Archive for Sunday, February 8, 1998


February 8, 1998


Today basketball is the foremost spectator sport at Kansas University and in Lawrence. It has been that way most of the time since Dr. James Naismith, founder of the game, arrived here in 1898.

As the Kansan, the student newspaper, reported on Dec. 10, 1898: "A new game has sprung into popularity. It is the game of basketball. Everyone who is at all interested in athletics is now talking basketball . . . it is talked at the club; it is discussed in the corridors; it is practiced and played in the gymnasium and on the campus.

"Even the professors have become actively interested in the game and are giving their time of recreation over to this pastime. At present it appears that the basketball mania would carry all before it."

Nearly a century later the basketball mania still exists along the banks of the Kansas River.

After Naismith arrived in Lawrence in the fall of 1898, it wasn't long before basketball was played on Mt. Oread, the hill on which the University of Kansas is located.

Two days after the comment about " basketball mania," on Dec. 12, 1898 the Lawrence Daily Journal, under its KU notes, stated: " The faculties of Snow and Fraser Halls played basketball . . . from Snow Hall: Professors Williston, Barber, McClung, Naismith and Clark, from Fraser Hall, Professors Carruth, Canfield, Hopkins, Sterling, Messrs. Hogg and Foster, Umpire Bumgardner, referees Will and Walter Sutton.

"The game resulted in 14 to 20 in favor of Snow Hall. The only accident during the game happened to Professor Sterling, who had his eye badly cut by running into another man."

This game of basketball was one of the few in which Naismith was himself a participant. It wasn't long after the holiday break that the first game involving KU students occurred. It took place at the roller skating rink at approximately 807 Ky., close to downtown Lawrence.

Four days later on Jan. 23, 1899, the Lawrence Journal told of "An Interesting Public Exhibition" of "A Game of Basketball" in its headlines. The account began: "Lawrence people who were present at the rink Saturday evening were given an opportunity of learning something about basketball, which is being played considerably at Kansas University, as well as nearly every school in the country, and which has been given additional prominence here because of the presence of Dr. James Naismith as physical culture director of the school, who is the inventor of the game. Very few present Saturday night knew what the game was like, and as Dr. Naismith acted as referee and explained the game as it progressed, the occasion was made of greater interest."

The Journal further noted: "The game is a vigorous one, and while having all the commendable features of football, has none of its roughness nor brutality. There are five players on each side, and the players paired off, one man from each side watching a particular man on the other side. The ball is snapped up from the middle of the field, and by passing, striking with the open hand, tossing from side to side or passing in any manner except kicking, from one player to the other, the object being to place the ball in the basket at either end of the field. These baskets are similar to the goal posts of a football field, in that each side has one, and that a man is stationed to guard each one."

Football was the analogy used in this 1899 description of Lawrence's first public game of basketball. The more familiar sport conditioned the perception of James Naismith's new game.

How was basketball viewed when it was first played in Lawrence in 1899?

We gain some insight into this in further descriptions of that first game in the Journal on Jan. 23, 1899, which reported on the then eight-year-old sport that: "The players are not allowed to run with the ball, grab it from another player, or indulge in any sort of roughness, and the ball must be kept in motion either by bouncing on the floor, or by passing from one to another. The baskets at each end of the field are at the top of poles eight feet high, and it is a very difficult task to put the ball in the basket when the 10 men are around the player, four trying to help him, and five are trying just as hard to knock the ball from his hands, or prevent it being thrown straight.

"There was an immense amount of activity in the game, and the agility manifested by many of the players was surprising. The game has two 20-minute halves; each time the ball is thrown through the ring, or into the basket it counts two for the side that does it, and a ball thrown when the other side makes a foul counts one."

This review from 1899 helps us to recapture how the game appeared to those then on the scene.

The Lawrence World stated on Feb. 9, 1899: "The first out-of-town team to play basketball is the Topeka team, who play the KU team Friday evening, at the rink which has been fitted up for the game with new goals and will be heated for the game. The Topeka team has been playing for a couple of years and are exponents of clean fastball. The KU team while not old at the game have some excellent players and it is expected that Emley will be able to play center which will materially strengthen the team."

