For all of basketball’s cultural worth to the state, finding a photo of a basketball game from before the 1920s is a difficult task. Early basketball team photographs are rather plentiful, and frequently appeared in yearbooks, and newspapers. Action shots are much rarer, likely due to early-20th century Hoosiers having cameras that required long exposure times, which were unable to clearly capture moving subjects.
The introductory photo at the top of this blog post is the earliest that the Indiana Historical Bureau has yet to encounter of Indiana high school basketball players on the court, and about to play a game. The story behind the picture is an interesting one. The photo depicts the teams from Wingate High School and Kokomo High School before a January 16, 1915 game at the Kokomo Y.M.C.A. This moment was photographically commemorated because Wingate was the defending state champion, having won back-to-back titles in 1913 and 1914. Situated in northwestern Montgomery County, Wingate was a small school with only 67 students. Among those enrolled in that student body, however, was one of the best Indiana basketball players of that generation, Homer Stonebraker. The 6’4″ Stonebraker was a giant among his competitors. In 15 of the 18 box scores that research could uncover from Wingate’s 1913-14 regular season, Stonebraker averaged 24.9 points a game. By comparison, Wingate’s opponents only generated 17.3 points a game. After leading Wingate to consecutive state titles, Stonebraker graduated in 1914, and matriculated at Wabash College where he continued his athletic success and eventually carved out an eleven season career playing with professional clubs and early American Basketball League affiliates like the Fort Wayne Caseys, the Detroit McCarthys, and the Chicago Bruins.
Wingate was hardly the same team after Stonebraker’s graduation. On the eve of their Kokomo game in 1915 they could not even boast about their 5-6 record. To complicate their season, they cancelled most of their December games as a result of the entire town falling under a small pox quarantine. Despite their struggles, fans and the press continued to hype any contest against Wingate. The Kokomo Tribune announced:
This game Saturday will be the most important home game for the locals this season. Wingate’s team is a real championship contender again this year and a victory for Kokomo would mean that we also have a team of first class ability.
The very calm composure of the players in the photo taken before the game hardly indicated the animosity that developed in the ensuing contest. Kokomo lost the contentious game 31-15. The Indianapolis Star reported that “Wild scenes, which threatened frequently to break up the game, marked the second period of play and may result in . . . breaking off athletic relations.” The hired referee failed to show up for the game. Consequently, the two schools agreed to let a representative of each of the respective teams officiate one half each. Wingate led 13-7 at half time with Kokomo’s ex-player Tyner Spruce officiating. Wingate’s coach Hugh Vandivier refereed the second half and according to the newspaper reports showed favoritism to his own team, which drew the ire of the Kokomo fans. Ultimately, both squads would finish the season with disappointing records [Wingate (11-8) and Kokomo (7-10)], and neither team would advance out of their division tournaments to qualify for the state tournament.
Attempts at basketball action photography continued to be a novelty throughout most of the 1910s. The 1918 title game between Lebanon and Anderson is one of the earliest-known attempts to photograph an Indiana high school championship game. Even then the visual chronicle leaves much to be desired, as the camera’s exposure time had yet to catch up to the action on the court. All of the players are out of focus, and several are nothing more than blurs in the image. Despite this, these pictures can give modern viewers small windows to glimpse the earliest years of Hoosier Hysteria.
For your bonus enjoyment, here’s another photo of a non-high school basketball practice from the 1912 Purdue University yearbook, The Debris. This photo is likely posed, which is why all the players are in focus with the exception of the top right defender’s blurry arms.
Do you know of any Indiana basketball action photographs that are earlier or contemporary with these shown here? If so, let us know at email@example.com.
