Wednesday, September 5, 2012

100 Years Ago Today

100 years ago today it was of course early in the fall 1912-1913 school year. No one alive at the time can have anticipated that the most momentous basketball season in Minnesota history was about to unfold.

The Minnesota Gophers

The season opened with the Minnesota Gophers' earliest practice sessions ever on December 1. But no amount of practice could hide the fact of Coach Louis J. Cooke's worst team. It had lost the services of its entire starting 5 including Frank Lawler, the Gophers' only Big Ten scoring champion before 1967 and voted as late as 1950 as the greatest Gopher ever.

The Gophers started out 2-1 and 3-3 with wins at Purdue and Iowa in the Big Ten. But forward Dobie Stadsvold was lost to a leg injury at mid-season and Minnesota lost its last 5, including home games with the two Big Ten teams it had already defeated. The Gophers' official record book shows them finishing up at 3-8. But counting 2 games against Hamline, including an embarrassing 30-15 loss, I see Minnesota winning 4 and losing 9.

The biggest news was not the team's inept performance, however, it was a decision by the U to ban the suggestive new dance, the tango, from the Gophers' traditional post-game dance. Between the losing record and the ban on the tango, attendance (and revenues) plummeted to the point where the very survival of the program seemed in doubt. As a result, the basketball program was for the first time allocated supplemental funding out of student activity fees.

Senior Men's Ball

With the Gophers down, the best team in Minnesota was probably whomever Lawler was playing for on any given day. Mostly that was a group of U alumni who called themselves the Ineligibles, but he also played for the Minneapolis militia, Company F, and north Minneapolis' Ascension Church.

When the Duluth Boat Club led by Bunk Harris, also star of the Duluth Central high school team, finished its season with a 9-1 record, it wanted the opportunity to play for a state championship. So it invited the Ineligibles, Company F, the Ascensions and others to Duluth for a tournament. All declined and, with their incestuous and interlocking rosters, could hardly have played in the same tournament anyway.

There's no reason to think the Boat Club could have stayed with any of them. Duluth's one loss was to the Shamrock Club of Superior, WI. On a late January visit to the Twin Cities, the Shamrocks were demolished by the Ascensions 58-17 and also lost to St. Joseph's Church 19-11.

Duluth Central Takes 3rd in the Nation

But Harris, on the other hand, was almost surely the best high school player in Minnesota, and Duluth Central the best high school team--better than Fosston's state champions. Central declined to play in the 1st state high school tournament, traveling to Chicago for the national high school tournament instead. There they beat the high school legends from Crawfordsville, IN, 34-16 as Harris scored 16 points. Central lost to the host team from Evanston, IL, 37-23 in a semi-final, then defeated Canton, OH, 27-11, for 3rd place against vastly tougher competition than that faced by Fosston in Northfield.

Small College Ball Takes Off

Meanwhile, small college ball took a giant step forward with the founding of the MCC, forerunner of the MIAC. Hamline won its 1st of 3 straight MCC titles, while Carleton embarked on a program that would make them the dominant small college basketball power within 3 years. But for the time being, Hamline's champions were led by "Slip" Little and Grant Jacobson, both of whom had played for the mythical state high school champions of 1911 from Madison, MN.

But the caliber of ball in the small colleges was as of yet quite weak, as evidence by a January game between the St. Paul and Winona YMCAs. Winona won easily 51-30 as Parr, still just a junior at Winona High School, scored 32 points. Jacobson scored 16 for St. Paul.

An "Excessive Desire to Win"

But, all of this action took place against a backdrop that troubled advocates of amateur athletics.

George B. Aiton, Minnesota's Inspector of State High Schools, had commented as early as 1901 about what he characterized as an "excessive desire to win.... All athletic contests should be generous and free-hearted. The general desire should be for good work on both sides.... Visiting teams should be...greeted generously.... Contests should be an exchange of courtesies, never of jeers."

Harvard Dean LeBaron Briggs said in December 1912: "Coaches, in their eagerness to win, need constant watching; players here and there make you ashamed of and for them; but Harvard is get rid of unsportsmanlike conduct (and) dirty play...."

Now, on the very day of the Gophers' 1st practice of the 1912-1913 season, came word that Michigan had been expelled from the Big Nine (later the Big Ten). The conference had decreed that athletics must be entirely under the control of the faculty. Michigan's athletic board was made up of only half faculty, and half of students and alumni. The Wolverines would only return to the Big Ten in 1918.

