Hoosier Hysteria born in March 1911

Bluffton boys
Bluffton boys
This is the 1911 Bluffton High School boys basketball team that made it to the first state finals in Bloomington.
By Kerry Hubartt of The News-Sentinel

Basketball may have been born in Massachusetts, but it grew up in Indiana.

And in March 1911 it became a uniquely Indiana way of life with the beginning of Hoosier Hysteria, the Indiana high school basketball tournament.

Yes, it was in the Springfield, Mass., YMCA where Dr. James Naismith first put up a peach basket in 1891. But even the game's inventor said in a speech in 1936, only three years before he died, "Basketball really had its beginning in Indiana, which remains today in the center of the sport."

The game was brought to Indiana in Crawfordsville in 1893 by the Rev. Nicholas McKay, who, instead of peach baskets, put up iron hoops with coffee sacks attached at the YMCA in that central Indiana town. McKay had attended Dr. Naismith's training school in Springfield, and upon his return to Crawfordsville introduced basketball into his physical education program in his capacity as secretary of the local YMCA. According to the Crawfordsville Journal and Review, the first basketball game in the United States played outside of Massachusetts was in Crawfordsville in the spring of 1893.

The game started to grow up. In 1894, the free throw was adopted as a penalty for fouls. In 1896, it became official to have five players on the floor per team. In 1898, dribbling was legalized. In 1906, the bottoms of the coffee bags were allowed to be cut open so somebody didn't have to jump up and tip the ball back through the iron hoop each time a basket was made. In 1908, double-dribbling was prohibited. And in 1910, players were forced to leave the game when they committed their fourth foul.

The first Indiana high school basketball state tournament was held at Indiana University's Assembly Hall on March 10 and 11, 1911. According to Indiana basketball historian Herb Schwomeyer, IU's physical director requested the organization of the first tournament, which was neither endorsed nor opposed by the Indiana High School Athletic Association Board of Control. The board expressed the opinion, however, that the plan wouldn't work. Still, the IU Boosters Club conducted that first tournament, inviting the best team from each of the state's 13 congressional districts to compete. One district was not represented.

Twelve teams played in Bloomington on March 10, 1911, including Bluffton High School, which lost to Crawfordsville 42-16 in the semifinals. Crawfordsville won the first state championship on March 11, beating Lebanon 24-17. The 1911 tournament had never been formally endorsed by the IHSAA, and Crawfordsville's title was not recognized officially until 1957. From that humble beginning Hoosier Hysteria blossomed into a phenomenon recognized throughout the country for its uniqueness. Here in Indiana every March was a state celebration attended by more than a million people. Here, until just last year, every team from every school in the state played in one tournament to determine one champion.

The tourney grew to 13 teams in 1912. District tournaments were held at four sites on March 9 with the state finals again at IU on the 16th. By 1913, the field had grown to 38 teams. There were 77 a year later, 155 by 1915 and 301 by 1918. Sometimes there were district or sectional tournaments to determine the state finals field. Other times all the entries played at various gyms in Bloomington to narrow the field. The finals stayed at IU through the 1918 tournament. Then in 1919 the finals moved to Purdue University in West Lafayette. Ironically, the title that year was won by Bloomington High School.

The tourney moved back to Bloomington in 1920 one more time before moving to Indianapolis.

Throughout the first decade of the state tourney, no Fort Wayne area team ever won or made it as far as the championship game. Bluffton's 1911 performance was the best. Bluffton represented the Third District, comprising Allen, Wells, Steuben, DeKalb, White, Whitley, Huntington and Adams counties. The members of that team were Doster Buckner, Claude Ware, Dwight Fritz, Homer Brumbaugh and Homer Marshall.

Huntington lost to Anderson 29-24 in the 1918 semifinals. Anderson wound up losing to Lebanon in the final game 24-20. Kendallville had made it as far as the quarterfinals the year before, losing to Lebanon. Little Liberty Center in Wells County, not far from Bluffton, lost to eventual champion Lafayette in the 1916 quarterfinals.

While teams from throughout the Fort Wayne area played in at least the early stages of the IHSAA tournament, Fort Wayne didn't make its tourney debut until 1917. The Fort Wayne Sentinel reported that a team of eight players from Fort Wayne High School were to play Waterloo in the first round of the district tournament at Kendallville on March 9, 1917. The article mentioned a send-off of the team by the student body the day before, saying, ". . . the students gave indications of being ready to support the school's teams, at last."

Fort Wayne High School beat Waterloo 65-19, then lost to Angola in the next game 26-19. Angola lost to host Kendallville in the finals. And that was the year Kendallville advanced to the quarterfinals of the tourney in Bloomington.

The Fort Wayne Sentinel's report following the local high school's loss to Angola established the Summit City as a regular player in the state tournament from that point on: "Following a layoff of several years, Fort Wayne has again come into the field of high school athletics and it is expected that the showing of that school next year will be better than ever."

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