On Feb. 10 the opponent was the Topeka YMCA and it was a home game for KU. The Kansas Weekly reported that only 50 people were present at this first game "due to the fact that the gas line froze up."

So, the first home basketball game for KU was seen by 50 hardy souls likely bundled up in their coats. Fortunately, they were rewarded with a victory.

The KU Weekly's headline read "First Big Game" and its story began by calling it "the first big home game of basket ball." The Weekly told how after the usual throw out, the band played its old familiar air and the game began, KU winning the east goal. Before the game called there was some little doubt as to the outcome, but the ball had been in play only a moment or two when the Varsity began to show its superiority.

The Rink was a 15-year-old wooden building and site of roller skating, political meetings and religious revivals. One of its last events were KU basketball games, but it was the first home court.

The Kansas University Weekly told how this first home game occurred on the court: "After two minutes of play Sutton threw a goal and the first applause was heard. This gingered the Varsity boys and they played so fast that the visitors could offer but little interference. The same spirited play lasted throughout the first half and when it was over the Varsity had scored 19 points, while Topeka had scored 4. . . . In the second half, Topeka warmed up for a little time and scored after about 3 minutes of play. The visitors had learned the Varsity tactics and put up a fair interference for a short time. They were unacquainted with the 'roly boly' game and weakened when this was brought into play. The game was however, more interesting in the latter half than in the former. Topeka seemed to have caught a little ginger. The Y players from Topeka were unfamiliar with the 'roly-boly' game in which the basketball was rolled from one player to another as a means of advancing it. (Accordingly, it might be said that in gaining its first victory KU was on a roll.)"

The student account compared and contrasted the opponents in this first home basketball game at the University of Kansas. "The Topeka team was composed of good men but they were not basket ball players. The team contained the long and the short, the heavy weight and two betweens of the YMCA. The men were not adopted to their positions nor to each other, their training seemed inefficient. The lack of team work was evident."

The KU Weekly found more to its liking when it turned to characterizing its own players: "The Varsity team contained men of somewhat equal size. It was evident that they had played more basket ball than their opponents from the manner in which they worked together. All of the men played well. During the latter half Emly retired and Avery took his place. The game through-out was free from rough playing and objectionable features.

Playing for KU were William Sutton a forward who had 6 goals from the field and 1 goal from the foul line. Hess, forward, had 4 field goals; Emely, center, had 4 field goals, W.S. Sutton and Yahn were the backs and Sutton scored 1 goal. Avery was paired in the box score with Emely so his output can't be determined. There were 20-minute halves and the referees were listed as Dr. Frank of Topeka and Dr. Naismith. The final score was 31 to 6.

On March 20, 1899, the Rink burned to the ground just two days after a game. The loss of the skating rink brought KU's home season to an abrupt end. KU had to finish its first basketball season on the road.

Max L. Rife in his thesis on early basketball at KU tells us how the first season of basketball came to a close.

Rife wrote: "On April 6, 7 and 8, 1899, the University of Kansas went on its first extended road trip. The first two games were played with the Independence, Mo., YMCA and each ended in a Kansas defeat: 21-15 and 22-10. After the second game, Captain Emely, on behalf of the Kansas Varsity, presented Captain Dick, of Independence, the silk banner " carrying with it the championship of Kansas and Missouri. Kansas ended the season with its first intercollegiate game played against William Jewell College of Liberty, Mo.." KU won 19-3 and finished its first season with four wins and three losses. The season began on Feb. 3 and ended on April 11.

The Lawrence World of Nov. 6, 1899 in a headline "Wants to Play Yale" told of Dr. Naismith's goals for the second season. The World stated: "Preparations are being made at the university for basket ball this year. Although all of the team has not yet been selected practice has begun and the men are getting in good shape. R.O. Russell is the manager and Whatney is captain. Avery and Hess, who are on the football team, will probably play basket ball. The season commences immediately after the football season ends."

The dominance of the fall sport is clearly evident.

The World of Nov. 6, 1899, acknowledged the distinctive background of KU's basketball coach and told of his ambitions for the year.

"Dr. Naismith, physical instructor at the university, is said to have originated the game about five years ago, and it is now played all over the United States. This year Dr. Naismith is planning to have his team meet Yale and Chicago. Yale will be at Chicago about Jan. 5. The KU team will make a trip east through Omaha, Des Moines and Iowa City to Chicago, where they will play Chicago and Yale. The trip is practically assured though some of the teams have not yet been heard from. Dr. Naismith is confident that his team could make a good showing against the Eastern colleges."