The release of the new Ben-Hur movie this summer reminded us of the story’s Hoosier origins. This latest production from Mark Burnett and Roma Downey is the fifth time that film producers have interpreted Crawfordsville native Lew Wallace’s best-selling novel for the screen. Many are familiar with the 11 Academy Award winning adaptation starring Charlton Heston in 1959 and most film buffs know that there were two earlier versions in 1907 and 1925. The 1907 film prompted a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that protected copyrighted works from unauthorized motion picture adaptation. The 1925 film arguably has a better chariot race than the 1959 movie. There was also a forgettable and regrettable Canadian mini-series reboot of Ben-Hur in 2010.
In a world of constant movie reboots, one ponders: if Lew Wallace were alive today and re-wrote Ben-Hur in a contemporary setting, would he have Ben-Hur racing in the Indianapolis 500?
What if we told you that Ben-Hur did, in fact, race at Indianapolis? Of course, the race did not take place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway; instead it took place in 1902 at English’s Theater during the Ben–Hur stage play’s first visit to Indianapolis.
On November 13, 1902, the Indianapolis News reported “J.J. Brady is here in advance of ‘Ben-Hur,’” and “brings with him a corps of stage carpenters and mechanics, who have practically to reconstruct the stage . . . so that the play may be given properly.” Although English’s stage was new, crews needed to rebuild it in order to accommodate the chariot race. Producing that scene called for eight live horses running at full gallop on treadmills, cycloramic scenery and, other apparatus. All this equipment and animals imposed an estimated weight of over 50 tons on the stage, which required pouring a special cement foundation. The public was anxious to see the spectacle, even if it meant staking out a place in line many hours in advance. The Indianapolis News reporter observed:
“A few individuals sat and shivered all night in the lobby of English’s waiting in patience and with an unwonted supply of cash in their pockets for the box office to open. They were men who had been hired to buy seats for some of the performances of ‘Ben-Hur.’”
Ticket prices ranged from fifty cents to two dollars. Even at that rate, a day after the tickets went on sale, the English Theater reported “over $10,000 was taken in at the box office window” and representatives for the producers of the play (Marc Klaw and Abraham Erlanger) announced that the sales “beat all records for the play in advance sales.” The Supreme Tribe of Ben-Hur, a national benevolent society headquartered in Wallace’s hometown of Crawfordsville, nearly bought out one performance by itself. The Tribe planned to run an excursion via train for its members from Crawfordsville to see the play.
However, a few members of the Hoosier public were dubious about purchasing tickets. In particular, one woman was of the opinion that the play was to take two weeks to complete. When the box office manager informed her that the entire play was presented every night, she remained quite suspicious that anyone “could put all that book into a one-night drama.”
Production managers sought to cast extras from Indianapolis’s denizens, advertising a salary of $4.25/week. That was enough to encourage a crowd of men, women, and children to stand outside in a late Indiana autumn for an hour and a half waiting for their opportunity at show business. An assistant stage director eventually made an appearance and sorted through the crowd. One “gray beard” was turned away because the assistant director believed him not to be “nimble afoot.” The rejected man futilely protested to the assistant director and argued “he could get around faster than two-thirds of the younger fellows that had been accepted.”
With the extras cast, the production opened on Monday, November 25, 1902. After witnessing opening night, an Indianapolis reporter wrote, “There [will] be critics who see nothing good in the American stage or in the works of American dramatist: if the American stage had done absolutely nothing worthy in its long career but this, had its fame to rest solely on this production of ‘Ben-Hur’ it has justified its existence.”
The cast, as it appeared in Indianapolis, included William Farnum as Ben-Hur and Basil Gill as Messala. Farnum’s performance was described as realizing the part to the fullest degree. Among the other actors and actresses in the production, Mabel Bert’s portrayal as the mother of Hur is worth noting because she was the only cast member with a major role to be with the company continuously since the production opened on November 29, 1899 in New York City. Mrs. Bert told a reporter,
“I have always been the mother of Ben-Hur – various Ben-Hurs, however, for Mr. Farnum is the third I have mothered on the stage…It does make me a trifle lonely sometimes to lose my stage children and stage friends that way. But then, too, it affords a certain amount of variety that is interesting and keeps my work from becoming at all monotonous.”
