Many of us played basketball as students in school, and some of us still love to talk about those games even after years have passed. Basketball has been around a long time and Pea Ridge has quite a basketball tradition. But, basketball hasn't been around forever. The game took years to arrive at the state of development we enjoy today.
Basketball was invented in 1891 in Springfield, Mass. Dr. James Naismith, a physical education teacher for the YMCA Training School, was looking for a new game to keep his students fit through the long, cold New England winters. He nailed up peach baskets as goals, and his teams at first played the game using a soccer ball. So the name "basketball" came about because the goals were baskets, the wooden baskets used for shipping peaches or apples. Those were the bushel size, of course, not the peck size that we often see today. At first, the baskets still had bottoms, so when a player scored a "basket," someone had to climb up, take the ball out and put it back into play. Later, a hole was cut in the basket so a pole could be used to bump the ball out. Obviously the early basketball equipment was not the greatest.
Probably many of us could tell our own stories about playing basketball even when our equipment was not the greatest. My dad tells such a story from his playing days at Garfield.
Garfield had a high school until 1949, before consolidation with Rogers. Dad played basketball for Garfield during the late 1920s and early 1930s, and graduated from Garfield High School in 1933. In those days, Benton County had many more schools than we have today. For example, between Pea Ridge and Garfield was Cross Lanes School, Central School, Liberty School and Brightwater School.
Dad tells of his Garfield team going to Brightwater for a game. Garfield had a strong basketball team, very competitive in the county, but the game at Brightwater presented a vexing surprise for the visitors. At the end of the first period, Garfield was ahead by 2 to 0. Even the best shooters weren't scoring. Every shot bounced or rolled off the rim. Garfield finally won the game by something like 5 to 2. Dad doesn't remember the exact score. Normally his team scored 40 to 50 points.
It seems that when the Brightwater boys wanted to start basketball, the local blacksmith volunteered to make goal hoops. The boys gave him a basketball, and he measured it and shaped and welded the hoops for them. Although basketball hoop size was standardized by that time, the blacksmith hadn't seen those specifications, so he made the hoops to fit the ball.
Lots of exciting basketball has been played without great facilities and equipment. In the early 1900s, schools often didn't have gymnasiums, so games were played on outdoor courts. Pea Ridge got its first true indoor gymnasium in 1931, with the help of the Works Projects Administration (WPA). Actually there had been an earlier "gym" located on a site now occupied by the Park Motel in Pea Ridge, but that "gym" was an uncompleted building with a plank floor and concrete walls, and it had no roof.
Interestingly, Pea Ridge had great basketball teams in those days; teams that were competitive at the state level. The old 1931 gym is now just a memory and a parking lot, but many of us who attended Pea Ridge High School between 1931 and the 1970s remember great games and events held there, county tournaments, tremendous victories, heartbreaking defeats, school plays, commencements and so on. When I was a senior, in 1957, we lost a home game to Prairie Grove by 1 point. We had never beaten Prairie Grove, and what a victory that could have been! It was almost, but not quite. That loss is still painful 50 years later.
Avid basketball players often find ways to make do, even when they don't have the greatest equipment. At home, our basketball court was the flat area in front of the barn. Our backboard was the hayloft door, and our goal was a hoop that had been used to hold a burlap feed sack while feed was scooped into the bag. Some kids made a wobbly rim from a barrel hoop tacked above their garage door. The love of basketball has inspired lots of innovation, as players have made do with what they could find, until they could work out something better.
Editor's note: This article was originally published June 4, 2008. Jerry Nichols, a native of Pea Ridge and an award-winning columnist, is vice president of Pea Ridge Historical Society. Opinions expressed are those of the writer. He can be contacted by e-mail at [email protected], or call 621-1621.