It must have been a disappointment to Dr. Naismith when the season did not start until Jan. in the new year and only Omaha was actually played during the season of these projected opponents. These hopes for a competitive basketball schedule and a chance to "make a good showing" were not to be despite their first coach's aspirations. Naismith didn't have to worry, though, about media and fan comments about the failed attempt.

The home for the second season of play was 936 N.H. which was the YMCA. This facility was then a new, having opened on Jan. 1, 1900. Dr. Naismith had been one of those speaking at the dedication as he had been the chairman of the building committee. The Lawrence Journal on Jan. 2 noted a short speech by him which "presented some of the advantages of athletics for the young man."

An agricultural implement storehouse had been bought and converted into the YMCA which included a swimming pool, locker rooms, boys parlor and reading room, shower and tub bath rooms, an athletic consultation apartment and a darkroom for amateur photographers.

The Lawrence Journal of Jan. 1, 1900, noted it contained the "... largest and best of all the gymnasiums. In this gymnasium will be found all the latest equipments. It is 40 by 65 feet with a twenty foot ceiling, thus furnishing an excellent place for basket ball, tennis, indoor base ball and handball. Fields for all of these games will be provided in the room. A gallery extending entirely around the room will furnish a place for visitors as well as space for a running course of twenty-two laps to the mile."

At KU, enrollment was at 1,090 and there were fewer than 10 buildings on the campus. Football was the main athletic interest, 10 years old, resulting in 64 wins, 18 losses and 2 ties during those seasons.

On Jan. 27, 1900, the headline read "Will Play Basket Ball" in the Lawrence Journal.

"The basket ball season opens here tonight with a game between the basket ball teams of Kansas university and Haskell institute. The game will be played in the gymnasium of the new YMCA building. The game is expected to be close and hotly contested. Both teams are in good condition and have been practicing hard for the past two months."

This comment indicates that although the gym had not been dedicated until Jan. 1 likely had been available for use in late 1899.

This KU team finished with a 3-4 record. Naismith was the coach and often also the referee or umpire of the various games.

The third KU basketball season of basketball was the first to encompass two calendar years. An important change occurred in where games were played. By late 1900 and early 1901, the Y was at 924 Mass. on the second floor. Chittenden's 1900-1901 City Directory listed the Y at this new address and James Naismith's name was listed as vice-president of the organization. It is speculated that the earlier gym at 936 N.H., as the Rink before it, burned down.

On Feb. 9, 1901, the student paper reported on two games on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 played on the world with " the fast Modern Woodmen team of Independence, Missouri. The team was organized about 5 years ago and the players are the same now, with perhaps one exception, as at the beginning. They understand each other perfectly and play a fast and furious game. However, our boys, though they did not beat them, had them badly scared all during the first game. . . The first game resulted in a score of 11 to 8, the second 29 to 13, both in favor of Independence. Our boys, on the whole, played better than they themselves expected and opened the eyes of Independence, who expected a complete walk-away."

It is not known whether a 15-year-old Forrest Clare Allen, then growing up in Independence, was on hand. Unfortunately, luck had been often elsewhere for the year KU finished with four victories against eight defeat.

Entering the fourth year, Kansas for the fourth time was looking for a place to play. The Weekly on Oct. 5, 1901, told how "The burning of the YMCA gymnasium presents a perplexing question to basket ball enthusiasts. Where will the team play? Our university gymnasium is not large enough for practice, to say nothing of playing an inter-collegiate game in it. Dr. Naismith has reserved one end of the gymnasium for the basket ball team, but there is only enough room for practice in passing the ball much of the work must be done out of doors."

In the same issue, the season's prospects were assessed.

"The basket ball season opens with a favorable prospect in view. Season tickets are on sale and the demand for them indicates great interest in the winter sport and gives promise of a successful season. The tickets will admit to 8 schedule games and about 6 class games. The initial game of the season will be with Haskell next Monday night at Journal hall (708 Mass.). Let KU turn out en masse and help make a good beginning by giving Haskell a drubbing."

