A special thanks to Joe Clifford and Rob Zagarella, formerly of Wentworth's Publications Office, for providing a lot of the resources (especially from the “early” years) for this piece.
Wentworth Institute first opened its doors in 1904 and celebrated its Centennial anniversary in April, 2004. Through the first 101 years, countless numbers of students, faculty, and staff have passed through the campus, which seems to grow each year and whose front door overlooks Ruggles Street, the Museum of Fine Arts, and Northeastern University . Until 1996, a parcel of land located directly across the street from the Institute's front door and bound by Ruggles and Parker Streets, and Huntington Avenue , served as a parking lot, a makeshift intramural field, and a landing area for MedFlight helicopters, rapidly rushing patients from far away places to one of the nearby hospitals. In August, 1996, Sweeney Field, a synthetically surfaced playing field officially opened on this parcel – known to many at Wentworth as “the triangle,” – and would help shape Wentworth's athletic future and help to create more of a campus atmosphere. But, long before the first soccer ball was kicked on Sweeney Field, Wentworth has had a lengthy athletic tradition.
The first intercollegiate contests known to have been played at Wentworth date back to 1914 when the baseball team took the field for the first time. Rifle would soon follow in the 1920's, but perhaps Wentworth's most successful team to ever take the field posted a remarkable 53-22-12 record from 1933-1951 and was led by a remarkable coach, who left one of the most lasting impressions one could make on a college campus. That team was Wentworth's football team and that man was Joe Tansey – coach of three sports (football, basketball, baseball), Dean of Students, and a Wentworth legend.
Tansey guided the Wentworth Institute football team for its entire existence. The “Technicians” were clearly a dominant team during this era, recording 49 shutouts in the 87 games they played in and Tansey was known as an innovative play caller – some may even call some of his plays insane – one who used such plays as the “hook and ladder” play as well as several plays which called for multiple reverses to ignite a quick-strike Wentworth offense that could score anytime from anywhere on the field.
Football at Wentworth ended after the 1951 season and 50 years later, posthumously, J. Joseph Tansey was inducted as a charter member of the Wentworth Institute of Technology Athletic Hall of Fame. It is only fitting that the gymnasium inside the Nelson Recreation Center that bears his name is located in what was once the south end zone of the football/baseball field.
Despite an athletic program that offered few opportunities, the baseball and basketball teams started to gain notoriety as time went on, competing against local junior colleges. Bob Whittemore '47, who played for Tansey and served as a professor for 35 years, coached the baseball team for 10 seasons, posting a 60-44 record. He led his teams to New England Junior College Championships in 1965 and 1969. Whittemore was inducted into Wentworth's Hall of Fame, posthumously, in 2002.
In 1971, a Mathematics professor named Frank Nestor took over as basketball coach, a position he held until 1975 and then again from 1982-1994, winning more than 100 games during his tenure and coaching seven players who would score 1,000 or more points during their careers. However, more significant than any win in the history of Wentworth was one of many contributions Nestor made – spearheading the campaign for Wentworth to become a Division III member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. This move allowed the Leopards to join the fledgling Commonwealth Coast Conference and began the foundation to which today's athletic program sits atop. Nestor joined Tansey as a member of the hall of fame's inaugural class.
Starting in the mid-1980s, the Athletic Department continued to expand, adding such sports as men's soccer, men's tennis, and men's volleyball and reinstating the baseball program in 1986 (former director of athletics Lee Conrad served as the team's head coach from 1986-1992). More importantly, the addition of women's sports such as softball, basketball, tennis, volleyball, and air rifle gave women, who had only been students at Wentworth since 1972, the opportunity to compete in intercollegiate athletics.
In 1992, the ice hockey team, a club program since the late 1970's, was elevated to a varsity team, followed by golf which joined the scene in 1995 and men's lacrosse in 1997. The most recent varsity sport added to the roster was women's soccer, which debuted in 1998. However, the early-to-mid '90's were not so fruitful for Wentworth athletics. Several teams suffered through lengthy losing streaks, capped off by the hockey team's 50-game losing streak from November, 1994 until January, 1997.
Things slowly started to turn around for the Leopards. Additional full-time staff, dedicated part-time coaches, and numerous upgrades to Tansey Gymnasium and the Nelson Recreation Center have helped to enhance the student-athlete experience and allow coaches to recruit top-notch players for their programs.
