Another form of entertainment for the people of Ann Arbor was athletics. During this period sports were not as highly organized as they later became. There were many more participants and fewer spectators. Baseball was the most important sport in the late nineteenth century, both locally and nationally. The sport became a real "craze" around the middle of the '80's. By 1884 the city council felt it necessary to ban ball playing in the streets.
In those days most baseball games were arranged on the spur of the moment. Local residents could see matches between the staffs of two local newspapers, between the Northside Club and a traveling club of professional female players, between the city officials and the county officials, or between the University faculty and a team composed of the high school faculty and the board of education. The University of Michigan played a schedule which included Ann Arbor High School and a Detroit professional team.
Football also grew in popularity in the late nineteenth century, but until the 1890's it resembled rugby more than modern football. One newspaper article claimed that "There is really very little kick in a game of collegiate football. It is principally a mass of struggling humanity, with wildly protruding eyeballs, bruised and wrenched limbs, [and] streaming apparel." In the early '90's both the University and the high school appointed boards to control professionalism in athletics and prevent the use of such tactics as slugging in football games.
During the 1880's the new high-wheeled bicycles became popular among students and some of the younger businessmen in town. Soon the sport was quite the rage and several bicycle schools opened up to teach people how to ride the "animal." The modern bicycle became available in the 1890's at a fairly low cost, and the number of cyclists in town rose steadily. By the turn of the century, there were between 2,500 and 3,000 bicycles in town. Through such organizations as the League of American Wheelmen, cyclists were the first to lobby for better roads. Junius Beal, the young editor of the Ann Arbor Courier, was the first president of the Michigan Division of the League of American Wheelmen and active in the national association.
By the turn of the century, Ann Arbor was a prospering community, supported for the most part by its educational institutions and a few small manufacturing establishments. Over a very short period of time "Ann's Arbour" had acquired most of the modern conveniences available in the larger cities and yet had retained its character as a fine residential town. While not all of the problems of earlier years had been solved, the citizens of Ann Arbor faced the new century with a sense of accomplishment.