The attendance of students, whether en masse or not, was a critical factor in keeping KU athletics financially solvent.

In the 1901-1902 season, in its two contests in December, both played at the Journal hall, KU lost first to Haskell, 31-19, and then to Ottawa, 25-21. On Jan. 14, 1902, in another contest with their crosstown rivals KU defeated Haskell, 27-22.

The Weekly told what happened. "The Varsity basket ball team won a close game from the Indians. . . in Journal Hall by a score of 27-22. The floor was slippery and the game was characterized by a lack of quick, snappy play. The Varsity team proved to be much the stronger on team work but fell down on their goal throwing."

In this game, Fred Owens, playing as a back or what we call a guard today, scored 14 of KU's 27 points. The Lawrence World on Jan. 14, 1902, reported: "The game was loosely played throughout and uninteresting. The floor was slippery and the low ceiling prevented good goal throwing. The varsity players put up the best team work, the Haskell players not putting up their usual good game."

The problem of a low ceiling was a recurring one and would be the case in the basement of Snow Hall, KU's home on the campus, in upcoming seasons.

The position of basket ball at Kansas is revealed in a Jan. 25, 1902, comment in the student paper: "The only encouraging aspect of the basket ball situation is that the sport is inexpensive and that the athletic association is not in danger of contracting big debts in support of the game. But the fact that basket ball does not entail 1/10 th the expense of football and baseball will not insure its success at KU. The student body must shuffle off its indifference and get on friendly terms with this neglected branch of Kansas athletics. Why not ? Do you admire endurance, activity, nerve, a cool head and a quick eye in an athlete ? If so attend the next basket ball game and see a good exhibition of these qualities. Athletics can't thrive on money alone -- it must have encouragement."

The lack of a permanent and spacious home where students could come and cheer the basketball players likely diminished prospects for achieving the "friendly terms" sought by the Weekly.

The talk of Lawrence basketball in 1902 were the Haskell Indians. Having their own spacious gymnasium encouraged fan interest. The Lawrence World of March 3, 1902 told in its headline that an upcoming game at Haskell "For the National Championship" and told that: "Next Saturday a game of basket ball will be played on the Haskell floor for the championship of the United States between the Independence, Missouri team and the Haskell team. The Independence team now holds the championship of the United States."

The Lawrence Journal of March 10, 1902, noted that "The Independence, Mo. Championship basketball team was defeated by the Haskell Indians Saturday night, on the Haskell court, by a score of 17 to 15 . . . This gave the Indians the championship of America, the Independence team having held that title by reason of the defeat of the Fon du Lac team, last year, and winning every game this year . . . The game was witnessed by a very large crowd, and much enthusiasm was displayed."

Forrest Allen and his brothers made up part of that Independence team.

The Weekly of March 22, 1902 told of the end of the 1901-1902 season: "The basketball team closed the season with a game at Leavenworth Friday eve. Both teams were weak on goal throwing and good on defensive. McCleary and Joclyn were the stars for Leavenworth, and Alford and Atkinson for KU. The visitors won thru superior team work. Score 36 to 7."

KU finished its fourth season with 5 wins and 7 losses with five games in Lawrence, two of those at Haskell's gym. The season featured the first long road trip and it involved traveling in Iowa.

On Oct. 30, 1902, the Lawrence World in its KU items noted "Those interested in basket ball have secured a new room in the gymnasium. The practice will be hard from now on."

Webb, in her Naismith book, wrote: "On campus, basketball could be played in old Snow Hall, predecessor of the present building. But playing conditions were woefully inadequate. Snow had a court thirty-six feet wide and eighty-four feet long, with an eleven-foot ceiling and goals about a foot below the ceiling. In addition to the obstacle of a low roof, the posts supporting the ceiling were located in a line down the center of the room, making playing hazardous"

Webb points out that such obstacles to play occurred elsewhere the game was played, just 10 or so years old, facilities often were makeshift.

The Lawrence World on Dec. 6, 1902 noted: "A basket ball team is being organized at the university. Owens, captain of the last year's team, will not be with the team this year, but his place will be filled by Allen, the giant guard of the football team. A strong schedule is being arranged. "

Allen was about 6 feet and 181 pounds in stature but he was billed as the new star at KU in basketball. The same issue of the World also noted: "A strong movement is on foot among the university students to secure a gymnasium. Should an annual levy be made by the legislature it is probable that the building will be erected. The university is without a decent gymnasium building at present."

