Legendary baseball player George “Babe” Ruth graced Fort Wayne with his presence during a personal visit on October 26, 1926. After putting on a show during at practice, he joined the Fort Wayne Lincoln Lifers, a semiprofessional team sponsored by Lincoln National Life Insurance Co., in a game against a very good Kips team. Ruth proceeded to put on a demonstration by playing every position except catcher. He topped the game off by hitting two balls out of the park. With the Bambino in their arsenal, the Lifers won 11 to 1.
Ruth returned to the Indiana town on May 6, 1927 with the New York Yankees to play an exhibition game against the Lifers. In his Fort Wayne Sports History, Blake Sebring wrote that the Yankees, who were in first place in the league, made the stop on their way to take on Chicago. The game took place at League Park, now called Headwaters Park, located between Calhoun and Clinton streets. A wooden structure was erected at the park in 1883. Rebuilt several times, the place received a major overhaul in 1908 with new grandstands and a grass infield. After the damage caused by the Great Flood of 1913, additional restoration was required. It was readied as a host park for semi-pro Central League teams, including the Lifers when they moved up to a minor league status.
That 1927 exhibition season, League Park’s grandstand was filled with more than 3,000 fans, occupying all sitting and standing room. Enthusiastic Fort Wayne fans streamed in, eager to witness high drama from Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the other Yankee legends. The fans were not disappointed, as they sensed Babe’s charge into the annals of American history.
The regulation 9 innings were played. The Lifers held the Yankees to a 3–3 tie in the 10th, with two out and a runner on first when “The Sultan of Swat,” another of Ruth’s appellations, came to the plate. He took two strikes and then in classic style belted the next pitch over the center field wall, landing on the roof of one of the city utility barns across Clinton Street. The hit enable the Yankees to defeat the Lifers 5-3. The stands emptied and adoring fans mobbed Babe.
It has been said that the Bambino often referred to that blow as possibly the hardest hit ball of his career. According to John Ankenbruck, after citing the official long hits by Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle, one sportswriter declared that, Ruth hit a longer one in Fort Wayne, according to the Bambino’s version.
After the 1927 season, Ruth went on a barn storming tour, playing again at League Park. He belted a ball over the left-centerfield fence and claimed that the ball landed in a freight car that was passing the park at the time. Local baseball historians are quick to note that, if true, the ball would have had to clear the fence then make a right angle, travel another 600 feet to land on the railroad tracks. Even so, 1927 was a banner year for Fort Wayne baseball and Babe Ruth was on hand to help make it a big hit.
Check out Part I to learn about Bill Garrett’s time on the Shelbyville High School basketball team, the “gentleman’s agreement,” and Garrett’s entry in Big Ten basketball. Or check out our podcast!
In an oral history interview in June 1970, Bill Garrett reflected on his early experiences at IU and on the school’s varsity basketball team. Garrett noted that “it was somewhat of an adjustment as far as the team players were concerned” and that it made things “rough at the start.” Despite encountering discrimination from some of the squad’s older players and while on the road for away games, Garrett quickly made a name for himself on IU’s team. In a February 1949 article, the Bloomington Daily Herald commended Garrett on his talent, and noted the positive impact that he and other young players were having on the team. By the end of the season, Garrett had tallied 220 points, the highest total on the squad that season. This success continued into his junior and senior years, with newspapers commenting on his speed and play-making ability. In a January 5, 1950 article, the Wisconsin State Journal reported:
Indiana’s attack is built around William Garrett, a lithe Negro who stands only 6-2 1/2 but plays offensive center. He is quick as a cat and has a devastating one-handed shot.
The following month, the Pittsburgh Courier, a leading African-American newspaper, referred to him as “the most spectacular member on the team coached by Branch McCracken.”
During Garrett’s time on the varsity basketball squad, the team’s record improved greatly. According to the Indiana Basketball Men’s Database, in the 1947-1948 season, the year before Garrett joined the team, IU won only eight games and lost twelve. The following season, Garrett’s first with the varsity squad, they improved to fourteen wins, and by his senior year (1950-1951), they went 19-3 and were ranked seventh in the nation.
