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Basketball in Salem

"Basketball is all the rage.  This will train the men for football in the Spring." - Salem Capital Journal newspaper, January 10, 1892

The sport of basketball was an instant hit after its debut here, early in 1892, in the first game in the Northwest. That was only a month after it was invented at a YMCA National Conference in Springfield, Mass., in December of 1891.

So rapidly did this indoor game become popular that the Salem Capital Journal newspaper on January 10, 1892, said, "Basketball is all the rage. This will train the men for football in the Spring."

The YMCA than was in a three-story building on the northwest corner of Commercial and Chemeketa Streets NE. The players were from the YMCA and Willamette University, and they were anxious to try an indoor sport better than lifting weights and jumping over parallel bars.

A leader here was Frank E. Brown, 21, a first-year student in the Willamette U. Academy who was inspired by a talk by John R. Mott, a YMCA National Director. Brown was also hearing about basketball from W.U. students who had been at the Springfield conference where James Naismith invented the sport. He had noticed two peach baskets in the alley in Plainfield, Mass., and hung them in the gym as targets for the ball.

Naismith's "crudely simple" rules suggested eight players on each team, taking turns removing the ball from the baskets. But, in Salem, a team could have up to 10--even in the cramped quarters. Forbidden was dribbling, or running with the ball. A player could catch his own pass, and a foul counted as a point without shooting it.

Brown said that, while Naismith started the game with a tip-off, "We used to lie down in the middle of the floor with our hands on the ball, and scramble for the ball when the whistle was blown." Two fouls would disqualify a player.

Brown, as a student and, later, college physical director, helped pressure Uni-versity trustees to build a gymnasium. It was dedicated in 1895 and was used until it burned down in 1921.

Brown served 40 years on the YMCA Board and was a major contributor to building the YMCA Youth Wing in the mid-1950s. He died in 1958 at the age of 88. Willamette University, in 1962, dedicated a Memorial Recreation area to Dr. Brown, located west of the Putnam Student Center.

Female athletes were not to be left out. The Girls Basketball team was de-scribed in the 1905 Wallulah yearbook as "five of the pluckiest girls that ever bloomed forth in bloomers." Most of them had never before played in a match game, yet they did not fail to put up a strong fight in their first game on the home floor against Albany - - the Albany team later winning the State championship. On the spacious floor of the Agricultural College Armory, against the swift farmer maidens, they lost by only a few points, but the game was played with "an earnestness and vim which showed they were doing their best for Old Willamette."

Written by Al Jones, retired Sports Writer for Capital Journal newspaper

Photos are from the personal collection of Al Jones



1903 Basketball team

Willamette University basketball team (1903)
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First basketball game played in this building
Location where the first basketball game was played (1892).  NW Corner Chemeketa and Commercial Streets
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Willamette University girls basketball team
Willamette University girls basketball 1905
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1925 Salem High School team
1925 Salem High School in State Tournament on the way to National championship tournament in Chicago.
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Early Chemawa Indian team
Early Chemawa Indian School Team
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1940 Salem High School  Champs
Salem High School State Champions, 1940
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1903 Willamette University girls basketball team

Willamette University girls basketball (1903)
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Salem High School Champs 1939
Salem High School 1939 State Champions. Defeated Medford 34 -26 for championship.
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