When it comes to a discussion of the birth of “Hoosier Hysteria,” there was little to debate, until recently.
It seems to be universally accepted that basketball was invented in Springfield, Mass., by James Naismith, director of the local YMCA, in 1891.
From that point forward, modern scholars disagree.
Tradition holds that the Reverend Nicholas C. McCay, one of Naismith’s students at the International YMCA Training School in Springfield, relocated to Crawfordsville, Ind. to direct the local YMCA and organized the first basketball game played outside of Massachusetts in 1893.
According to that tradition, the first scheduled game between two different cities was played March 16, 1894 at the Terminal Building, 100 West Main St., in Crawfordsville between teams from Crawfordsville and Lafayette.
The building has been razed but there is a historical marker at the site. Crawfordsville High School played its home games there until 1919
Reports of the game, which Crawfordsville won, appeared in three of Crawfordsville’s four newspapers and at least one Lafayette newspaper. March 16, 1894 has long been considered the launch date for Hoosier Hysteria.
Montgomery County and nearby Boone County have been recognized as components of “The Cradle of Basketball.” The first five Indiana High School Basketball Association (IHSAA) champions are from those two counties (though Crawfordsville, the 1911 champion, was not recognized until many years later).
S. Chandler Lighty, program manager for the Hoosier State Chronicles, Indiana’s new historic newspaper digitization project, initiated a re-examination of Indiana’s basketball origins and published his findings in the Indiana Magazine of History.
He was surprised to find that, in November 1894, the Crawfordsville Review published a snippet from the Indianapolis News, which asserted:
1. “Basket ball was introduced into the State by the Indianapolis (YMCA) association through it physical director.”
2. “Two teams were organized in the city and played against one another through two seasons.”
3. “ . . . two games were played in Tomlinson Hall before numbers of spectators.”
The newspaper story also informed readers that, at the 1894 YMCA state convention in Columbus, a basketball league was organized consisting of teams from Indianapolis, Columbus, Crawfordsville, Terre Haute, Lafayette and Wabash College.
During his research Lighty found stories in the Indianapolis News of March 30, 1893 and April 1, 1893 describing two exhibition basketball games played the night before in Tomlinson Hall involving four Indianapolis teams.
One of those columns credited Indianapolis YMCA physical director William A. McCulloch with introducing the game to the Indianapolis branch a few months earlier and organizing a four-team league.
Research of Evansville newspapers revealed that basketball was being played there as early as November 1892, less than a year after Naismith invented the game. Lighty concluded that the earliest inter-city basketball game was not the Crawfordsville-Lafayette game of March 16, 1894 but a game between Evansville and Terre Haute in January 1894.
Evansville won that game, played in Evansville, 26-15.
This writer found that the Terre Haute Daily Express, relying on the Evansville Tribune, amusingly reported the game in its Jan. 31, 1894 edition, to wit:
“No sensible man, in his sober senses, ever thought for a moment that the Terre Haute basketball team would have any show with the Evansville aggregation of experts in that amusement.
“And the result of last night’s game proved the ground for such belief.
“The Terre Haute boys are nice little gentlemen, but what they don’t know about basketball would fill a book. They play without system; and with no precision at all. The three goals they made were on chance throws and it is safe to say that they could play with our boys every day for a month – providing they play the same harum-scarum game – and never make as good a showing as they did last night.
“Captain Andy Bays has his men trained down to a nicety and when they begin passing the ball to and fro last night the Terre Hautes got their eyes crossed, walled and wound around. They didn’t catch on to the system at first, but later saw how it worked and tried to put it into practice but fell short.
“There were two twenty minute innings, with a ten-minute rest in between. The first inning resulted in 3 goals for Evansville and two for Terre Haute. Evansville made 5 (sic) fouls and Terre Haute 3 (sic) and the score stood 13 to 11.
“In the second inning Terre Haute started off with a goal and then Evansville threw 4 in succession. Terre Haute also made two fouls, which made the score of the second inning stand 14 to 4 in favor of Evansville. The aggregate was 26 to 15. The Evansville team will play a return game in Terre Haute some time in the near future. – Evansville Tribune.”
Lighty’s research disclosed that:
* North Manchester College played basketball on its Field Day in July 1892;
* Evansville athletes were playing basket ball, “a sort of indoor football,” in November 1892;
*Students at Earlham College were learning basketball in February 1893;
* Basketball was the “feature of the evening” at a Connersville Fair in September 1893 and during December in Columbus and Portland.
For time being, Terre Haute and Evansville share the mantle maintained for those participatng in the first inter-city basketball game in Indiana, succeeding Crawfordsville and Lafayette. There is more research to be done so don’t be surprised if one or both are replaced.