The presence of Dr. Naismith, Presbyterian minister, YMCA instructor and medical doctor on campus as the professor of physical education likely propelled such a drive which would take five years to be accomplished.

Rife in his 1967 thesis noted regarding the 1902-1903 season that "the Athletic Board decided to finance the basketball program. Formerly, the Department of Athletics had been conducted as a private enterprise. Taking advantage of this decision, Kansas undertook what must be one of the longest road trips in the history of University athletics. The trip involved 3,000 miles of railroad travel and was taken during Christmas vacation."

The teams played were Chicago Central YMCA, Monmouth (Ill.) Regimentals and Fond du Lac (Wis.) Regimentals and the losing scores were 43 to 18, 40 to 19 and 29 to 20 respectively on Dec. 31, Jan. 1 and Jan. 2. Rife notes regarding these defeats "Reasons suggested for some of the rather decisive defeats were that the Varsity was pitted against "the strongest teams in the West" and that "the boys were compelled to travel all night and in many cases were too weary to make a good showing."

So as the 1903-1904 season began KU had a gym on campus using a basement in Snow Hall but the 14-foot ceiling posed obvious problems.

"The first step toward improved quarters for basketball was brought about at Naismith's suggestion." Webb wrote. "One day he noticed Mr. Crocker, the janitor at Snow Hall, disappear into a hole in one of the basement rooms. Naismith, following, discovered a space about five feet deep between the floor and the foundation below. It occurred to him immediately that one fault of the court could be corrected. Upon his urging, the floor of the court was lowered . . .to the foundation, to make a . . . ceiling, with space enough to allow basketball shots to be thrown in an arc. A set of movable steps was constructed to lead down onto the new floor, and these steps were hoisted up into the doorway, after the players had descended, to allow maximum playing space. Only the obstructing center columns would remain to keep the room from being a satisfactory basketball court."

Naismith was ingenious in his work to provide the best possible places to play for KU and for Lawrence.

The Lawrence World on Dec. 7, 1903, assessed finally the past and current situation in local places to play basketball. "The size of the gymnasium has been increased considerably, so that it will be possible to play games there this winter. Heretofore there has been no good place for the games in Lawrence and as a result the games have been poorly attended."

An on-campus gym was badly needed if attendance was to go up for games.

It is difficult now given the popular interest in the current Jayhawk basketball program to cast our thinking back to 1904. We have to remember that then the sport was only a six-year project still largely unnoticed by most on Mt. Oread and that it was carried on by a manager, U.S.G. Plank, and a largely absentee coach, Dr. Naismith.

On Jan. 23, 1904 the Weekly listed a planned road trip featuring eight games in 10 days and cited Plank as the arranger of the schedule. On Jan. 16, 1904, the Weekly noted "Either Manager Plank or Dr. Naismith will accompany the team and probably one substitute will be taken along." A team consisting of six players and an often absent coach facing eight games on the road in 10 days. That was KU basketball in 1904.

Another problem was academic ineligibility and as a result KU fielded two entirely different teams. Rife tells us that "Following a month of inactivity, . . . the Kansas University team with an entirely new squad: Brown, Barlow, Steller, Beheimer, and Adams" went to William Jewell (on Feb. 17) and "the KU basket ball five was defeated by the William Jewell's five on the latter's court by a score of 27 to 7 . . . The KU boys never played together before and their defeat was due more to fear than anything else."

On Feb. 18, 1904, KU was on the road again playing the Athletic Club of Kansas City and lost the game 27-10. It is probable that one of those playing for the Club was Forrest Allen who was then 18.

Allen enrolled at KU as a freshman in 1905 and became a star with the Jayhawks. He scored 26 points in a 60-13 victory over Emporia State on March 3, 1906. The Jayhawks were 12-7 that year with only three games played in Lawrence.

The next year, 1906-07, was Dr. Naismith's last as the Jayhawks' coach. That team finished with a 7-8 record.

-- Steve Jansen is director of the Elizabeth M. Watkins Community Museum in Lawrence.

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