Naismith: Never Forgotten
Historian David Thelen once said, “The challenge of history is to recover the past and introduce it to the present.” Like many high school students, I don’t always appreciate the rich history behind everyday things, but history is everywhere –- sometimes you can even find it on a basketball court.
Basketball. The word brings back fun-filled memories for me. I have played backyard basketball, Parks & Recreation basketball, Optimist basketball, Mid-America Youth Basketball, middle school basketball and high school basketball. My dad played a big role in my love for the sport by coaching my teams and taking me to KU games. When I was younger I dreamed of playing on the University of Kansas court where basketball legends played before me. Although that will probably never happen, it turns out that I have been playing basketball for years in a gymnasium that was dedicated by the creator of game, Dr. James Naismith. Let me introduce you to a piece of Holton High School’s history.
The game of “basket ball” (originally two words) was created by Dr. James Naismith, a divinity school graduate, on December 21, 1891, when he was a physical education instructor at a YMCA training school in Springfield. On February 2, 1931, Dr. Naismith was a guest speaker at the dedication ceremony of Holton High School’s new gymnasium. Approximately 1,000 people showed up to hear the “father of basketball’s” speech, and to watch the “father of basketball coaching” – Phog Allen – referee that night’s game. (Holton Recorder, 5 February 1931) In honor of the event, Holton Bottling Works donated 1,100 bottles of orange soda water especially for the occasion. (Holton Signal, 5 February 1931)
Dr. Naismith’s son, Jimmy, married Holton High School graduate Frances Pomeroy on August 9, 1933. (Holton Recorder, 10 August 1933) Pomeroy, described in Holton High School’s 1928 yearbook, The Retrospect, as “… the cream of her class; pretty and kind, a well-liked lass,” attended the University of Kansas where she graduated with a bachelor degree in science and architecture. The wedding ceremony was performed by the groom’s father, Dr. Naismith.
Jimmy Naismith suspected that his dad’s basketball rules might be worth something someday, so he had his dad sign and date them in 1931. Before he died, Dr. Naismith gave the original copy of the “basket ball” rules to Jimmy and Frances. They stored the rules for years in a secret drawer of a large sideboard that Dr. Naismith made himself with an ax. When Jimmy joined the Navy during World War II, Frances took their children, Jim, Frances Ann and Ian, along with the rules of basketball, to stay with various relatives in the Midwest, including a stay at her parent’s farm near Holton. (Sports Illustrated Magazine, 25 November, 2002)
To honor Dr. Naismith for his contribution to sports, on February 14, 1936, Holton High School, along with hundreds of other schools in the nation, held a tribute game for the father of basketball. Schools dedicated a percentage of their gate receipts to a fund that was used to send Dr. Naismith to Berlin, Germany, for the Olympic games, where basketball was played for the first time as an Olympic sport. (Holton Recorder, 13 February, 1936)
The heirs of Jimmy and Frances Naismith eventually sold the rules in December 2010 for $4.3 million. As a tribute to his grandfather, Dr. James Naismith, and to his mother, Holton High School graduate Frances Pomeroy Naismith, Ian Naismith recently offered to allow Holton High School to name its gymnasium after his grandfather. Naismith’s connection to Holton is significant. Recognizing him is a great opportunity for the Holton community to give life to a piece of history that might otherwise be forgotten.
“Bride for Naismith.” Holton Recorder. 10 August, 1933. Print. “Gymnasium is Dedicated.” Holton Recorder. 5 February, 1931. Page 1. Print
“New Gymnasium Dedicated Monday.” Holton Signal. 5 February, 1931. Page 1. Print.
“The Olden Rules.” Sports Illustrated Vault. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1027613/1/index.htm. 25 November, 2002. Internet.
The Retrospect. 1928. Page 20. Print
“Tribute Game for Father of Basket Ball.” Holton Recorder. 13 February, 1936. Page 1. Print.
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