"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
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
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
Photos are from the personal collection of Al Jones