Much of the team’s success during this period stemmed from Garrett’s talent on the court. On March 6, 1951, the Jasper Daily Herald reported that Garrett had broken IU’s four-year career scoring record with a total of 792 points in only three seasons of play. His 193 Big Ten points during the 1950-1951 season also broke the old record set in the 1946-1947 season.
On February 24, 1951, the Indianapolis Recorder announced that Sporting News, a well-respected sports publication in the country, named Garrett to its All-American team. The Recorder quoted sportswriter Cy Kritzer in its February 24, 1951 issue regarding the selection. Kritzer remarked:
“Above all, he [Garrett] was a playmaker. The game has none better than the Hoosier star on the fast break.”
Just a few weeks later, the United Press named Garrett a second-team All-American. The All-American team was selected by a poll of the nation’s leading sportswriters and radio broadcasters. Garrett’s teammates also voted him Most Valuable Player of the season.
While at IU, Garrett was the only African American to play on a Big Ten varsity basketball team. On March 11, 1950, the Indianapolis Recorder published an article entitled “Bill Garrett Needs Company” in which it reported that Garrett was disappointed about being the only black basketball player in the conference. The article noted that in addition to Indiana University, DePauw, Earlham, and Anderson College all had African American students on their teams that season, and it encouraged Big Ten schools to follow their lead. However, by the following year, as Garrett’s final college basketball season was coming to an end, some feared that the Big Ten might revert to an all-white status again.
In their book Getting Open: The Unknown Story of Bill Garrett and the Integration of College Basketball, Tom Graham and Rachel Graham Cody note that African Americans John Codwell at the University of Michigan and Rickey Ayala at Michigan State were playing freshman basketball during Garrett’s senior year. At this time, freshman could not play on varsity teams except for the 1951-1952 season, which included an exception because the Korean War made it difficult to field a team.
Although no African American players joined him at the varsity level before he graduated, Garrett’s example on and off the court helped create opportunities for others in the future. On March 6, 1951, with his college career winding down, the Indiana Daily Student ran an article on Garrett, noting the school body’s pride in him and how much he would be missed the next year. According to the paper, Garrett was “one fine model for a young athlete to pattern himself after.” At a time when segregation was still practiced in many areas of the state, and black athletes were still scarce in certain sports, this was saying a lot. It was a testament to both his talent and character, and again called into question why blacks should not be permitted to play Big Ten basketball.
Garrett graduated from IU with a Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Education in June 1951. In the season immediately following his graduation, at least seven black basketball players made Big Ten teams. On November 17, 1951, the Indianapolis Recorder reported that Ernie Hall had become the first African American basketball player at Purdue, and that Bob Jewell, who played at Crispus Attucks, made the University of Michigan’s team. In January 1952, the Recorder noted that in addition to Jewell, Michigan had two other African American players that season: Don Eaddy and Jonn Codwell. The paper traced this progress back to Bill Garrett, stating:
Following the path opened by Bill Garrett at Indiana University, sepia cagers are now making Big 10 and other leading teams in increasing numbers.
Likewise, the Capitol Times of Madison, Wisconsin also credited Garrett, noting that he was “the Jackie Robinson of the cage court” and that he had “blazed the way for others of his race in the college game this season.” Other African American players during the 1951-1952 year included Rickey Ayala at Michigan State, Walt Moore at Illinois, and Deacon Davis at Iowa. Notre Dame also challenged the color barrier at the school during this period, with African Americans Joe Bertrand and Entee Shine joining the Irish squad.
Though racial prejudice in sports did not end, black players continued to find success on Big Ten and other Midwest basketball teams.
On May 5, 1951, Bill Garrett was drafted by the Boston Celtics to play in the NBA. Though the league was still in its infancy, it was already attracting some of the best players from around the country. Again Garrett’s selection was a testament to his talent on the court. According to the Indianapolis Recorder, Garrett “found himself the only Negro among 86 stars who were drafted” to play professional basketball that year. However, Garrett would never get his opportunity to join the team. On August 25, 1951, the Indianapolis Recorder reported that he had been drafted into the U.S. Army. The Korean War (1950-1953) was already in full swing by this time, and Garrett was ordered to report for induction into the Army by September 7.
