Minnesota Won First Ever Game! (Maybe!)
BREAKING NEWS: In 1895 Hamline College . . .
“Uh, Dave. Isn’t there something about 1895 that’s inconsistent with “BREAKING NEWS?”
I’m telling you, this is huge! I’m absolutely positive that in 1895 Hamline did not lose the first intercollegiate game. Though I should add something - I’m not entirely sure.
“That makes no sense, Dave.”
Well, I have a whole lot of research saying I’m definitely right. But I’ve also been married for a while.
I have a whole lot of years of hearing I’m always wrong.
“Who's even claiming that Hamline lost the first intercollegiate game?”
Pretty much everyone. There’s the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Sports Illustrated (well, For Kids), NCAA, History Channel, Master Class, Quizlet, Boys Life as well as numerous books including encyclopedias by Inside Sports and ESPN.
Yeah, and I probably left one out.
Ok, I probably left two out.
But I honestly don’t want to offend any of those sources by saying they made a mistake. More importantly, I don’t want to get sued.
And how could I possibly denigrate them? I literally can’t survive without many of them. I once lost access to ESPN, and my daughter thought I was having a heart attack. She got on her phone yelling, “Get here quick or my dad is going to die!” It was amazing - in less than five minutes the cable company arrived.
“Ok Dave, why don’t you tell us why they're wrong and you're definitely right.”
That’s definitely right, maybe.
Heck, I’m no historian, just College Basketball Times’ humor writer.
“Aren’t you also its president?”
HOW I DISCOVERED HAMLINE DIDN'T LOSE (Possibly)
Ok, see it started when I came upon what seemed to be the greatest website in all of cyberspace: TheDailyGopher. Disappointment set in once I realized it was not dedicated to daily news about Caddyshack.
I mean how can you call yourself TheDailyGopher and not at least have a quote like, “Licensed to kill gophers;” or “In the words of Jean Paul Sartre: ‘Au revoir gopher.’”
Instead, it has nothing but articles about the Minnesota Gold
en Gophers including a blog by a guy who goes by “Hipster Gopher.” I asked my wife if I could pull off Hipster as part of my moniker. And now I go by Dave.
It was there that I discovered the assertion that Hamline College lost the first intercollegiate game to the Minnesota State School of Agriculture on February 9, 1895 on a court with 9 foot ceilings. I’m guessing that made it somewhat difficult to shoot at 10-foot rims.
And those rims belonged to peach baskets. Yes, it was also peach baskets that Naismith’s YMCA boys employed a few years earlier. This begs the question: How unbelievably popular were peaches then?
The blog claims the Hamline game took place either on a handball court or in the science building. Not sure how those two can be confused. That’s kind of like saying, “I can’t remember if I went to Paris or Detroit.”
It additionally has a photo of a team all clad in tight black t-shirts, slicked back hair and handle bar mustaches. Unclear if that’s the 1895 Hamline squad, but there is near certainty that we’ve found the inspiration for Freddy Mercury’s look.
So after confirming most of this with the previously noted impeccable sources, I came across something quite amazing - the existence of two books entirely about the Minnesota State School of Agriculture.
Amongst the facts I learned was that the toilet facilities were “adequately supplied” by a shed-like structure about 100 feet back of the building. That seems both way too close and way too far depending on whether you are the one who has to go, or one who has to, well, inhale.
I also found a fantastic description of the connected farm “as having a good variety of soil. Unfortunately, it had a variety of soils- none of them very good.”
And the first land grant for that farm was from Mr. Pillsbury. At this point I’ll pause so you can envision a big chuck of land being handed over by the Pillsbury Dough Boy.
Then there’s this little fact: The Minnesota State School of Agriculture was not a college.
Here’s what I do know. The University of Minnesota created a college of agriculture and in the 1870s that college, well let’s just say, struggled. In 1875 it had a whopping three students, but two dropped out leaving just one. The next year there were two students and, sadly, one dropped out. Then in 1877 there was, yup, only one student.
At that point the professor received a reprimand for swearing. Not exactly sure what he said but my guess is, “We only have one #@&%ing student again?!”