The public certainly found nothing monotonous about the play. In fact, the production was originally slated to run for two weeks in Indianapolis, but four days after opening night the Indianapolis News reported that the high demand for tickets had prompted producers to extend the play for another week. Box office receipts for the first two weeks alone were estimated in excess of $35,000. That figure broke all box office records for Indianapolis and was the highest figure for all productions of Ben-Hur to that date.
“‘Ben-Hur’ occupies a unique position on the native stage, since it appeals alike to habitual theater patrons and those who seldom find enjoyment in offerings of the stage. While the elaborate scenic equipment and realistic chariot race command the admiration of the spectators, the rare beauty and force of ‘Ben-Hur’ as a drama give a lasting distinction to this most uplifting, inspiring and soul-stirring play.”
This description of the popularity of Ben-Hur, while no doubt true, neglects that a major reason for the large turnouts was because the author of Ben-Hur was a native Hoosier son. Some Indiana cities, such as Covington, Franklin, and Noblesville, brought large numbers of their population and sold out individual performances. In fact, Covington could not secure as many tickets as they had citizens who wanted to attend; the Indianapolis Sentinel reported that a small riot broke out as a result.
While various Indiana cities were hoping to witness the performance, Crawfordsville was no exception, as it was Ben-Hur’s birthplace. A contingent of Athenians and Montgomery county residents had the theater to themselves for a performance on December 2. Among those in attendance at that performance was James Buchanan Elmore, aka the Bard of Alamo. After witnessing the arrest of the Hur family, Buchanan leaned over to a newspaper reporter and said, “Seems to me if I was bossing that show I would make the actors speak softer and not so rough, it don’t seem like Scripture voices.”
Although the December 2 performance hosted one Montgomery County literary celebrity, another one was conspicuously absent, that being General Lew Wallace, the author of Ben-Hur. Wallace was recovering from an illness during the Crawfordsville excursion. However, he was sufficiently recovered to attend a matinee with his son, daughter-in-law, and his two grandsons on December 12. Wallace watched most of the play from a private box and tried to remain as inconspicuous as possible, lest he be called upon to deliver a speech. Wallace and his party were invited behind the stage so that they could witness how some of the scenes were produced, especially the chariot race. Wallace took special interest in watching the race and all of the mechanization that was involved. While backstage, Wallace met the starring members of the cast and reportedly chatted for several minutes with the actor incarnating his literary creation. Before returning to his box Wallace remarked to a stage manager that the production had reached a state of perfection. Ben-Hur ended its stay in Indianapolis the day after Wallace’s visit, before moving to Milwaukee for a two-week engagement.
Eleven years later, when Ben-Hur was making another visit to Indianapolis, Hector Fuller aptly noted in the Indianapolis Sunday Star,
“If Indiana had contributed nothing else, save this one play to the American stage it might be counted that the Hoosier state had done its part. For ‘Ben-Hur’ is the dramatic marvel of the age. It has held the stage now for fourteen years, and in that time over 10,000,000 people have seen it.”
In 1936, Dr. James Naismith, basketball’s inventor, attended the Indiana high school championship game between Frankfort and Fort Wayne Central. In his first exposure to Hoosier Hysteria, he recalled that the sight of the stadium “packed with fifteen thousand people, gave me a thrill I shall not soon forget.” During his visit, Naismith told an Indianapolis audience: “Basketball really had its beginning in Indiana which remains today the center of the sport.” Expanding upon this comment, Naismith associated Indiana’s national distinction in basketball with the popularity and success of the state high school basketball tournament.
The Indiana high school basketball tournament began in 1911, when Crawfordsville High School (C.H.S.) defeated Lebanon High School for the state title. This post provides an historical examination of the first Indiana high school basketball champions’ season, and the beginning of one of Indiana’s most cherished cultural traditions.