It is unclear when the Celtics released Garrett. According to a March 29, 1952 article in the Indianapolis Recorder, Garrett took his regular Army furlough with the Harlem Globetrotters in April of that year. One year later, on September 26, 1953, the Recorder reported that he was discharged from the Army and signed a contract to play with the Harlem Globetrotters. According to Tom Graham and Rachel Graham Cody, NBA teams limited the number of African American players on their rosters during this period and the Celtics already had two others.
Garrett played with the Globetrotters until 1955, when he decided to leave the team. According to his wife, Betty Garrett Inskeep, “he wasn’t happy playing for them. He was a very easygoing person, but he was competitive when you’re supposed to be competitive, so what the Globetrotters did did not suit him at all.”
Two years later, on July 13, 1957, the Indianapolis Recorder reported that Garrett had been hired to succeed Ray Crowe as head basketball coach at Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis. Garrett had his work cut out for him. Crowe had led the all-black high school to the state basketball title in 1955 and 1956.
In his first year on the job, Garrett helped the team win its sixth straight sectional crown. Just one year later, he coached Attucks to the state championship, again bringing glory to the school. The Indiana Sportswriters and Broadcasters Association named Garrett Coach of the Year soon after the tournament.
Garrett coached Attucks for ten years before assuming the position of athletic director at the school in 1968. In 1974, he was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. Sadly, Garrett died of a heart attack just a few months later, on August 7, 1974, at the age of 45. He was assistant dean for student services at IUPUI at the time of his death.
Though his name is not as widely recognized as Jackie Robinson’s or other pioneers in race relations, Garrett’s influence and contributions in helping to diminish racial discrimination in both high school and college basketball in the mid-1900s should not be forgotten.
Be sure to follow IHB’s Facebook page for information on the upcoming dedication of a new state historical marker to commemorate Garrett and the integration of Big Ten basketball later this year.
In 1947, Jackie Robinson made history when he broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Robinson set the precedent, and in the years following, many African American players would follow his lead to join big league teams. In 1948, just one year after Robinson’s debut with the Dodgers, Indiana witnessed its own trailblazer in sports, as Shelbyville’s Bill Garrett broke the ironically named “gentleman’s agreement” that had barred African Americans from playing Big Ten college basketball (the Big Ten became the Big Nine in 1946 when the University of Chicago withdrew its membership. In 1949, Michigan State College – now Michigan State University – joined the conference, and it again assumed the name the Big Ten).
Bill Garrett was born in 1929, at a time when segregation and racial discrimination were rampant in Indiana. The Indianapolis Times had just been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for exposing the Ku Klux Klan’s influence in state politics the year before, and just one year later the state would experience the horrific lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Marion. In their thoroughly researched book Getting Open: The Unknown Story of Bill Garrett and the Integration of College Basketball, authors Tom Graham and Rachel Graham Cody note that Shelbyville avoided much of the racial violence that other Indiana communities experienced at this time, but that segregation was nevertheless commonplace. Garrett, like other African Americans there, attended the segregated Booker T. Washington Elementary School, and when he entered Shelbyville High School in the 1940s, he was one of only a few black students in his class.
Despite this, Garrett became widely recognized for his skills on the basketball court, and by his senior year in high school (1946-1947), he was one of the star players on Shelbyville’s varsity basketball team. Newspapers across the state praised him for his play. On January 9, 1947, one day after Garrett helped lead the Shelbyville Golden Bears to a decisive 59-40 victory over Greencastle, the Greencastle Daily Banner recognized him as “one of the smoothest performers and best shots” to appear on the Greencastle court over the years. He was quick, clever, and had a “natural talent” for the game. Many regarded him as the second Johnny Wilson. Wilson, also African American, had graduated the year before from Anderson High School, where he led the team to the state basketball title and was named Indiana’s “Mr. Basketball.” The Indianapolis Recorder noted the similarities between the two in a March 22, 1947 article, stating that the resemblance in their play was “uncanny.”
