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Early Basketball: In The Red River Valley


Kris Baldwin

Junior High Division

The Aztec or Maya Indians played a game similar to basketball. They had a vertical ring on a pole and tried to bounce a large hard rubber ball through it using their arms, head, or legs. The scoring was so difficult that the game usually ended when a point was scored.

The game basketball was originated in 1891 by Jim Naismith. They didn't use vertical hoops on poles or bounce rubber balls off their heads in an attempt to score.

Originally, they used two bushel baskets nailed on balconies on opposite sides of the court. The five players would dribble and throw the ball in an attempt to score. To score, a player had to carefully shoot the soccer ball so it would land in the basket. When a basket was scored, the rescue squad had to come in and retrieve the ball with a ladder.

One of the earliest basketball teams in Humboldt was not a high school team, but an organized town group. The team played in the top of Mamey Jury's store, which was also a theater.

Humboldt high school basketball started in 1934. My father was in the seventh grade. Most of the players had never even seen a basketball game before they started running laps and working out to get in shape.

In Humboldt, at that time, there were no shower facilities where they played. They usually had to walk home, maybe three or four miles, before they could clean up after a game or practice.

For the first two years, Humboldt's team didn't win a game. Finally, they scored their first victory over Pembina. It was a low scoring game, ending in a fifteen to nine victory. One of the first games Humboldt played was against Halma. The score ended about in a forty-two to two victory for Halma. The points Humboldt scored were usually free throws. The few times Humboldt recovered the ball the more experienced opposing team easily stole the ball.

The rules have changed from what they were then. When a score was made the teams would go to the center and jump for the ball. This definitely slowed up the game. If the opposing team had a tall center that could jump it would definitely influence who would get the ball and who would win the game.

Basketball was slow getting to our area because there weren’t many facilities in which the team could play basketball. Humboldt's basketball court was set up in the old town hall.

The town hall wasn't as big as it is now, and it didn’t have the stage in it. They had wooden backboards that were as high as the ceiling. The baskets were the same as they are today, with a string net on a metal loop. The basketballs were leather with a rubber balloon lining that was filled with air. It was closed with laces to keep the air in, and hold the ball together.

With the ceilings being so low, a player had to be careful in shooting. If the ball hit the ceiling, it was still counted in bounds and the game would continue when the ball came down. Most of the shooting was underhand, diaper dan style, or a shot with very little arch with aback hand spin. It would spin backwards and go in when it hit the backboard.

Hallock's basketball team played in the Grand Theater when there wasn't a show on. The seats were folded up and put along the wall so there was room to play. Many of the tournaments were held there until1936 when Hallock started building a new high school and gym, which is now the elementary school building. Most of the basketball courts had large potbellied stoves for heating the playing area. They were usually situated on the end or side of the basketball court. They had to be careful when they played if they didn't have any kind of barriers around them.

Most of the local teams we play now had teams in the 1930's.Humboldt scored many victories over Kennedy, and back then that was a tremendous feat, and it still is. A few of the local men that played on the Humboldt High School Team were as follows: Earl Bahr, AlfredRustad Jr., Don Brown, Mark Baldwin, Jerry Diamond and Ross Armstrong. Joe Giffen, who was living in the Humboldt area until just recently, played on the St. Vincent High School team.

The basketball teams sometimes wore kneepads to keep from getting bad floor burns. Otherwise, most of the equipment is the same as it is presently. There usually was only one referee in the game to call the fouls and the other illegal procedures during the game.

My father recalls having his teeth pierce through his bottom lip when another player and he were fighting to recover the ball. An opposing player rammed his head backwards into his jaw. My father got his lip taped and then finished playing the second half of the game.

In the 1930's, Humboldt's colors weren't purple and white. They were maroon and gold. My mother was a cheerleader for Kennedy and helped raise the spirit in the team and fans. Some of the cheers and chants were as follows:

Orange 'n black, orange 'n black,
Hold 'em, hold 'em, hold 'em back:

Shoot 'em high, shoot 'em low,
Come on gang, let's go, go, go!

Krumkaker, pancakes
Peaches 'n cream,
All for Kennedy
Stand up and scream!

Lutefisk 'n lefsa,
Cornbread 'n cream
Kennedy High School
Basketball team!

Their cheerleading outfits were long black skirts just below their knees, bobby socks, black and white saddle shoes, and black cardigan sweaters with their orange and black letters.

Many of the sports in which we participate today were developed by people many years ago to keep themselves active and physically fit.

Today, girls are also very active in sports. In the Red River Valley area, most girls can participate in girls' basketball, volleyball, cheerleading, broomball, tennis, and other various sports.

The spirit and enjoyment of athletic sports that were shared by our ancestors from generation to generation has made us the human beings we are today.


Baldwin, Joyce, Humboldt, Interview - - January 9, 1975

Baldwin, Mark, Humboldt, Interview - - January 5, 1975

"Basketball", World Book Encyclopedia, 1972 Ed.,vol. 2, pp. 106-111.

Hutton, Joe, Basketball, Mankato, Creative Educational Society Inc., 1966


Hutton, Joe, Basketball, Mankato, Creative Educational Society Inc., 1966