EARLY CRAWFORDSVILLE HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL
In 1900, C.H.S. organized one of the earliest high school basketball teams in Indiana. Unfortunately, finding high school opponents in the nascent years of the sport in the Hoosier state often proved difficult. During the 1901-02 season, Crawfordsville defeated Indianapolis’ Shortridge High School, the lone high school team on their schedule. In the opinion of the C.H.S. team, this victory gave them “the championship of the High Schools of Indiana in basketball.” They justified this claim because they defeated Shortridge, and Shortridge defeated Indianapolis’ Manual Training High School. A Crawfordsville newspaper issued a standing challenge on behalf of the local team, “They are willing to defend their title any time and any where,” but no other challengers came calling.
THE BIRTH OF A RIVALRY
More high schools began playing basketball in the subsequent years. In 1907, C.H.S. again styled themselves “the state champions” after finishing the season undefeated, but this time four high schools numbered among their opponents. By the 1908-09 season, all but two of C.H.S.’s opponents were high schools. Lebanon High School debuted on C.H.S.’s schedule that season. Although Lebanon finished with a 22-2 record, both their losses came against Crawfordsville. Because of this, the Lebanon Patriot conceded that Crawfordsville could claim the title of “state champions” yet again.
Any high school’s claim to be the “state champions” based simply upon best record grew more contentious at the end of the following season. In 1910, C.H.S. claimed to be the “state champion” after compiling a 13-1 record, a 92.8 winning percentage. Crawfordsville’s lone loss that season came against Lebanon High School. Lebanon and Crawfordsville split their season series, each team winning on their respective home courts . Lebanon finished their season with a 20-2 record, for a 90.9 win percentage. Even though Crawfordsville had the better winning percentage, Lebanon won seven more games. Consequently, Lebanon refused to concede the “state championship” to Crawfordsville. The Lebanon High School yearbook argued their team’s case, “Lebanon . . . has played more high schools than any other claimant, has defeated them all, and has been defeated only twice.”
Lebanon proposed a solution, and challenged Crawfordsville to a third game on a neutral court to decide the state champion. If Lebanon won they could justly claim the “state title” by virtue of having defeated Crawfordsville twice, and having the overall better winning percentage. Conversely, if Crawfordsville won the third game their claim to the title could no longer be questioned. Crawfordsville refused a re-match.
The controversy over the “state championship” of 1909-10 created strong enmity between the neighboring high schools of Crawfordsville and Lebanon. After Crawfordsville declined to play a third game, Lebanon proceeded to discredit “the motives and actions” of their rival. C.H.S., in turn, threatened to file charges with the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s (IHSAA) Board of Control, charging Lebanon with “unsportsmanlike conduct and unfair criticism.” Thus, the Crawfordsville-Lebanon rivalry was born.
The “state championship” controversy demanded a solution. Although the IHSAA began in 1898, the Indiana University Booster Club organized the first Indiana high school basketball tournament. It planned the event to take place at Indiana University in March 1911. The Booster Club’s proposal called for a twelve-team tournament, which would include the teams with the best records from Indiana’s congressional districts. The tournament winner would receive “a suitable trophy, emblematic of the state championship,” and thereby quash any debate as to which team was the rightful title holder.
CRAWFORDSVILLE’S 1910-11 SEASON
During the regular season, Coach Dave Glascock led his team to a 12-2 record. Crawfordsville’s starting line-up was comprised of forwards Carroll Stevenson and Orville Taylor, center Ben Myers, and guards Clio Shaw and Newt Hill. The substitutes were forward Hugh “Buddy” Miller, and guard Grady Chadwick. The team averaged a little over 29 points a game while holding their opponents to 16.5. Myers led the team in scoring with 12.3 points a game, and Stevenson averaged 9.3. Regarding the team’s defensive abilities, the Crawfordsville Journal reckoned Shaw, “As a back guard has no superior in the state,” and Hill many times spoiled what looked like sure goals “by his phenomenal guarding.”
