March Madness 100 years ago

Six basketball players in striped socks seated with their coach.

                       The Thompsonville Press, March 17, 1904, p. 1

By Gail Hurley

Growing up outside Springfield, MA, the site of the invention of the basketball by the physical education instructor Dr. James Naismith, we were taught at a young age about the history of the sport.  Dr. James Naismith began training athletes using a peach basket and a soccer-type ball in 1891 at the Springfield YMCA and I’ve taken a few shots myself into the peach basket at the Basketball Hall of Fame.  Now 100+ years later basketball and especially NCAA basketball’s iconic March Madness or “The big dance” is in full swing.  The tournament was created in 1939, the year Naismith died.  The winner of the first tournament was the University of Oregon, who beat The Ohio State University by 46-33.

Clipping from the Norwich Bulletin article cited in the text.

Norwich Bulletin, December 19, 1916, p. 3

The Norwich Bulletin reported in December 1916 that “It was not until ten years after its invention that the game was given much recognition by the colleges.  In 1901-02 the first intercollegiate league was formed in the east…” and “In 1905 the western conference organized its league.”  Sol Metzger noted in his December 19, 1916 Norwich Bulletin article that Yale looked particularly strong that season.  In Don Harrison’s book, Hoops in Connecticut, it is noted that the first intercollegiate game was played December 10, 1896 in New Haven between Wesleyan and Yale, with Wesleyan inching out the win by a score of 4-3.

In March 1904, The Thompsonville Press reported that the St. Joseph basket ball team was “The fastest, grittiest and best team of their weight in the country” and that the “fastest professional teams have tasted defeat at the hands of the St. Joe team…”

Clipping from Bridgeport Evening Farmer cited in the text.

Bridgeport Evening Farmer, January 15, 1917, p. 15.

And finally 100 years ago in January of 1917, the Bridgeport Evening Farmer reported that “Basketball’s twenty-fifth birthday finds the game flourishing as never before, and crowding baseball and track athletics for popular favor.  It was just a quarter of a century ago today, Jan. 15, 1892, that the first match game of basketball was ever played…” and that “…basketball, in its improved form, promises to become the great American indoor sport.”

Get your brackets ready and enjoy the madness!

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Gail Hurley is a Library Development Consultant and Co-Director of the Connecticut Digital Newspaper Project at the Connecticut State Library.

Historic Connecticut newspapers including the Norwich Bulletin and Bridgeport Evening Farmer are part of the Library of Congress’ freely accessible newspaper database Chronicling America.

Further Resources

Basketball played first in Springfield just twenty five years ago,” Bridgeport Evening Farmer, Jan. 15, 1917, p. 15. (from Chronicling America)

Harrison, Don.  Hoops in Connecticut: the Nutmeg State’s passion for basketball.  Charleston, SC: History Press, 2011. State Library catalog link: http://www.consuls.org:80/record=b3273732~S1.

Metzger, Sol. “Basketball as played among the colleges: Game invented by Dr. James A. Naismith in 1891 – Game adopted by colleges in 1901,” Norwich Bulletin, Dec. 19, 1916, p. 3. (from Chronicling America)

“The St. Joseph Basket Ball Team,” The Thompsonville Press , Mar. 17, 1904, Page 1. (from the Newspapers of Connecticut digital collection)

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