As mentioned in the previous column (Dec. 12 issue), the first state basketball tournament took place in Lawrence on April 30 to May 2, 1908. It was not a stand-alone tournament like we know of today.
In 1908 basketball was still a relatively new sport. Track and tennis, however, were established sports and so this first basketball tournament was added to an already existing state track meet and state tennis meet.
It was an ambitious endeavor and the city of Lawrence was strained to its capacity to handle all of the festivities as more than 750 athletes descended on the town for the sporting competition. With the athletes came many more fans.
“This is the largest such gathering west of Chicago,” reported the Lawrence Daily Journal. “It will tax the entertaining abilities of the residents of Lawrence to take care of the great number of crowds of visitors that will accompany the athletes.”
As a new event, basketball was given a proper place at the crowded dining table.
“Basketball will be held in Robinson gymnasium on Friday, May 1,” continued the Lawrence Daily Journal. “This will take all day and evening. The boys will play on one end of the court while the girls will play on the other end. At the end of the games, a cup will be given to both the champions of the boys and girls.”
Invitations were sent across the state, inviting both the boys’ and girls’ high school teams to attend the basketball tournament. Six boys’ teams came, and in the championship game, Halstead claimed the first title with a thrilling 30-29 last-second victory over Topeka.
The girls’ action provided much less drama. As was reported in several newspapers, the girls of Hutchinson High claimed the first title in an unusual way: By default. No other girls’ teams came to play in the tournament!
It was a very humble beginning, but in 1909 things had changed. No longer would basketball share the spotlight with other sports and in mid-March the tournament was scheduled as a stand-alone event back in Lawrence.
“Boys and girls from many high schools across the state arrived on the trains in large numbers for the purpose of participating in the basketball tournament to be held this afternoon, evening and tomorrow,” reported the Lawrence Daily Journal. “The players were accompanied in most cases by both teachers, who were attending an education conference, and parents and fans of the participating teams.”
All told, 16 boys’ teams attended, and Halstead claimed its second consecutive title by defeating Eudora. For the girls, history was made March 19, 1909, when the first girls’ game at a state tournament was played. The girls of Beloit High defeated Hutchinson early that day while Chanute later edged Reno County High. In the finals, Beloit captured the title with a 17-8 victory over Chanute. The Beloit girls returned home to a hero’s welcome and would be forever remembered as the first undefeated girls’ state championship team.
In 1910, the tournament continued to grow in size and popularity. With each passing year, Lawrence and the University of Kansas was becoming more adept at hosting the event. The city in particular, took full advantage of the many visitors. Businesses around town opened their doors to sales events and promotions for the vast throngs of fans.
In 1910 more teams (24 boys, seven girls) made the trip to Lawrence. This time the boys of Clay Center and the girls of Chanute brought home the titles.
“The tournament is proving to be more of a success than had been anticipated,” summarized the Lawrence Daily Journal. “It is showing that there is a state-wide interest in the game of basketball among the high school students, both boys and girls. The visitors all were in fine spirits and had the time of their young lives.”
Through these first three seasons, no team from the Marion County area had yet made the trip to Lawrence. That was about to change in 1911!
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