From the Book:
A Short History of Basketball – Indiana Edition
Greetings, in this episode you will hear about the early days of the sport of basketball in Indiana.
Ralph Jones, an early pioneer of the sport of basketball in Indiana, played an important role in the growth of the sport in Indiana.
Ralph Jones (September 22, 1880 – July 26, 1951)
Considered by many to be the “Father of Indiana Basketball,” Jones played an instrumental role in the evolution of basketball in Indiana. Native to Martinsville in Morgan County, Indiana, many believe that Jones was the first basketball coach in the state. While a senior at Shortridge High School, he organized the first known Indiana High School basketball team in 1899. Following this he helped the Indianapolis YMCA program to a state championship in. He next joined the program at the Crawfordsville YMCA leading them to a state YMCA championship. Butler University would hire him to be their basketball coach, his first paid coaching position, in 1903. During this time he continued his coaching duties at Crawfordsville High School and also at Wabash College. His teams were highly successful. He compiled a 2-2 record at Butler and a 75-6 record at Wabash. He coached at Purdue from 1910 – 1913, compiling a 32-9 record. From Purdue he moved on to the University of Illinois, where he went 85-34, winning two Big Ten titles from 1913 – 1920. An athletic jack of all trades, Jones had also lettered in football in high school and took the job of coach at Lake Forest Academy in Lake Forest, Illinois. he coached both the football and basketball teams. He posted a combined record in basketball of 94-9 and football 76-6. The Chicago Bears hired him as a player/coach in 1930. This was during the Depression. Even though he compiled a 24–10–7 record in two seasons, owner George Halas laid him off and took over as coach to save the cost of a coach’s salary. Jones went on to coach football at Lake Forest. Overall his records were:
54–37–10 (college football)
232–106 (college basketball)
32–15 (college baseball)
After his death he was interred at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis. He received induction into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011.
The development of the interurban railway coincided with the rise of basketball across the nation and undoubtedly influenced the increased popularity of basketball in the state. The new mass transit system made it easier for teams to travel to distant towns to play basketball games.
The Interurban rail lines of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries provided the first mass transit system connecting the rural areas with the cities. In the era before the automobile and paved highways, the interurban lines provided fast, cheap transportation across not just Indiana, but the nation as well. The interurban railways rose in the late 1880’s and reached their prominence by 1925. Indiana developed into the center of the national interurban railroad movement. The rise of the automobile and paved highways started their demise by the late 1920’s.
An interurban was a rail line that used electricity for power and operated between cities. The 1905 Census definition was “a street railway having more than half its trackage outside municipal limits.” this definition separated an interurban from suburban railroads. Indiana State Senator Charles L. Henry coined the term interurban at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893 while watching a demonstration railway.
Charles L. Henry (July 1, 1849 – May 2, 1927)
A native of Green Township, Indiana Henry served three terms in the Indiana State Senate, then two terms in the United States House of Representatives. He declined a third term in Congress to pursue his interest in the new interurban trains. He managed the Indianapolis & Cincinnati Traction Co in Indianapolis, Indiana until his death in 1923.
The increasing popularity of the automobile caused the decline of the interurban railroad as teams began using automobiles and busses to travel.
The traditional first basketball game held in Indiana was between the Crawfordsville and Lafayette YMCA’s on March 16, 1894 after Nicholas C. McCay introduced the game to Indiana.
Nicholas C. McCay (1860 – ?)
A native if Ireland, McCay (Often McKay) immigrated to the United States in 1881. McCay was a Presbyterian minister that became an enthusiast of the game, which he learned of the game while at the International YMCA Training School in Springfield. McCay moved to Indiana and became secretary of the YMCA in Crawfordsville. He brought his knowledge and enthusiasm for the game with him.
The teams played the game at the Terminal Building, 100 West Main St., in Crawfordsville, Indiana. Crawfordsville won that game 45-21. The Terminal building in Crawfordsville no longer stands.
Recent research by blogger S. Chandler Lighty has uncovered earlier reports of basketball in Indiana. According to Lighty’s research, YMCA Athletic Director William A. McCulloch organized a four team league in Indianapolis and played the first exhibition game in this league between the Active, Rex, Aletta and the US Clubs on March 30, 1893. The writer of the story reported that basketball “has taken hold here and is awakening interest and promises to become the all-around game for general fun in the future.” He found reports of earlier games than that, the earliest in Evansville, Indiana in November 1892. There is more research by other basketball historians that confirm that the first game did not occur in Crawfordsville. However, tradition is hard to dispute and most people hold to the tradition of Crawfordsville and Lafayette playing the first basketball game in Indiana. Whatever the truth is, the new game caught on and spread rapidly throughout the state.
The Short History of Basketball leads readers through the fascinating history of the sport of basketball. The book includes a history of the game and Indiana basketball sports highlights. Readers will also discover a complete listing of Indiana high school championship winners and Mr. and Miss Basketball awards. The book also covers the Kentucky/Indiana High School All Star Series as well as some of the iconic high school gymnasiums in the state.
This story is excerpted from my book, A Short History of Basketball – Indiana Edition, a part of the Indiana History Series.
Readers can find the book on Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and other online book retailers in both ebook and softbound formats.
Readers can also purchase the book direct from me on my website, http://www.mossyfeetbooks.com
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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