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Mar 20, 2020

As many basketball fans know, the sport was not invented in Indiana. It was created during the winter of 1891-92 by Dr. James Naismith, a physician and physical education coordinator at a YMCA in Springfield, Mass.

Chandler LightyBut basketball took off like wildfire in the Hoosier state and became a core part of its cultural identity. For many generations of hoops lovers, the first competitive (non-exhibition) game on Indiana soil has been identified as a game played at a YMCA in Crawfordsville on March 16, 1894. In that game, the Crawfordsville Y's team defeated a team from the YMCA in Lafayette by a score of 45-21.

In recent years, though, research by historian Chandler Lighty has raised questions about whether the "first" distinction is accurate regarding the Crawfordsville site. Chandler says he has found earlier references to basketball games played in Evansville, Indianapolis and elsewhere across Indiana in newspapers from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. References continue to be discovered as bygone and obscure newspapers are digitized and become easier to search.

As Chandler joins Nelson in studio to talk about the earliest years of Indiana basketball, the question of whether the first game was played in Crawfordsville - which often touts itself as "the cradle of Indiana basketball" - is sure to be among the topics.

Matt Werner.But the show also will explore such questions as why the sport - often called "basket ball" (two words) in early accounts - became beloved so rapidly in Indiana. Undeniably, its popularity grew fastest in a region that includes Crawfordsville and Lebanon. In 1911, Crawfordsville High School won the state's first high school basketball tournament. Lebanon High School captured the title in 1912, 1917 and 1918.

To share insights about the earliest era of the sport, Chandler and Nelson will be joined by Matt Werner, an author and historian who lives on his family's farm near the town of Union Mills in LaPorte County. Matt has written several books focused on Indiana heritage, including Season of Upsets: Farm Boys, City Kids, Hoosier Basketball and the Dawn of the 1950s (2014).

Even Dr. Naismith, the inventor of basketball, paid tribute to the sport's exceptional popularity in Indiana when he visited the state to attend the high school tournament in 1936. After witnessing "Hoosier Hysteria" among thousands of spectators, Naismith said:

"Basketball really had its beginnings in Indiana, which today remains the center of the sport."

In the beginning, the game was played with two peach baskets and a soccer ball. In 1892, Dr. Naismith published 13 rules for the new sport in The Triangle, a national YMCA newsletter that, as Chandler Lighty notes, could have been seen by YMCA directors across Indiana nearly simultaneously.

Chandler initially described his conclusions about the earliest Hoosier games in an article in the Indiana Magazine of History. He continues to update his research as more newspaper accounts from the 1890s become accessible. As he summed it up for the Evansville Courier-Press in March 2019 : 

"What I hope people understand is that basketball popped up in multiple locations across Indiana ...within months of each other."