Eventually the folks in charge learned that there was far more demand for a practical school than an agricultural college. So the Minnesota State School of Agriculture was created to decidedly not be a college. I kind of think that's worth repeating: the Minnesota State School of Agriculture was created to decidedly not be a college.
The students were awarded certificates, not degrees. Received instruction from teachers, not professors. Were led by a principal, not a dean. Entered with a common school, not a high school, education. And obtained admission at 14 or 15, not 17 or 18. Odds are, none were named Sheldon Cooper.
One more fact from “The History of the School of Agriculture” - a book I assure you was not nearly as exciting as its title. The school appears to have ceased around 1960 due in part to a desire by students for college credit. Yeah, it seems like if you are not getting college credit, you are not going to a college.
“Uh, Dave tell me again why you aren’t sure this wasn’t a college?”
See there’s a part of me that’s thinking, “I may have a major find here!” And I could become the College Hoops History Dude. There’s also a part that’s thinking that something entirely different could be discovered. And I could become the College Hoops Geraldo Rivera.
Let’s face it, on one hand we have the above list of sources that all come with some heavy hitting credibility. And on the other hand there’s me - a guy whose current claim to fame is being the only person on the planet to have read not one but two books about the Minnesota State School of Agriculture.
So to confirm the validity of my find, I figured I needed some wholly unbiased opinions. I initially turned to my two daughters. Yes, two people who are completely reliant on me for food, water, shelter and access to Spotify.
They reported back stating, “We think you’re right; the school was not a college. There’s just one thing though - Mom says you are always wrong.”
I then got ahold of University of Minnesota’s archivist Ellen Holt-Werle who clarified that though the students at the school could go on to the college, most were there to just learn farming skills. And I’d like to clarify that neither Ellen nor I are denigrating working on a farm. I actually did so one summer. My job involved, well, shoveling. I’d say it served as great preparation for the years I spent as a lawyer.
I next contacted the archivist at Hamline College - Candy Hart. If my last name was Hart I would absolutely want my child named Candy. And my wife would absolutely say no.
(Here is my list of children's names that my wife rejected: Biggie Barend, Bam Bam Barend, Bacon-Mmm Barend, Boutros Boutros Barend, and Dave Barend - my wife's least favorite.)
Candy gave me a brand new reason to question some of the sources claiming that the Minnesota State School of Agriculture Aggies beat the Hamline Porkers in 1895. She asserted there is no record of Hamline actually being called the Porkers. Come on Candy. You can’t spell Hamline without ham.
Just like Ellen though, Candy could find no contemporaneous articles about the game, nor even a roster. I then recalled no mention of this game in either of the, not one but two, books I read about the Minnesota State School of Agriculture. At that point I had a brilliant thought - I’ll start referring to the Minnesota State School of Agriculture as MSSA. Yeah, a thought I should have had a bit earlier.
GREAT NEWS FOR HAMLINE (Seemingly)
So now I know of at least 2 books that indicate that MSSA was not a college, and at least 2 archivists who can’t confirm its game with Hamline on February 9, 1895 even took place. That seems to lead to undeniable good news for Hamline: You did not lose the first ever college game!
“Yes Dave you are right.”
No I’m not.
I found an article in the Hamline newspaper from just over a year ago which quoted head coach Jim Hayes as saying, “Our story tradition goes way back – obviously. The first intercollegiate game ever, so . . . we talk about it with our guys all the time.”
It appears that Hamline takes pride in being known for hosting the first game - which it lost.
Got to say that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I mean Germany hosted the first ever World War, lost, and I’m nearly certain they aren’t all that proud of it.
It would be like being elated for hosting the first ever children’s birthday party despite losing.
“Uh Dave, how do you lose at a children’s party.”
Trust me everyone loses at a children’s birthday party.
But now I feel bad for Hamline, and would really like to find another “first” for them. I came up with this: It is without doubt that Hamline hosted the “first” game that people “first” thought was the “first” intercollegiate basketball game. Doubt remains whether Coach Hayes will talk about that with his guys all the time.
I even searched for an old, broad definition of college. The Education Encyclopedia actually states that the rise of agricultural programs in the late 1800s led to broader definitions of college. Yet somehow I couldn't find a single definition of college broad enough to include schools created decidedly to not be a college.