The baseball team, a program considered “nomadic” due to its lack of a home field to play games on and always searching the City of Boston for a vacant field to practice on, made the school's first-ever appearance in the ECAC Tournament in 1995. The eighth-seeded Leopards upset top-seeded Amherst College in the first round, before falling to perennial power Southern Maine . The team won its third CCC title (first since 1990) in 1996 with just 11 players on the roster. In 2008 the Leopards shattered the school record for wins, finishing the season with a 30-14 record, including defeating regular-season champion Roger Williams twice in the post-season. Wentworth fell in the conference championship game, but earned a berth in the ECAC Tournament. Two years later the Leopards would win 29 games, advance to TCCC Semifinals, and earn its first berth in the ECAC title game.
And then there is the aforementioned Sweeney Field, named after Myles Elliott '28 and Eugenia Louise Sweeney, Wentworth Institute of Technology benefactors.
After years of searching for places to play “home” games, Wentworth's men's soccer and softball teams finally had a place to call home and the newly added men's lacrosse team would field a team and play on what was once a parking lot. When the men's soccer team opened the home portion of its 1996 schedule against UMass Dartmouth, it may have lost, 4-3, but it was one of few losses the Leopards would suffer at home that year, as the Leopards won their only CCC title to date with a 3-2, overtime win over Roger Williams on its home turf. Oh, and this came on the heels of the team being 1-17 the season before. Combining men's and women's soccer and men's lacrosse, these three teams have won over 70 percent of their contests played at home. The softball team has had its share of success at home, as well, and with the addition of a portable fence in 2000, it's no longer a home run if a ground ball is hit up the middle.
After the men's soccer team won its first-ever conference crown in 1996, the Leopards earned title game berths in 2000, 2007, and 2009, and ECAC Tournament berths in 2001, 2005, 2007, and 2009. In 2007 the Leopards won a school record 15 games and advanced to the ECAC Finals, while two years later the squad equaled the record for wins and won its first-ever ECAC Tournament title on Sweeney Field.
Coincidence? Who knows. But nearly four months to the day the men's soccer team won its first CCC crown, the men's basketball team, which had been just 2-23 two years prior, captured its first-ever CCC title in front of a hostile crowd at Eastern Nazarene College and earn the school's first-ever invite to the NCAA Division III Tournament. The Leopards would win a second consecutive title, at home, in 1998 and put together a four-year (1995-1999) record of 78-32. Not bad for a program that had won just 66 games from 1984-1995. Wentworth would capture its third TCCC (formerly CCC) crown in 2007 in remarkable fashion, and considering the team did not have a home gym for the majority of the season, the feat was even more impressive. The 2010 Leopards claimed an ECAC Tournament berth for the second time in program history and the squad, which would advance to the 2011 TCCC title game, earned ECAC berths in 2011 and 2012.
Three years after snapping what seemed like a never-ending losing streak, the hockey team saw four years of hard work, grit, and determination pay off with its first-ever ECAC Northeast Championship and first trip to the NCAA Tournament. Both of these feats would be repeated in 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2012, and in 2004, the program would produce the school's first-ever All-American. From the 1999-2000 season until the 2011-2012 season, the Leopards would reach the ECAC Northeast title game an impressive eight times. Not only did the 2012 season see the Leopards earn their fifth trip to the NCAA Tournament but it also saw the school's first-ever NCAA Tournament victory, a 3-1 triumph at Plymouth State.
In its third year of playing in a new conference (North Eastern Collegiate Volleyball Association), the men's volleyball team had already captured a pair of New England divisional titles, but the 2000 season saw the most successful season to date. After a 3-5 start, the Leopards put together a 16-match winning streak and earned the program's first-ever national ranking (13th). The season, unfortunately, may have come to an end with a loss in the NECVA finals, but it put Wentworth on the map nationally. When the NECVA disbanded after the 2011 season, the men's volleyball team joined the Great Northeast Athletic Conference and had immediate success, earning the program's first-ever home playoff match.
Men's lacrosse once went through a stretch where it had four coaches in four years. Stability has been added to the program, and, in addition to qualifying for the CCC Tournament in every season but one since 1998, the program earned back-to-back ECAC Tournament berths in 2003 and 2004.
Golf has won over 60 percent of its matches since becoming a varsity sport in 1995 and was crowned CCC champs in 2003, 2004 and 2005. The team has continued to improve each season and is looking to make a splash at both the regional and national levels in the near future.
Since being added as a varsity sport in 1998, the women's soccer team has had an above .500 record and made four consecutive (2002, 2003, 2004, 2005) trips to the ECAC Tournament. The 2003 squad made the program's first-ever appearance in the CCC finals, coming on the heels of winning a school-record 15 games the season before.
Recent improvements by the women's volleyball and tennis teams, as well as the men's tennis team have shown a commitment throughout the program to be a serious competitor within the CCC. Wentworth has added three sports over the last three years in women's lacrosse (2012-13), men's rowing (2013-14), men's cross country (2014-15), and men's indoor track (2016-2017).