The mark of greatness, however, in Garrett as in Wilson, is the ability to sweep through the opposition and turn a stalemated contest into a rout. It is that extra speed and split-second timing which stamps an all-state player as distinguished from a good player. It is cool floor-generalship and flawless ball-handling – and Garrett has them all.
When the 1947 Indiana high school basketball tournament kicked off in late February that year, 781 teams competed for a shot at the title. Despite the odds, Garrett, along with starters Emerson Johnson, Marshall Murray, Hank Hemingway, and Bill Breck, helped lead Shelbyville to the school’s first basketball championship. On March 22, Shelbyville defeated the East Chicago Washington Senators 54-46 and advanced to the title game where they beat undefeated Terre Haute Garfield 68-58.
At a time when segregation was prevalent in the state, Shelbyville’s team featured three African American starters: Murray, Johnson, and Garrett, each of whom had captured the hearts of Shelbyville fans.
Garrett had set a new individual state tournament scoring record during the competition. His 91 points in the final four games broke the 85-point record set by Johnny Wilson the year before. And like Wilson, he too was named “Mr. Basketball” for the season.
After the 1947 title game, many wondered where Garrett would continue his basketball career. Despite the fact that he, Wilson, and other African American players were leading their teams to high school titles and were considered some of the best players in the state, the “gentleman’s agreement” barred them from playing college basketball on Big Ten varsity teams into the late 1940s. Reports out of Indiana University at this time note that there was “no written rule in the Big Ten regarding participation in athletics. The unwritten rule subscribed to by all schools precludes colored boys from participating in basketball, swimming, and wrestling.”
In the years following, many would question the inconsistency of this rule, as blacks participated in football and other Big Ten sports during this period. Some speculated that the reason for the discrepancy was that basketball was played in more intimate settings with briefer uniforms, thus increasing the chance of contact between white players’ and black players’ skin.
Referred to as the” gentleman’s agreement,” the “unwritten rule,” or the “lily-white rule,” the color line in basketball came under increasing attack throughout the 1940s as more and more talented black players were being overlooked solely because of their race. In 1944, African American Richard (Dick) Culbertson played varsity at the University of Iowa, but coaches largely regarded his participation as an exception rather than the rule. Culbertson was a substitute rather than a starter, and wartime conditions had made it more difficult to field a team, leading to slightly relaxed rules.
On March 25, 1947, after watching Bill Garrett, Emerson Johnson, and Marshall Murray help Shelbyville win the state championship, John Whitaker of the Hammond Times wrote an open letter to the commissioner of the Big Ten in which he asked why the “unwritten agreement” existed:
If the biggest, braggingest athletic conference in the middle of the greatest country in the world can use Negroes like Buddy Young, Ike Owen, Dallas Ward, Duke Slater, George Taliaferro and the like to draw $200,000 crowds for football . . . and Negroes like Jesse Owen[s] and Eddie Tolan to win Olympic crowns . . . why can’t it use them in basketball.
In June 1947, the Indianapolis Recorder reported that despite Garrett’s hopes to play Big Ten basketball at IU or Purdue, the “gentleman’s agreement” might force him to continue his career in California. The news disappointed many who had hoped to see Garrett stay in state, and prompted Recorder writer Charles S. Preston to call out the state and the Big Ten conference in hopes of bringing an end to the ban:
What in Hades is the matter with the Hoosier state, when we are going to let one of our best basketball players of all time get away from us, and go out to California to play! And all because of a ridiculous ‘unwritten law’ that doesn’t begin to make sense!
Though some denied that such an agreement barring blacks from Big Ten basketball existed, the continued absence of African Americans on these teams indicated otherwise.
Fearful that Garrett would be bypassed by Big Ten teams like others before him, black leaders in Indianapolis banded together in order to persuade IU to give him an opportunity to make the school’s team. Faburn DeFrantz, Executive Director of the Senate Avenue YMCA in Indianapolis, spearheaded the effort, and in the months following the 1947 state high school tournament, he and other black leaders drove down to Bloomington to meet with IU President Herman B Wells on Garrett’s behalf.
