Basketball was invented on a rainy December day in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith, director of physical education at the YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts. After much experimentation and tweaking, the first official game was played at the YMCA in Albany, New York on January 20, 1892. Over the next decade, the YMCA worked hard to spread their new sport. The first basketball game in Chemung County was played in the Elmira YMCA gymnasium in 1898 and the city’s first league was established in 1900. It initially consisted of four teams – the Easters, the Northers, the Southers, and the Westers – but new teams were created as the sport gained in popularity.
|YMCA Easters featuring Gene Banker, Ed Deister, Herman Lamb, Ralph Sartor, and some other people, ca. 1900|
In 1917, the Neighborhood House organized the semi-pro NH City League which ran until the 1950s. The Neighborhood House Currents, the YMCA Blackhawks, and the Eclipse Machines were the powerhouses of the league, but there were nearly a dozen other teams sponsored by local businesses and organizations as well. Teams played before packed houses at the Elmira Armory. Chemung County teams also participated in regional leagues. The YMCA Blackhawks, Neighborhood House Currents, St. Casimir’s Eagles and Horseheads Merchants all joined the New York-Penn League when it was established in 1937. Some later leagues include the Regional League (early 1940s); the YMCA Blackhawk League (late 1940s- mid 1960s); and the Southern Tier Basketball Association (1950s). Elmira was even home to a professional team which briefly played for the NY-P Pro League in the 1930s and the American Basketball League in the 1950s.
|Eclipse Machines, 1942-3, featuring Coach Jim Deegan, Jack asey, Leon Popelewski, Leo Makovitch, Tom Sabran. Jack Biggs, Bill Cieri, Bill Young, Bud Sink and John Gableman.|
|Neighborhood House Currents, 1944 champions, featuring Nelson Collins, Bruce Hurst, Roland & Howard Coleman, Tommy Reid, Jim Snowden, Nap Shepard, and Bill Lewis.|
Beginning in the 1920s, the YMCA and the Neighborhood House hosted post-season tournaments and exhibition games. These tournaments not only featured the usual local talent, but also attracted college players and teams from around the state. Most of these tournaments petered out in the 1970s due, in part, to NCAA rule changes about what players could do in the off season and the fact fans could now watch the pros on TV.
|Program for exhibition game between EFA Blue Devils (featuring Ernie Davis) and the Syracuse Devils, 1958|
Of course, this blog barely scratches the surface in terms of amateur basketball. All of the local public high schools have teams and, over the years, there have been a number of youth leagues as well. Then there are the factory teams and women’s leagues. They are, however, all stories for another day.
|Neighborhood House Youth League champions for all age divisions, 1934-5.|