As impressive as C.H.S.’s team and individual successes were, they still had four games to play to prove that they were Indiana’s best.
THE TOURNAMENT: FIRST ROUND
The teams invited to the “First Annual State Interscholastic Basket Ball Tournament” at Bloomington included Anderson, Bluffton, Crawfordsville, Evansville, Lafayette, Lebanon, Morristown, New Albany, Oaktown, Rochester, Valparaiso, and Walton. The tournament teams and fans convened at Indiana University’s original Assembly Hall on Friday, March 10. In the first round of play, New Albany eked past Rochester, 19-18, “Walton walloped Morristown,” 31-23, Bluffton carried “off the bacon” against Evansville, 38-23, Lafayette “romped away from” Oaktown, 31-14, and Lebanon defeated Valparaiso, 23-11.
Crawfordsville’s first round game was against Anderson High School. The game remained competitive in the first half, and at half-time Crawfordsville led 14-10. The pace changed dramatically in the second half. The Anderson Herald described, “The Crawfordsville quintet showed [a] burst of varsity playing which swept the Anderson players off their feet and the ball fell into the basket with great rapidity.” Crawfordsville went on a 22-6 run in the second half, as the “Blue and Gold” won, 36-16.
THE TOURNAMENT: SECOND ROUND
On Saturday, March 11, Lebanon began the second round of tournament play against New Albany at 9 a.m. Although it took fifteen minutes for either team to score, Lebanon led 14-3 at the half, and at the end of regulation Lebanon triumphed, 28-10. Following that game, Bluffton took the floor versus Lafayette at 10 o’clock. In a game “replete with sensational floor work and fine basket shooting,” Bluffton defeated Lafayette, 34-22.
The next game tipped at 11 a.m., and matched Crawfordsville against tiny Walton High School from Cass County. The Daily Student reported, “The first half proved a soul stirrer [with] both teams fighting savagely on the floor.” The half ended with Crawfordsville leading 16-10. In the second half, and held Walton field goalless. Myers continued to shine offensively for Crawfordsville, “playing a speedy, heady and nervy game,” en route to fifteen points. Myers’ teammates, Miller, Hill, and Taylor combined for sixteen more points as Crawfordsville advanced past Walton, 31-12.
THE FINAL FOUR THREE?
Instead of a final four, the first Indiana state high school basketball tournament had a final three, a product of seeding the tournament with twelve teams. Tournament organizers held a drawing with Bluffton, Crawfordsville, and Lebanon to determine which teams would play next, and which team would receive a bye into the final round. The story of Indiana’s first basketball tournament would lose much of its intrigue if Lebanon and Crawfordsville met in the semi-final game. As chance would have it, Lebanon drew the bye, and advanced to await the winner of Crawfordsville v. Bluffton for the championship.
In their first two tournament games, Bluffton averaged 36, but their defense surrendered 5.5 points more than their regular season average. Injuries to key Bluffton players, sustained in their quarterfinal game against Lafayette, further weakened the team. Bluffton’s top-two scorers in the regular season, Doster Buckner and Dwight Fritz, hobbled into the game against Crawfordsville on sprained ankles.Bluffton did what they could against Crawfordsville, and “fought gamely all throughout the fray.” Yet, Bluffton’s scrappiness could not contain Crawfordsville’s “tall, husky lads.” Crawfordsville led 21-7 at the half, and easily won the game, 42-16. Myers again led the offense with sixteen points, despite receiving a “deep gash on his forehead” after colliding with Bluffton center Claude Ware. “Chine” Taylor had his strongest tournament showing with six field goals. Carroll Stevenson saw his first tournament action in the second half, and exhibited no ill effects from his injury, finishing with 12 points. In defeat, Bluffton’s Homer Brumbaugh led his team in scoring with 10 points.