President Wells was eager to end racial discrimination and segregation at IU, and had already been doing so quietly in other parts of the campus at this time. After meeting with DeFrantz and the others, Wells asked IU basketball coach Branch McCracken to give Garrett a chance to make the team, noting that he would handle any potential backlash from other Big Ten coaches.
In DeFrantz’s unpublished autobiography, excerpts of which were obtained by Graham and Cody during their research, DeFrantz acknowledges Wells’ role in helping to break down racial barriers at IU:
In Indiana University’s President Herman B Wells democracy found an ally. No overhaul of policy such as that accomplished at Indiana University could have been possible without the cooperation he gave.
In an October 4, 1947 article, the Indianapolis Recorder praised DeFrantz and others for their efforts to get Garrett to IU and recognized them as “key figures in the victory for democracy.” In January 1949, during Garrett’s first season on the varsity team, the Recorder named DeFrantz to its 1948 Race Relations Honor Roll, noting his unremitting campaign to help end racial discrimination in sports. Two years later, Garrett would also be named to this Honor Roll.
Garrett was admitted to IU in the fall of 1947 and played one year on the freshman basketball squad. He made his regular-season varsity debut in December 1948 as IU beat DePauw 61-48. In doing so, he became the first African American player on an IU varsity basketball team. More importantly, the Recorder recognized on December 11, 1948, that “Garrett’s entry into the Big Nine ranks may prove to be the beginning of the end for an anti-Negro ‘gentleman’s agreement’. . .”
Integration in basketball, both at the high school and eventually the college level went a long way in improving race relations in the state, as fans cheered their teams to victory regardless of the color of their players’ skin. On February 18, 1950, the Recorder reported on the influence that sports had on blurring the color line, stating:
Race prejudice, too, has generally been given the bum’s rush by the fans who lose sight of everything but the fortunes of OUR TEAM. The performances of such athletes as Bill Garrett, Johnny Wilson, and a host of others have probably done as much as anything else to kill the Ku Klux Klan spirit in Indiana. A quick field goal by a Negro player will do more to “convert” the ordinary Hoosier than all the Race Relations Days in a century.
Garrett helped “convert” thousands in Shelbyville and across the state during his high school years and he would work to do the same while playing at IU.
Check out Part II coming later this week to learn about Garrett’s achievements while on IU’s squad, his impact on other African-American players, and his career after graduating.
For over 70 years, Hoosiers have told, re-told, printed, and re-printed a story about how basketball came to Indiana. According to the tale, Rev. Nicholas McCay (nearly always incorrectly spelled as McKay) was a protegé of James Naismith at the YMCA training school in Springfield, Massachusetts. McCay allegedly learned the new game of basketball from Naismith, and brought it with him to his first post at the Crawfordsville YMCA.* It was there that the supposed “first” basketball game in Indiana happened on March 16, 1894 between teams from the Crawfordsville and Lafayette YMCAs. Several contemporary newspapers reported on this game, including three of Crawfordsville’s four newspapers, and brief mentions appeared in Lafayette and Indianapolis papers.
There is ample evidence that a Crawfordsville-Lafayette game took place. However, was this game really the “first”? Superlatives (“oldest,” “first,” “last”) are always challenging to historically verify. In 2007, I came across the first shred of evidence to suggest that Crawfordsville’s claim was not undisputed. The evidence was an article in a November 17, 1894 issue of the Crawfordsville Review, which is shown here.
Notice the second sentence: “Basket ball was introduced into the State by the Indianapolis association through its physical director.” It seemed odd that a Crawfordsville paper would carry this article; especially if Crawfordsville citizens in 1894 believed that they introduced the sport to the state nine months earlier.
Further research was necessary. Could this statement about Indianapolis basketball be confirmed with contemporary sources? At the time of this article’s discovery in 2007, very few historic Indiana newspapers were digitized. An effort to find corroborative evidence of basketball played in Indianapolis before the Crawfordsville game in March 1894 would have required many, many hours of microfilm research, probably over several weeks (if not months), to search several major Indianapolis dailies (News, Journal, Sentinel, and Sun) from 1892-1894. The time required to conduct the search forced me to delay pursuing the research.