Then on January 25, 1913, the Jim Thorpe affair burst into the open. Thorpe--American Indian, football and track star, winner of the 1912 Olympic gold medal in the decathlon, the world's greatest athlete--was charged with accepting payment for playing summer baseball in 1911. Four days later, his amateur status was declared forfeit and he was stripped of his gold medal.

Summer baseball had bedeviled college administrators for years, and just one month before the Thorpe case became public the NCAA had proposed that "no college baseball player should play on a summer team." George Huff, athletic director at Illinois, responded, "Rules make liars...not amateurs."

Professor Alexander Meikleljohn, president of Amherst College, characterized college athletes as "intellectually knock-kneed, spavined, toeing in and stumbling over themselves academically."

Eligibility was a concern at all levels. Were the student-athletes representing the educational institutions--both high schools and colleges--indeed students, or athletes only? Were they making normal progress toward a diploma or degree? Did they have the intelligence, the knowledge, the skills to earn a diploma or degree? Or, were they mercenaries, hired guns whose job it was to form winning athletic teams?

Like Jim Thorpe, were they being paid? High schooler Bunk Harris--and many other high school student-athletes--played senior men's ball, and might just as easily have been paid to do so as not. Now that they thought of it, secondary educators wondered, were they being paid to play for their high school?

Basketball had been invented in 1891 by Dr. James A. Naismith, an instructor at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, MA. The game had been aggressively marketed by the YMCA's as offering mental, moral, spiritual and ethical, as well as purely physical improvement, among young Americans. It built character, in short.

The Y's had long since ceased being the game's primary promoters and rules-makers, ceding those roles to the colleges. By 1915 the Ys threw in the towel. Their game had now been found to build bad character rather than good. The Ys withdrew from any and all roles in the governance of the game.

Fred B. Hill and Carleton College

It was against this backdrop that the Minnesota State High School Basketball Tournament was founded at Carleton College in Northfield, MN, the first such tournament being staged on April 1 through the 4th, 1913.

Carleton was in fact a hotbed of YMCA activity, including the athletics. Carleton Prof. Dean Weigle spoke to the Minnesota statewide YMCA conference on the subject of "Christianizing the World" little more than a month after the first basketball tournament. Weigle was also president of the Minnesota Education Association, whose annual meeting had been held at Carleton the previous December. They keynote speaker was Dr. Luther Gulick, in 1912-1913 the executive director of the Russell Sage Foundation, but in 1891 director of the YMCA School in Springfield. It had been Gulick who assigned Naismith to create a game for use in keeping people active and fit indoors during the winter season.

Rev. and Prof. Fred B. Hill was a Carleton grad, class of 1895, and was remembered as pitcher on Carleton's baseball team of that time. AFter graduation, he went out east, to the Harttford Theological Seminary, where he was ordained as a minister of the Congregational Church in 1903. While there, he also wooed and won the hand of one of America's wealthiest heiresses, Deborah Sayles. He returned to Carleton with his wife as Professor of Biblical Literature in 1907.

Soon after, Edward J. Cowling also came to Carleton as its new president with a focus of raising money to support the college's educational mission. The Hills bought Cowling a house, and they bought him a lifetime membership in the Minneapolis Club, which became the base of operations for Cowling's fund-raising. It would one day be the oldest existing membership to the club.

In 1907, the Hills announced that they would fund the construction of a gymnasium on the Carleton campus. It was dedicated in 1910 with the name Sayles-Hill Gymnasium not Fred and Deborah but in their parent's names. It was at the time the finest facility for a game of basketball in the state of Minnesota. Carleton hired its first faculty coach and athletic director, Maury Kent. This also marked the year in which the school's football, baseball and basketball teams became a permanent feature.

Rev. Hill was named chairman of the faculty committee on athletics.

In January 1913 it was announced that Prof. Leal Headley would give a series of lectures about Carleton at various Minnesota high schools. His objective would be to bring more young men to campus. Carleton's enrollment was about two-thirds women. The school desired to have "a substantial equilibrium of the sexes which characterizes a normal, well-ordered community." It was also observed that Headley's recruiting efforts might help enhance the quality of Carleton's athletic teams.

It was just two weeks later that the idea of a high school basketball tournament at Carleton was first broached. We now know that Hill had been approached by his former baseball teammate, Carleton grad W.H. Hollands, now school superintendent at Stillwater, MN. Stillwater had a crack basketball team, and Hollands was sure it was the best in the state. So he suggested to Hill that Carleton host a high school tournament.

Hill thought it a terrific idea, and announced that he would personally pay the travel expenses of the participating teams, so that no otherwise worthy team would be precluded from participating by the cost. With a man of Hill's stature advancing the idea, the Carleton administration quickly fell in line, and the tournament was held April 1-4, 1913, at the Sayles-Hill Gym.

