field team that won the inaugural Utah Intercollegiate Track and Field Championship. He was also an avid journalist and was an editor of the school’s newspaper, the White and Blue. He also performed in several dramatic performances and was elected president of the class of 1904.

He began his teaching career in 1903 when he accepted a position at Franklin School in Provo, Utah. He worked with the principal of Franklin School to introduce athletics as part of the school’s extracurricular activities and served as coach of several of these athletic teams. His girl’s basketball team won the city championship and his boy’s basketball team finished in second place to the Maeser School. He taught and coached at Franklin School for three years before accepting a call to serve as a missionary in Europe.

Upon returning from his mission in late 1908, Roberts enrolled at the University of Utah where he was urged to consider going to Yale University to study physical education which he did. In 1910 President George H. Brimhall offered Roberts the position of athletic coach and chairman of the Department of Physical Education at Brigham Young University. Roberts accepted President Brimhall’s offer even though he had received other higher paying offers. Roberts believed that athletics were for everyone and moved to democratize sports at BYU. In 1911 he started the BYU Invitational Track Meet and in 1912 he established the annual Timpanogos Hike (which lasted into the 1970s).

Students rest while hiking Mount Timpanogos, 1912

Roberts remained at BYU until 1928 when he accepted a position at the University of Southern California.

The University Archives is home to numerous collections that document the life of Eugene L. Roberts. Collections in which material about Eugene Roberts can be located include:

  • The White and Blue contains articles written by Roberts as well as descriptions of the athletic programs that he initiated. Of particular interest are the years 1910 to 1921.
  • UA 104 J. Marinus Jensen collection. This collection includes original manuscripts consisting of Brigham Young Academy student registers, addresses by Karl G. Maeser, life sketches, and histories of departments, clubs and organizations used in the preparation of History of Brigham Young University published in the 1940s.
  • UA 563 Records of the Recreation Department, 1914-1968. This collection contains information on the annual Timpanogos Hike organized and sponsored by Eugene L. Roberts.
  • UA 62 Dept. of Athletics records, 1925-1928. Collection includes typescript news release and a program announcing the acquisition of two cougar kittens to become mascots; it also includes their disposition and names.
  • UA 48 Timpanogos hike programs, 1922-1940. Collection includes various printed programs from the hikes.

If you would like to learn more about Eugene L. Roberts or the University Archives, please contact the University Archivist at (801) 422-6091 or cory_nimer@byu.edu .

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