STATE FINAL: CRAWFORDSVILLE VS. LEBANON
After all the antagonism expressed between Lebanon and Crawfordsville the previous three seasons, it was only fitting that these two squads met in the finals. The high school championship would be decided that evening (March 11); “played as a curtain-raiser” to Indiana University’s regular season finale against Northwestern University. Entering the contest Lebanon had a clear advantage of a nine-hour rest, after defeating New Albany earlier that morning. Crawfordsville, on the other hand, must have felt fatigued preparing for their third game in eight hours.
Crawfordsville evidently shook off some of their weariness after the opening tip, and rushed out to a 7-1 lead in the first five minutes. After this opening run, Lebanon responded, and “started some of their brilliant team work. Beautiful passes . . . [left] the Crawfordsville lads . . . utterly bewildered at times in following the ball. Despite their fancy passing the Lebanon men couldn’t score, blowing about four out of five shots right under the basket.” The half ended with Crawfordsville still in control, 13-7. Coach Glascock recalled that at half-time, “The boys said, ‘Coach, if we win this game we’re all going downtown and really celebrate.’ I told them if they won the game I didn’t care what they did.”
In the second half, Crawfordsville’s “Athenians” continued at an “undying pace.” Lebanon never got closer than three points in the entire game. Shaw and Hill’s “close guarding . . . kept [Lebanon’s] score down” while Crawfordsville’s frontcourt kept a “continual attack on the basket.” Lebanon’s defense concentrated on keeping Taylor “completely smothered,” but he still managed two field goals. Myers, after averaging more than seventeen points in the first three tournament games, only mustered six points in the finale. He was exhausted as a result of being “battered up in nearly every scrimmage.” Fortunately for Crawfordsville, Stevenson was fresh. The Daily Student praised Stevenson as “a marvel in finding the net from the foul line and also hot when it came to making field goals.” He finished with a game-high fourteen points. At the end of regulation, Crawfordsville prevailed over Lebanon, 24 to 17. The Daily Student proclaimed, “Crawfordsville . . . [won] the first state high school championship basket ball tournament and is now undisputed state champion.”
At half-time of the IU-Northwestern game, Booster Club chairman, Charles H. Nussell, presented to Coach Glascock the tournament trophy: “a handsome oak shield decorated with metal letters describing the event.” The newspaper articles do not report the players being present at the trophy presentation. Glascock remembered, “I had no idea where the players had gone.” He perhaps thought they stuck to their half-time promise and went downtown to celebrate. Nevertheless, Coach Glascock stayed and watched the second half of the IU-Northwestern game. After the game, Glascock recalled, “When I went back to the fraternity house where we were staying, I found them all sound asleep, worn out completely.”
Crawfordsville High School’s basketball team’s three year run of “state championships” would end the next season. C.H.S. finished the 1911-12 season with an 11-4 record, but “for the first time in the school’s history, [their] colors fell before Lebanon,” not once, but twice. If that was not enough humiliation, Clinton High School clinched the district invitation to the tournament, and thereby denied Crawfordsville High School the opportunity to defend the state title in 1912, which Lebanon, incidentally won. Furthering the irony, the 1912 tournament was the first Indiana high school basketball tournament that the IHSAA sanctioned. Consequently, Lebanon, for many decades, claimed to be the first IHSAA basketball tournament champion.
In 1957, Crawfordsville High School found their place in Indiana basketball history restored. The IHSAA accepted a resolution from Indiana University, whereby the university transferred its claim to recognition of the first Indiana high school basketball championship to the IHSAA’s Board of Control “for inclusion in the official records of that body.” At halftime of the forty-seventh annual high school basketball championship, played between South Bend Central and Indianapolis’ Crispus Attucks at the Butler University Fieldhouse, the IHSAA recognized Crawfordsville’s 1911 high school basketball team as Indiana’s first state tournament champions.
For that feat, and for being the first state tournament champion, they will be remembered as long as high school basketball is played and celebrated in Indiana.