In going through some old stuff recently, I found this information about James Naismith and how he invented basketball. He was also a student at the Martha’s Vineyard Summer Institute. Mr. Naismith put the first game of basketball in play at Springfield College. Did the summer school on the Vineyard inspire him to finally invent the game of basketball? Could it have been the lovely salt air or watching the seagulls scoring with their shells from the air without any interference? (Mr. Naismith had spent years trying to invent a game that could be played inside during the winter months.)
I attended Springfield College in the fall of 1931 and graduated in 1935. On Jan. 5, 1932, Mr. Naismith gave a lecture at this college on how he invented basketball in 1891.
Before the lecture, I noticed that many of my classmates were getting Mr. Naismith’s autograph, and this Martha’s Vineyard lad had no idea who James Naismith was. However, I joined the group and got his autograph which I still have after all these years.
Following are some of the highlights from his lecture. Dr. Gulick, of the Springfield faculty, assigned James Naismith to invent a good game that could be played in the gym. The students were bored with calisthenics and indoor versions of football, lacrosse and soccer that almost wrecked the gym and players.
After many sleepless nights, Mr. Naismith thought that his new game would need at least these three features:
• No running with the ball.
• No physical contact.
• Scoring to be done by throwing the ball.
Early the next day he met the janitor, Pop Stebbins, and asked him for two 18-inch boxes for goals. (The game was almost called box ball). Pop Stebbins stated that he didn’t have these boxes, but he had two old peach baskets down in the storeroom.
So Mr. Naismith nailed up the peach baskets in the gym about 10 feet high. He penciled in about 13 rules on a scratch pad and decided to use a soccer ball for the game. He divided the boys nine to a side with three forwards, three centers and three backs. Mr. Naismith threw the first ball into play on Dec. 21, 1891.
When a basket was made, the game stopped while someone climbed a ladder to take the ball out. Later, instead of a ladder, someone came out with a long pole and pushed the ball out through the hole in the bottom of the peach basket.
Finally the bottom of the peach basket was removed and the game became faster. Basketball was an instant success and is now played all over the world. Can you explain to others why basketball was almost called box ball?
Robert Hughes lives in Oak Bluffs.