Welcome back to Kansas Hoopla and another series of stories about basketball around the Sunflower State.
Last year we traveled around to area towns and chronicled the stories of the first boys’ high school basketball teams that attended the state tournament. This year the girls’ teams will be featured but be forewarned: It will be a bumpy ride for the ladies.
The first state basketball tournament in Kansas was held in Lawrence on April 30 to May 2, 1908. The tournament was the creation of James Naismith, who at the time was the director of physical education at the University of Kansas. Naismith was ably assisted by a young basketball player, referee and coach named Forrest Clare “Phog” Allen.
The tournament was officially named the Interscholastic Basketball Tournament, but newspapers around the state more commonly referred to it as the University Invitational Tournament.
The Lawrence Daily Journal covered the event. “The purpose of the tournament is to both promote the game of basketball and also promote the university and the city,” the paper noted. “It is hoped that after high school many of these fine young students will further their education and attend the university.”
In 1908, basketball was still a relatively new sport in the state. Naismith had officially created the game in Massachusetts in 1891 and then brought it to Lawrence and KU. With Naismith serving as the first basketball coach, KU began playing the game in 1899.
From that infant-like beginning the new sport began to spread rapidly around Kansas. For both men and women in Kansas, however, the new sport developed in different ways. For the men, basketball first found a cozy home in the statewide network of YMCAs and athletic clubs that many towns already featured. In most instances the players themselves organized the teams and had complete control over scheduling games and financing their team’s operation.
Despite the popularity of football, men’s basketball found its place and became an ideal sport for the cold, winter months. From the YMCA and athletic clubs, the game filtered down into the local high schools and the boys were off and running.
It was not so easy for females, however. Since the women had no comparable network of athletic clubs and no real tradition of organizing athletic teams for their own enjoyment, female players had little to do with the formal organization of teams.
The impetus for women’s basketball largely fell to educators. These teachers saw women’s basketball not so much as a game but rather as an educational tool.
Illinois, for instance, began playing girls’ high school basketball much earlier than Kansas. Women’s basketball in Illinois first began as a faculty experiment at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington. In 1893 a professor (Delmar Darrah) discovered the rules of the game of basketball in an athletic journal and introduced the sport to his students. From this experiment the game swept across the state; by 1907 up to 300 schools in Illinois featured girls’ teams.
Other states would follow the example. In Kansas, Naismith took the lead. In January 1908 he proposed that high school girls’ teams be part of his state tournament.
Naismith immediately encountered some pointed resistance. Clark W. Hetherington, the director of physical education at the University of Missouri, took direct aim at the new sport. In particular, the Missouri professor stated the women’s game should be abolished altogether. He even went so far as to question the benefits of the game for men as well. Hetherington chronicled specific instances to back up his point of view.
Naismith offerd a reply. “I have never known of a woman being injured while playing the game,” he wrote. “On the other hand, I have known many women who have greatly benefitted by the game. Neither have I known of a case of a woman suffering a nervous break-down (something Dr. Hetherington had alleged) as a result of playing the game. The idea that basketball is harmful to women probably had its origin in the fact that high school girls, playing violently without the advice of an instructor, sometimes suffered bad results. Basketball should be played only under a competent director.”
Naismith won this early skirmish but the battle about the girls’ game would prove to be an entirely different affair.
In the next article, we will travel with the girls and look at the early state tournaments in Kansas. Although these gatherings were popular with many fans and players, storm clouds were looming just over the horizon for high school girls’ basketball in Kansas.
Ideas, comments or questions: Contact Steven at firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2012 By Steven Michael Farney. All rights reserved. (Some information for this article was drawn from “Not Altogether Ladylike: The Premature Demise of Girls’ Interscholastic Basketball in Illinois,” by Scott Johnson.)