A banquet was held on Thursday night to honor the participating team, after which it was decided that a committee should be formed to assure that there would be a tournament again in 1914 and beyond. The assembled administrators elected Hill as its chair. Three years later the committee took the name of the Minnesota High School Athletic Association, and it is this group that the Minnesota State High School League cites as its predecessor. Hill, thus, was the 1st presiding officer over what would one day become the MSHSL.

The committee quickly established eligibility rules for student-athletes, and limited tournament participants to no more than 2 games against non-member schools. If a school wanted to play in the committee's tournament, it would play by the committee's rules. Suddenly there was a mechanism whereby the behavior of the schools and their representatives (the athletes, the coaches, the administrators, etc.) could be controlled or at least influenced. Teams and individual student-athletes were disqualified from tournament participation in 1915 and 1917.

The Aftermath

By 1935 the tournament had long since removed to the Twin Cities and for the 1st time crowds of more than 10,000 people came out to see the Saturday night finals. The tournament suddenly had achieved a cachet such that Minnesotans wanted to know something of the tournament's history. It was in this environment that Claude J. Hunt was 1st identified as the tournament's founder.

Hunt had succeeded Kent as Carleton's athletic director, and it was Hunt who led the football team to its greatest glory, a 24-0 record in his 1st 4 years and an average margin of victory of 49-1. In 1916 Carleton defeated Chicago of the Big Ten, 7-0. Carleton basketball under Hunt also won its 1st 3 MIAC titles. Hunt retired as Carleton AD in 1931, becoming publisher of the Faribault Daily News.

With a modicum of research, it is easy (and would have been easy in 1935) to ascertain that Hunt was not yet a member of the Carleton faculty, had not yet arrived in Northfield from his native Indiana, in 1913. Yet, in 1957 and again in 1963, Hunt was introduced to state tournament crowds in half-time celebrations as the "founder" and "father" of the tournament, and was even given a plaque that identified him as such.

Hill--the true founder of the tournament--meanwhile, had died in the influenza epidemic of 1919. He had just returned from an assignment to the war zone in Europe, where he observed the conditions of the fighting men for the American YMCAs. His objective was to identify ways in which the Ys could support America's troops overseas. Upon Hill's death, the Northfield News wrote, "Mr. Hill had made himself such an important servant of the community, had given so generously of himself and his means to every worthy cause that made life more worthwhile in the Northfield community, that to carry on without him will be difficult indeed."

It seems likely that the high school athletic establishment simply wanted a living hero in 1935 and Hunt obliged them.

1912-1913 In Summary

All-State Team

Frank Lawler, the Ineligibles, Company F, the Ascensions--Player of the Year

"Bunk" Harris, Duluth Central, Duluth Boat Club
Ralph Movold, Fosston High School
"Slip" Little, Hamline College
R. M. Rosenwald, the Ineligibles, Company F, the Ascensions

Fred Chicken, the Ascensions, Company F
Fred Nord, St. Joseph's, Company F
Francis J. "Dobie" Stadsvold, Minnesota
Al Rehder, Red  Wing Company L
Peter Guenther, Mountain Lake High School

Curt Timm, Planview High School, Plainview AA
"Bee" Lawler, Minnesota
Will Sheehan, Luverne High School
Parr, Winona High School, Winona YMCA
Grant Jacobson, Hamline College, St. Paul YMCA

Team of the Year

1. Fosston High School 14-1, 1st Minnesota State High School champion

2. Duluth Central High School, 3rd place in national high school tournament
3. The Ineligibles
4. Company F
5. The Ascensions
6. Hopkins Athletic Club
7. Chaska
8. Hamline College
9. St. Joseph's Church
10. Red Wing Company G

Coach of the Year

Rev. Fred B. Hill, Carleton College, founded the Minnesota State High School Basketball Tournament

Game of the Year

1. Fosston High School 29 Mountain Lake 27, state high school tournament final

2. Duluth Central 34 Crawfordsville, IN 16
3. The Ascensions 46 Fond du Lac, WI, Company E 27

4. Fond du Lac, WI, Company E 35 St. Joseph's 34
5. Winona YMCA 51 St. Paul YMCA 30

6. St. Joseph's 16 The Ineligibles 15
7. Chaska 23 Fond du Lac, WI, Company E 20
8. Mountain Lake High School 31 Stillwater 24
9. Luverne High School 26 Mankato 22
10. Hopkins Athletic Club 43 The Ascensions 28

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