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Why are we called the Goldbacks

Why are the High School Athletic Teams The Goldbacks?


      The simple answer to this question is, many years ago, jerseys worn by the athletes of NFA had a large yellow ‘N’ on the back. Hence, the term “Goldbacks”, however the story of just why the old jerseys hold so much importance goes a little further than that.

It is believed by some that the term “Goldbacks” became widely accepted as the NFA team names largerly in part because of the impact a World War I soldier made by taking his NFA jersey to war with him. The following is an excerpt from the book, Encyclopedia of Newburgh Free Academy Football, by Richard E. Durbin, a National Board Certified Social Studies teacher for the 8th grade at South Junior High and helps to explain this story better:

The Yellow and Blue Fights For The Red, White, and Blue
a chapter from the Encyclopedia of Newburgh Free Academy Football


     Tucked away in the bottom floor of NFA’s auto-body shop, located just off the north endzone of the football field and just outside the Athletic Director’s office, hangs a brown jersey with faded stripes and torn letter “N” on it with a picture of a young man wearing a World War I-era military uniform, The inscription below the display reads:

“Walter D. Allison
Killed at the Battle of Hindeburg Line
September 29, 1918.
They gave their merry youth away For country and for god.”

     Who was Walter D. Allison and how did his jersey come to hang outside the Athletic Director’s office?

“Young Allison” is the boy whose first name is Walter. To stop him from talking we’d put on his halter,” went a verse found in the Christmas 1trophy1915 issue of The Academy Graduate about that season’s football team. Allison was a reserve offensive lineman that season and played center for the 1916 team, earning him varsity letter “N.”

Allison, according to city directories, lived at 29 Carter Avenue in the City of Newburgh and came to find himself in Europe fighting in World War I as part of Company E of the 107th Regiment of the 27th Division under the command of Major-General O’Ryan. Allison, according to Edward Dunphy, in his 1924 book Newburgh in the World War, was originally a member of Company E of the First Regiment of the New York State National Guard. They were called to duty in February 1917 to guard the aqueducts supplying New York City with water against possible German sabotage. The United States entered World War I in April 1917.

Allison’s New York unit was remembered by Dunphy for their August 1917 nine-hour and 15-minute march from New Paltz to Newburgh prior to their being sent to New York City and later South Carolina. The march came about because Newburgh City Manager Wilson wanted to throw a reception for the unit before they left the area. A clambake, attended by 500 people, was held at Orange Lake.

Allison’s unit stayed at Van Cortlandt Park in New York City until late September 1917 and was then shipped to Camp Wadsworth at Spartanburg, South Carolina. They stayed in South Carolina until May 10, 1918 when they embarked from Newport News, Virginia for Brest, France, arriving on May 23. Upon arriving in Europe, Allison’s unit was brigaded with the British and saw action in Belgium and Flanders.

On September 25, 1918, after receiving three weeks training in attacks and the use of tanks, Allison was sent to the front in the Doullens region to take part in an attack on the Hindenburg Line. The battle started on September 29.

Dunphy relates how the 27th Division’s commander, Major-General O’Day, was told by the British that “the fighting at the Hindenburg Line was the blow that decided the war for the Allies, especially the New Yorkers.” World War I ended on November 11, 1918.

In his book, Dunphy provides a list of area residents who died in World War 1. Allison’s entry reads as follows:

     “Walter Allison, 20 years old, born in Newburgh, son of Mr. and Mrs. James Allison. Student of Newburgh Academy. When call was made to colors for Mexican mobilization joined Co. E, 1st. Reg., later Co. E, 107th. Reg. Killed in action in France. Member of First Baptist Church. Active in YMCA.”

It appears that when Allison was called to duty he wanted a reminder of home to go with him. Thirteen months after World War I ended the following account appeared in the December 1919 issue of The Academy Graduate under the heading “Academy Athletic Association”:

“At the first meeting, Chester Greatsinger presented the association with an “N” jersey. This garment had belonged to Walter Allison, had been carried to France by the latter, and was in his possession when he died. The members present were deeply moved by the sentiment which game1had caused the carrying of the article to France, and were glad to have a mementos (sic) from the beloved hero.”

This, however, is not the full story of Allison’s varsity jersey. In November 1933, The Academy Graduate carried an article entitled “Lest We Forget.” This article, written by Arthur Brundage, recounted Allison’s World War I sacrifice. Brundage related how Allison volunteered to become his unit’s runner, “a position of danger and responsibility,” and the company mail orderly which caused him to “on many occasions (creep) through barbed wire, dodge machine gun bullets and clouds of poison gas to make his way to the rear and back to the trenches again (so) that his comrades might receive the few letters from home which arrive at the front.”

Allison was killed trying to save a comrade who had been hit by German machine gun fire. According to Brundage, Allison died trying to aid his company commander, Captain Harry Hayward.

So, how did Greatsinger come by Allison’s varsity jersey? The following account, which appeared in the November 1933 The Academy Graduate, seems to answer this question; it was related by Greatsinger to the student writing the “Lest We Forget” story:

     “One day while in service in France, he (Greatsinger) felt the need of extra clothing, and applied to the Quartermaster. The officer found a sweater which he gave Mr. Greatsinger, who was surprised to find a blue sweater with a yellow “N”, which resembled the kind of sweaters worn by his football team in the old Newburgh Academy. He asked for information regarding the ownership of the sweater and was told that it had belonged to a soldier named Walter Allison. Mr. Greatsinger was very much surprised to recognize the name as that of a Newburgh Academy boy.”

Today, the name Allison is remembered, if at all, as the name of an avenue just to the south of his alma mater and bound by South and Third Streets.

The above except is reprinted with permission from Encyclopedia of Newburgh Free Academy Football, by Richard E. Durbin, a National Board Certified Social Studies teacher for the 8th grade at South Junior High

Hopefully this sheds a little more light on how the “Goldbacks” term gained importance and some of the history that is involved in the name “Goldbacks”.