THE ORIGINS OF BASKETBALL AT THE UNIVERSITY OF IOWA

 

 

 

In 1891 a young man named Henry Kal1enberg left Springfield, Massachusetts and came to the University of Iowa to study medicine and to serve as the director of the newly built University YMCA building, named Close Hall. He left behind in Springfield two close friends, Amos Alonzo Stagg, who would shortly go to the University of Chicago where he would become an athletic legend, and James Naismith, a young physical education instructor at the YMCA College in Springfield.

 

In the fall of 1891, James Naismith attempted to devise an indoor game that would interest his bored physical education classes. What he came up with was basketball. After he tried it out with his own students he wrote to many of his friends around the country, sending them the rules he had devised, asking them to try it with their own students and to let him know what they thought of it. Among those to whom he sent the rules was Henry Kallenberg. According to Kallenberg's daughters, he introduced the game to his YMCA classes during the Christmas break in 1891, very shortly after he received Naismith's letter. Many years later, James Naismith, in his autobiography, stated that it was either in Iowa City or in Geneva, New York, where basketball was first played outside of Springfield, Massachusetts. In any case, it is clear that Iowa City was one of the first places to experiment with this new game.

 

While little is written about the game in Iowa City in the next few years, it is clear that the game continued to be played. A photograph of the gym in Close Hall published in the Vidette-Reporter in 1892, clearly shows a peach basket nailed to the balcony at one end of the gym.

 

It has been claimed that the first intercollegiate game between five-player teams was between the University of Iowa and the University of Chicago, and took place in Close Hall gymnasium. Claiming first is always difficult and often obscure. As often as not, the claim depends on how the terms are defined. That is the case with this claim. A game did indisputably take place between two teams in Close Hall in January of 1895. The University of Chicago team was a fully sponsored university team, but the team from the University of Iowa was a university YMCA team, one not officially recognized by the University. The YMCA was a university organization, although non-university men were welcome to belong and use the facilities. As far as I know, all the players in that team were University of Iowa students. However, since the University of Iowa did not recognize basketball as a sanctioned varsity sport until after 1900, the University of Iowa team in that 1895 game cannot quite be called an official university team, or the game an official intercollegiate game. In any event the University of Iowa lost.

 

David Hudson

Acquisitions Librarian

State Historical Society of Iowa

 

 

 

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