IDAHO HISTORY: A century ago, basketball began its rise across Idaho, the world

SPECIAL TO THE STATESMANJanuary 12, 2014 

Soon after the game of basketball, now played in more than a hundred countries around the world, got its start in 1892 in Springfield, Mass., at the YMCA training school, Boise’s YMCA had teams that played each other and high school teams in the area. The Idaho Statesman and other newspapers regularly reported on the games, often with strong home-town bias.

The Emmett Index, for example, was most unhappy with the outcome of a game between its high school boys and a Boise YMCA team played on Jan. 12, 1907: “Prize Fighters Won — Slugging Tactics of Boise Wins Basketball Game. The next time the Emmett basketball team goes to Boise for a game they will take with them a hospital and ambulance corps fully equipped with all appliances for the sewing up of wounds, cutting off of limbs, and setting of fractured bones.”

Many who wanted to see that game couldn’t get seats, and the Index fumed: “They even charged the Emmett crowd 50 cents admission while Boise paid 25 cents.” (How the door-keepers knew who the Weiser supporters were is not explained). The score was Boise 40, Emmett 20, but only because of what the Index called “Boise’s disgraceful tactics.” A rematch was scheduled to be played in Emmett on Feb. 9, 1907, but, the paper said, “Slugging won’t be allowed this time.” Emmett won that one in overtime 26-24.

When the Weiser High girls beat the Boise High girls 15-11 at Weiser on March 20, 1908, the Statesman reported: “The game was clean and interesting, few fouls being recorded, though the visiting team made most of its points on fouls. The first half resulted in a score of 9 to 6 in favor of Weiser. Marguerite West, one of the Boise forwards, was hurt in the second half and was unable to finish the game. Her injuries are not serious.”

In 1909, a Boise City League was formed with teams sponsored by local merchants. In December that year, 600 fans turned out to watch two games played in the new high school gymnasium between University of Idaho and Boise High teams and Caldwell and Boise girls teams. Not surprisingly, the university team won 23-9 while holding the high-school boys to a single field goal. The Boise girls won their game 12-10. Although his name is not mentioned in the Statesman story, it is possible that Moscow native Clarence “Hec” Edmundson, one of the first great athletes and coaches in Idaho sports history, played in that game. His illustrious career and my personal memories of him are the subject of next week’s column.

In the 1920s basketball flourished all over Idaho. Nampa formed a city league made up of teams sponsored by the American Legion, Nampa Free Press, Knights of Columbus, Oregon Short Line, and Nampa High School. Boise YMCA and Boise High School teams met regularly for years before new high schools Borah in 1958 and Capital in 1965 were created. Scores were still low, and play was deliberate, since the fast-break style of play had not been created yet. On New Year’s Day, 1921, the YMCA beat the high school 28-12. In April that year the First National Bank team won the championship of the Boise Commercial League.

In 1926 the big news in Idaho basketball was a University of Idaho team that beat Hec Edmundson’s Washington Huskies team for the second time that season 31-27, and the Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State) 24-13. In March 1926, Lewiston High School won the state championship and traveled to Chicago to play for the national high school championship. They lost 25-24 to a team from Pine Bluff, Ark. The winning team from Fitchburg, Mass., was multi-ethnic, with players whose backgrounds were Italian, Finnish, Greek and Nova Scotian, and the coach was French — a microcosm of a sport that would become truly international.

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email histnart@mindspring.com.

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