In 2013, IUPUI’s Center for Digital Scholarship digitized and uploaded a large run of the Indianapolis News. Here at last was an easy way to search for evidence to confirm what the Crawfordsville Review published in 1894. After entering the search terms, I received numerous results, which I then sorted by date. Then low-and-behold, there in black and white, tucked between an illustration of an acrobatic hound, and accounts of meetings of the State Board of Health and the Haughville Republicans, was the earliest mention of basketball being played in Indianapolis. The News published this article on March 30, 1893, which was almost an entire year before the Crawfordsville-Lafayette game occurred.
The News gave greater attention to the new game in the April 1, 1893 issue (p. 7). They devoted an entire two columns to the sport. The reporter noted that basketball “has taken hold here and is awakening interest and promises to become the all-around game for general fun in the future.” The article credited Indianapolis YMCA physical director, William A. McCulloch, with introducing the game at the Indianapolis branch a few months prior. McCulloch organized a four team league at the Indianapolis Y. However, could the 1894 newspaper claim that “Basket ball was introduced into the State by the Indianapolis association” be taken at face value for being accurate regarding “firsts”?
A few months after IUPUI uploaded the News, the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library digitized millions of pages of Evansville newspapers through the commercial firm NewsBank. Researchers can use the resource on site at EVPL. I had also come across mentions of Evansville playing basketball earlier than the Crawfordsville-Lafayette game, so I thought this would be a prime opportunity to check this out. The search results did not disappoint.
Based upon the newspapers currently digitized, Evansville was one of the earliest adopters of basketball. The Evansville Journal and the Evansville Courier both reported on contests as early as November 1892, which was less than a year after Naismith invented the game. Evansville also hosted an inter-city Indiana basketball game several months before the Crawfordsville-Lafayette game. In January 1894, the Evansville YMCA squad defeated a team from the Terre Haute YMCA.
It is important to remember that YMCA leaders in Indiana first learned about basketball through the Triangle, the YMCA’s national newsletter. Naismith published an article introducing the game in January 1892, and he later credited this article, and the correspondence that resulted from it, with spreading the game across the nation. By September 1892, the YMCA publication Physical Education advertised a “descriptive pamphlet” on the “new and popular game” available via mail for ten cents. Theoretically, by that time, any of Indiana’s twenty-seven YMCAs could have read Naismith’s original article or acquired the pamphlet, and subsequently implemented the game.
In this context, identifying the “first” game then becomes a somewhat subjective matter, because the sport did not enter Indiana and spread from any single locus. Rather, it originated and developed around the state simultaneously and often independently at multiple YMCAs at roughly the same time. Also, what is the criteria for declaring a “first”? “First” YMCA gym class instruction of basketball? “First” practice? “First” scrimmage? “First” exhibition? “First” YMCA intramural league game? “First” intercity or inter-institutional game? The possibilities of what would constitute a “first” seem endless!
After searching digitized Indiana newspapers in several content management systems, I assembled the following timeline of the earliest-known basketball games, practices, and exhibitions in Indiana (Note: Because Indiana newspapers continue to be digitized, it is likely this timeline will need subsequent revision. In particular, Richmond, Lafayette, Elkhart, South Bend, and Terre Haute newspapers for the early 1890s have not been digitized as of March 2015. Those cities’ newspapers might yield early accounts of the game as well):
If you are interested in reading more about this research, see the 2015 Thornbrough Award-winning article: S. Chandler Lighty, “James Naismith Didn’t Sleep Here: A Re-examination of Indiana Basketball’s Origins,” Indiana Magazine of History, Vol. 110, No. 4 (December 2014), pp. 307-323. You can possibly find a print copy at your local library’s local history room, otherwise you can order a copy, or download a copy from JSTOR.
*Research confirms that Naismith and McCay were not contemporaries at the YMCA training school. McCay graduated from the school a full academic year before Naismith arrived. See Fifth Catalogue of the School for Christian Workers (Springfield, Mass., 1890), Springfield
College Digital Collections, http://cdm16122.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/ collection/p15370coll1/id/146.
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.