James C. Donnelly

James C. Donnelly

Portrait of Judge James C. Donnelly, Worcester County Courthouse
Sport(s) Football
Biographical details
Born (1881-12-09)December 9, 1881
Clinton, Massachusetts
Died March 24, 1952(1952-03-24) (aged 70)
Ashland, Virginia
Playing career
1904 Dartmouth
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
1909 Worcester Tech (WPI)
1910 Howard (AL)
1911 Worcester Tech (WPI)
1912–1914 Miami (OH)
1915 Worcester Tech (WPI)
Head coaching record
Overall 22–32–4 (college)

James Corcoran Donnelly (December 9, 1881 – March 24, 1952) was an American football player and coach in the early 1900s. He played football at Worcester's Classical High School then went on to Dartmouth where he played football. After graduation in 1905 he went to Harvard Law School and was admitted to the bar in 1908. He practiced law and served as head football coach at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (1909, 1911, 1915), Howard College in Birmingham, Alabama (1910), and Miami University in Oxford, Ohio (1912–1914), compiling a career college football record of 22–32–4. In 1931, he was appointed a Superior Court judge. His younger brother, Charley Donnelly also coached football at the high school and college level. His youngest brother, Ralph E. Donnelly, was also a standout football player and war hero.

Early life

Donnelly was born on December 9, 1881 in Clinton, Massachusetts.[1][2] Donnelly was the oldest of seven children born to John E. Donnelly and Mary Ellen Corcoran Donnelly. His father immigrated from England and was a machinist in Clinton.[3] His siblings were: John W. Donnelly, Charles Francis Donnelly, Joseph Alyosius Donnelly, Mary Valentine Donnelly Campbell, Ralph Edward Donnelly, and Kathleen Louise Donnelly Crowley.[4] James graduated from Classical High School in Worcester,[2] where he had starred in football.

College career

He attended Dartmouth College where he graduated with an A.B. in 1905.[2] He excelled in football where he played end on the first Dartmouth football team to beat Harvard. In 1904, his final year, he lettered under coach Fred Folsom. That year he helped the Dartmouth eleven to an undefeated record of 9–0–1 with a scoreless tie to national power Harvard. Donnelly played alongside three Walter Camp All-Americans, Joseph Gilman at guard (2nd team), Ralph Glaze at end (3rd team) and James Vaughn at halfback (3rd team). The team out scored its opponents by a combined score of 143 to 13.[5] After graduating from Dartmouth, Donnelly attended Harvard Law School and graduated in 1907.[2][6]

Legal career

After graduating from Harvard, he was admitted to the bar in 1908 and became a lawyer in Worcester, Massachusetts.[2] Early in his career, he clerked in the law office of Thayer & Cobb, where he worked with Webster Thayer, later the judge in the Sacco and Vanzetti Trial.[3] In 1908, he became law partners with Charles F. Campbell.[6] In 1931, he was appointed as a judge in the Superior Court in Worcester by Governor Joseph B. Ely.[3][6][7] His appointment was aided partly by the political connections of his family and his law partner but was hailed by the legal community because he was known for his consistency and fairness.

Coaching career

In the fall of 1905 he began coaching local high schools and colleges in the area. During the period from 1905 to 1909 he was the football coach of one or two teams per season including ones at Worcester High School, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and Highland Military Academy of Worcester.[8] In 1910 he took the head football job at Howard College (now known as Samford University) in Birmingham, Alabama. His team finished the season with a 1–8 record only scoring 10 points to their opponents' 304.[9] In 1911 he returned to coach at Worcester Polytechnic Institute until he was hired for the 1912 football season as an acting professor of physical education and football coach at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.[8] In the three years as head coach at Miami he had a combined record 14–8–2.[10] Donnelly was replaced as head football coach for the 1915 season by Chester J. Roberts. At the time Miami was changing their philosophy of athletics by moving to an all-year athletic coach. Donnelly was unable to be in Oxford for the entire school year since he could only take a limited amount of time off from his law practice in Massachusetts.[11]

Head coaching record


Year Team Overall Conference Standing Bowl/playoffs
Worcester Tech (WPI) Engineers (Independent) (1909)
1909 Worcester Tech (WPI) 3–4–1
Howard Bulldogs (Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association) (1910)
1910 Howard 1–8 0–5
Howard: 1–8 0–5
Worcester Tech (WPI) Engineers (Independent) (1911)
1911 Worcester Tech (WPI) 1–7
Miami Redskins (Ohio Athletic Conference) (1912–1914)
1912 Miami 3–3–2 1–1–2 T–5th
1913 Miami 6–2 4–2 4th
1914 Miami 5–3 4–2 T–3rd
Miami: 14–8–2 9–5–2
Worcester Tech (WPI) Engineers (Independent) (1915)
1915 Worcester Tech (WPI) 3–5–1
Worcester Tech (WPI): 7–16–2
Total: 22–32–4

Personal life

He married Mary O’Reilly of Worcester on October 21, 1920 and they had three children: James, Jr., Rosemary, and Elizabeth Ann.[2][3][4] Judge Donnelly was killed in a traffic accident in Ashland, Virginia on the way back from Florida on March 24, 1952.[3][7] His car was hit head on by a truck. His wife and his daughter, Rosemary were also in the car at the time of the accident, with Rosemary also being killed.[7]


  1. Emerson, Charles Franklin (1911). General Catalogue of Dartmouth College and the Associated Schools 1769-1910. Concord, New Hampshire: Rumford Press. p. 424. Retrieved October 31, 2011.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 The American Catholic Who's Who, 1960 and 1961. 14. Grosse Pointe, MI: Walter Romig. p. 112 =. Retrieved October 7, 2014.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 White, James Terry. The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography. 41. p. 335. Retrieved October 7, 2014.
  4. 1 2 LMR (February 11, 2013). "James Corcoran Donnelly". Find a Grave. Retrieved October 7, 2014.
  5. "2007 Dartmouth Big Green Football Media Guide". Dartmouth College. Retrieved 2009-07-10.
  6. 1 2 3 Harvard Alumni Bulletin, Volume 33, Issue 25. Harvard. Retrieved October 7, 2014.
  7. 1 2 3 "Judge Donnelly, Daughter Killed In Va. Crash". The Berkshire Eagle. 60 (232). Pittsfield, MA. March 25, 1952. p. 1. Retrieved October 7, 2014.
  8. 1 2 "Oxford – faculty Changes at Miami". Hamilton Evening Journal (Hamilton, Ohio). September 17, 1912. p. 7.
  9. "2008 Samford Football Media Guide" (PDF). Samford University. Retrieved 2009-07-09.
  10. "Miami 2008 Football Media Guide". Miami University. Retrieved 2009-07-09.
  11. "Annual Reports of the President, the Deans, and Other Officers of Miami University, for 1914-1915". Miami University Bulletin. Oxford, Ohio: Miami University. XIII (10): 110. June 1915.

External links

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