News From Terre Haute, Indiana

History

February 9, 2008

Historical Perspective: George Chestnut and pioneer pro basketball in Indiana

TERRE HAUTE — The owner of a small family-operated grocery story on Madison Avenue on the southside of Indianapolis, Frank H. Kautsky was a sports enthusiast.

Kautsky especially loved baseball, a sport he played at the semi-pro level until he was 37 years old in 1926.

Frank knew nothing about basketball until Paul “Pete” Bailey, a former Indiana Central College (now the University of Indianapolis) star invited him to watch a pickup game at an Indianapolis elementary school in 1930.

As the two men left the school together that evening, Kautsky asked Bailey if he could organize an independent amateur basketball team. The grocer offered to buy uniforms for the players and provide sponsorship as the “Kautsky Athletic Club.”

Bailey agreed, recruiting former players from Indiana Central, Butler and Indiana University. Frank was extremely happy with the white jerseys Bailey designed with blue letters on the front spelling “Kautskys.” Later that year Kautsky’s squad piled into a giant Chrysler two or three nights each week to visit gyms around Indianapolis for games against opponents, including barnstorming women’s teams such as the Hoosier Demons or the Red Silk Girls Club.

Meanwhile, Kautsky began scouring the Midwest to find better players.

In December 1931, the Kautskys won the Indianapolis Gold Medal basketball tournament sponsored by the Central States Basketball Association, beating Bond Bread, the perennial favorite, in the championship game, 20-11. Then they captured the Indiana independent basketball title in 1932 by edging Bond Bread in two overtimes.

The next year (1932-33), the grocer decided to make the Kautskys a professional team, playing home games on the second floor of the National Guard Armory on North Pennsylvania Street. Abe Goldsmith, who made basketball goals and operated a retail supply store, became the team’s business manager.

The decision to go professional was made easier when a three-time All-American from Purdue who was teaching English and coaching basketball in Dayton, Ky., spurned more lucrative offers to play in Indianapolis.

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