The Public Schools Athletic League, known by the acronym PSAL, is an organization that promotes student athletics in the public schools of New York City. It was founded in 1903 to provide and maintain a sports program for students enrolled in New York City public schools. The PSAL serves both boys and girls. PSAL holds competitions in a wide range of indoor and outdoor sports in fall, winter and spring seasons. In 2007, the league included 185 schools involving nearly 2,400 teams.
The mission of the Public Schools Athletic league is to provide opportunities for educating students in physical fitness, character development and socialization skills through an athletic program that fosters teamwork, discipline and sportsmanship.
The genesis of the Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL) came from the appointment in early 1903 of Dr. Luther Halsey Gulick as director of physical training for the New York public school system. Compared to other major cities, the athletics program for the New York boroughs were backwards, underdeveloped, and rife with corruption. Gulick found "semi-truant" boys playing baseball for schools they did not attend, and that there was much unsportsmanlike conduct and dishonesty on the playing fields. Only a small percentage of actual students participated in athletics. He saw a serious need for reform and devised a grandiose plan to form a new league—the PSAL—that would involve most of the student population, grade school and high school, and working with two influential New Yorkers—General George W. Wingate (a member of the City Board of Education) and James E. Sullivan (secretary of the Amateur Athletic Union)--presented it in October 1903 to the superintendent of schools, William H. Maxwell. He, with the concurrence of the school board, approved of Gulick's plan.
Although the PSAL received sanction by the board of education, it was set up as a private corporation that would not receive public tax money. The founders of the league recruited the businessmen of New York City to serve on the league's board of directors and also become paying members of the league, and also solicited contributions from prominent benefactors. The league was organized into 22 districts (expanded to 25 by 1910), in which each district league administered athletic programs for elementary and high schools within their district. One member of each district league served on the Elementary Games committee and one member of each district league served on the High School Games committee. These committees governed all general matters pertaining to the league. Championships were held at the district, borough, and city levels. By 1914, the Board of Education was fully funding the PSAL.
The league began with an athletic extravaganza held at Madison Square Garden on December 26, 1903. It involved 1,040 boys, mostly elementary school students, in basketball and track and field events. Among the high schools, Commerce won the track and field meet and Flushing won the basketball tournament. In the spring the league held its first outdoor high school track and field championship, won by Brooklyn Boys.
Each year thereafter the high school league expanded by adding citywide championships in additional sports. In the school year of 1906-07 cross country and soccer was added, and the 1907-08 school year saw the addition of rifle marksmanship, swimming, tennis, and baseball. The expanded activity of the PSAL served to kill off all the previous leagues by 1908.
Rowing was added in the spring of 1907, and several schools, mainly Commerce and Clinton, competed each Memorial Day in the Harlem Regatta. The schools had difficulty getting the use of shells, however, and in 1915 the PSAL withdrew sponsorship. In the 1909-10, lacrosse was added and after World War I golf, handball, fall rifle marksmanship, and ice hockey were added.
Football was not a part of the league's program in its early years. The PSAL chose not sponsor football, because the intent of the league was to involve the average athlete in athletics, and football was considered a sport for athletic elites.The Long Island, Metropolitan, and various borough leagues continued to run the football championships for a couple or so years. In the fall of 1905 the New York newspapers began crowning schools with the titular "Greater New York" championship in football. This procedure lasted until about the fall of 1913, when the number of football contenders made it impossible to schedule sufficient games to decide on one champion. Thereafter the newspapers contented themselves with crowning borough champions. Finally, the PSAL began sponsoring football competition by boroughs in the fall of 1919, but no official championships were recognized. The newspapers basically crowned the borough champions in football.
The premier athletic powers in the league were spread over the boroughs and in the different sports. On Manhattan one of the premier powers was DeWitt Clinton, which took more than its share of trophies in the basketball, swimming, track and field, tennis, and football. Also in the borough were Stuyvesant, which rivaled Clinton in basketball, swimming, and track and field, and Commerce, which rivaled Clinton in basketball and football. Townsend Harris produced more than its share of swimming championships.
In Brooklyn, Manual Training succeeded Long Island League alumnus Brooklyn Boys' as the borough's power, taking loads of titles in track and field, cross country, lacrosse, and soccer. Another Long Island League alumnus, Erasmus Hall, emerged as a football and swimming power. In the 1920s New Utrecht became the premier power in track and field, taking most the indoor and outdoor titles that decade. The school continued to dominate the sport well into the 1930s.
Queens produced such powers as Jamaica (in ice hockey and rifle marksmanship), Richmond Hill (in golf), and Flushing (in cross country and track and field). The Bronx could boast of Morris, which dominated rifle marksmanship early on and took several national championships, and also did well in soccer and tennis. Evander Childs did well in golf, rifle, swimming, and tennis. On Staten Island (Richmond Borough), Curtis became a power in cross country, golf, and soccer.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s new athletic powers came to the forefront, such as Jefferson, Textile, Brooklyn Technical High School, Monroe, and Madison. Handball and fencing were added to the league program. The Great Depression of the 1930s cut somewhat into the PSAL program, and some sports were discontinued.
Some notable coaches in the PSAL are William Lopez, Jack Dammon, Dwayne "Tiny" Morton, Ruth Lovelace and Robert Sprance.
The following is a list of the sports that the PSAL currently runs under its program