While inexplicably searching for further meanings of college, I came across a reference to a February 1895 article purportedly about the Hamline-MSSA game. Sadly it was actually about a later game and provided no additional insight into the definition of college. The article was, however, preceded by the following line: “Mrs Whitman entertained the Hamline Excelsior club at dinner Friday evening.” I then became more interested in the definition of entertained.
I did find language in "The Early History and Background of the School of Agriculture" stating that MSSA “is not a high school.” There you go Hamline - simply point to that. Although you would have to ignore the words that immediately followed: “nor was it a college.”
THE ANSWER TO WHO PLAYED IN THE FIRST GAME (Perhaps)
Temple’s 6 to 4 loss at Haverford on March 23, 1895 could rightly be considered the first game. Or so claims Rich Westcott’s “The Champions of Philadelphia”. I should mention this assertion can also be found online at Jersey Man Magazine - a great site despite the absence of a section focused solely on The Sopranos.
Liz Jones-Minsinger. Haverford’s archivist, not only confirmed the game took place, but actually had a box score. I learned that Douglas Howe Adams scored every point for the “Fords”. He even has a Wikipedia page, but it merely states that he was an American cricketeer. [Note to self: take up cricket and achieve dream of getting own Wikipedia page.]
Liz also divulged that Haverford did not field an official varsity team until 1918.
“What does that mean?”
It means my quest continues.
I came upon a copy of the November 26, 1894 Philadelphia Inquirer and learned that Drexel beat Temple 3 days earlier, 26-1.
“Wait minute Dave. How does one just come across an 1894 copy of the Philadelphia Inquirer?”
One doesn’t. But if I told the whole story how I found it, this article might start feeling long.
After confirming that with Temple archivist Margery Sly, I spoke with Drexel’s Matthew Lyons who likewise affirmed the drubbing of Temple by the Drexel Institute. Which led me to ask, “Institute?” Yup, the school didn’t start offering degrees till many years later. I then asked him to hold while I banged my head against the wall.
Next I brought my findings to Phil Porretta of the famed Premo-Porretta College Basketball Rankings that date back to the late 1800s. Phil wanted me to make it clear that it’s his rankings that date back to the 1800s, not him.
Phil believes that because Drexel had professors and taught high level classes, he’d consider the Temple-Drexel game to be the college first. But he added something to that: maybe.
See, he knew of 3 other games that deserve consideration:
University of Chicago definitely played University of Iowa on January 18, 1896. But the Iowa team, much like the Haverford team, wasn’t an official varsity team.
University of Minnesota beat Macalester on January 27, 1896, and it appears both were college teams, possibly.
Yale beat Penn on March 20, 1897 (32-10) which could be considered to be the first college game given that they played 5 on 5.
That MSSA-Hamline game had 9 on each side. Yes, 18 players on the court. The ball must have looked like a crowd-surfer at a Green Day concert.
“And your ultimate conclusion about this is . . .?”
I can state emphatically and unequivocally that, as opposed to the statements in the previously listed sources (that I respect immensely), Hamline did not lose the first intercollegiate game to the Minnesota State School of Agriculture.
“Oh go ahead Dave.”
To assess the magnitude of this discovery, I went to USBWA Hall of Famer and long-time owner of Basketball Times, John Akers. He said this find falls somewhere between huge and of no importance at all. That might be the most accurate statement in this entire article.
The College Basketball Times board of advisors, however, thinks this story borders on Earth shattering news. They think I needed to finish it ASAP. Yeah, there’s a problem with having a board of advisors - they give advice.
They think that the attention this will garner for College Basketball Times will be massive. They think it will lead to multitudes of generous donations for our non-profit mission of equal coverage for women and all levels of college hoops - including wheelchair. They think we’ll have so much money that we’ll be able to achieve our goal of giving scholarships and wheelchairs to those in need. And I think they are way off.
For them to be right, people will actually read this far. Or at least far enough to be able to see the below donate button.
But hey, nothing would make me happier if they are right. And I could be wrong.
“You’re always wrong Dave.”
Who said that?
College Basketball Times is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization. If you enjoyed this article, please considering making a small donation by clicking the button below. All articles, and the operation of this site, are made possible through these generous donations.
[Special thanks to Mark Poutenis for his artwork and to David Prior for his graphic design.]