Category Archives: Sports History

A Brief History of Williston Northampton Basketball

By Douglas Stark '90

This is adapted from an article that originally appeared in the January 1999 Williston Northampton Bulletin.  At that time Doug Stark was Librarian and Archivist at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. Today he is Museum Director at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, RI.  He is the author of The SPHAS: The Life and Times of Basketball’s Greatest Jewish Team (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2011) and coauthor of Tennis and the Newport Casino (Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2011).

From The Willistonian, January 2, 1898.
From The Willistonian, January 2, 1898.

On a cold, wintery northeast night in 1898, a group of five Williston Seminary students “lined up for the first time . . . in a regular game, and defeated their opponents, the Y.M.C.A. of Northampton, by a score of 12-10.”  The Jan. 29, 1898 Willistonian reported that Williston’s first basketball game “excited much interest in the school.  The fellows turned out to a man, also several members of the faculty were present, as well as a representation of townspeople” to witness first hand this “new and intriguing game.”

In 1898, basketball was still in its infancy, having been created just seven years earlier at the School for Christian Workers (now Springfield College) in Springfield, MA.  In the winter of 1891, Dr. James Naismith, a recent graduate of McGill University, enrolled as a student-instructor in a school that trained YMCA general secretaries and physical education instructors.  Asked to create a game to occupy a class of “incorrigibles” between the football and baseball seasons, Naismith invented basketball.  After hanging two peach baskets at both ends of the gymnasium balcony and dividing the 18-man class into two nine-man teams, Naismith put the first ball, a soccer ball, into play.  Legend has it that only one basket was scored in that game.

Almost immediately, the game took off and spread quickly through the YMCAs.  Within a few years, the game was being played in 15 different countries and in colleges from the East to West Coasts.  Due to the rough play associated with the early game and the growing need for more court time, the YMCA banned basketball from its gyms in 1898.  Later that year, basketball was introduced at Williston Seminary, one of the first high schools in the country to embrace the game. Continue reading

Joseph Lynch and Williston Basketball

by Richard Teller '70, Archivist
Joseph Lynch '10 (1910 Log)
Joseph Lynch ’10 (1910 Log)

This is presented as an addendum to Doug Stark’s article on the History of Williston Basketball.  Without question, our first “great” player was Joe Lynch, class of 1910, who was inducted into the Williston Northampton Athletic Hall of Fame on June 7, 2014.  These remarks were delivered at that event.

I’m here to present Joseph Lynch, Williston Seminary class of 1910, for the Athletic Hall of Fame.  Joe was an Irish kid from Holyoke, who attended Holyoke High School before enrolling in the Middle Class — what we would now call the 10th grade — at Williston.  Other than that, we don’t know much about him.  I’d like to say that he presented the prep school ideal of the scholar-athlete, but I’m afraid that his grades don’t bear that out.  The archives actually have a paper that he wrote, about the financier Edward Harriman, that is reasonably literate and shows some insight.  Other than that, there’s not much.  His 1910 classmates elected him “Best Athlete,” as well as “Merriest,” “Biggest Rough-Houser,” and “Biggest Bluffer.”  His yearbook notes that he was “a lover of nature,” and a member of the F. C. Fraternity, about which we know little, and something called the Vigilance Committee, about which our ignorance is probably a blessing.

Joseph Lynch excelled in sports.  He played right guard on an intramural football team, but he was in his element in baseball and basketball.  Joe was the first baseman on the Williston Nine for three reasonably successful years — although interestingly, Holy Cross turned him into a pitcher.  And there is a suggestion that he struck out more often than his friends and teammates might have liked.

But in basketball, Joe Lynch was unstoppable.  Standing six-foot-one, towering over his teammates in an era when kids were simply shorter than today, he was an ideal center.  His long arms and quick feet made him a defensive monster.  And he was a scoring machine.  Over his career, he scored 394 points in 28 games.  Before you exclaim, “but that’s nothing!”, remember that the game of basketball, invented only 17 years before Lynch arrived at Williston, was very different.  Dribbling, for example, was rare; players moved the ball primarily by passing.  Players thus tended to spread out more, playing what we would now call zones.  Most shots came from a distance, so scores were lower — and of course, the three-point shot hadn’t even been dreamt of.  Foul shots were rare, and the free-throw line was 20 feet from the basket.  Even the metal hoop and net, which replaced a bottomless peach basket, had been introduced only as recently as 1906. Continue reading

Curveball

The curveball was introduced to baseball in the early 1870s, and changed the face of the game.  Pitchers, for the first time, threw strikes that moved across the plate and down, curving away from right-handed batters, frequently baffling hitters.  But were the first curveballs thrown in a high school game thrown at Williston?

mackIt’s a good story, related by none other than legendary Philadelphia Athletics manager Connie Mack.  In his My 66 Years in the Big Leagues (Philadelphia: Winston, 1950), Mack recalls, “The first man to pitch a curve-ball game was Charles Hammond Avery, Yale 1871-75, popularly called Ham Avery, and the first curve-pitched college game was played between Yale and Harvard at Saratoga, New York, June 14, 1874, the week of the college boat races.  Avery pitched for Yale and won by the score of 4-0, the first shutout ever scored against Harvard.”

Mack cites as his source of information his lifelong friend, Frank Blair, Williston Seminary class of 1876, Amherst 1880.  The two had grown up together in North Brookfield, Mass.  Mack continues, “In his first year at Williston Academy [sic], in 1873, one of Blair’s chums was Charles Francis Carter, a left fielder who went to Yale in 1874, and the following year played on Avery’s famous Yale team.  Stories began to drift back to Williston that Avery was a wonder, for he had introduced something new into baseball—a curve ball that was puzzling batters and was proving very difficult to hit.”

“One day in 1876 Blair was examining the condition of the diamond on the [Williston] campus.  He spied Carter coming up the street from the station.  Carter spotted Blair at the same moment, and vaulting the fence, shouted to him, ‘I can pitch curves!  Avery taught me!'”

“With that, Carter took a baseball from his pocket, laid aside his overcoat, and began to show [Blair] how the mystery was performed.  Carter, having passed on the instructions to Blair, picked up his overcoat and started for the train back to New Haven.  He had seemingly accomplished his mission!  Blair was eager to pass on the secret to the Williston pitcher.  The result?  Williston [Seminary] placed on the diamond the first curve pitcher used in any prep school in the United States.” Continue reading

Critical Mass

By Wentworth Durgin '68

Most recently Worth Durgin headed community foundations in Greensboro and Cary, North Carolina.  Now retired, he is “immersed in spiritual quest and writing.”  A couple of years back, he sent Richard Gregory several perceptive vignettes of Williston life back in the sixties.  Dick, who has contributed several memoirs of his own, shared Worth’s words with the Archives.  My thanks for Worth’s permission to publish this! — RT

Worth Durgin '68
Worth Durgin ’68

The old gym was an outgrown, but proud building.  The basketball court was directly above the swimming pool.  During wrestling matches, when our senior heavyweight wrestler, who was deaf, wrestled, all the students there would jump and stomp in cadence so that he could feel our support, since he could not hear our cheers.  The void of the pool beneath the floor amplified the waves of exhortation.  (The common effect of this cacaphony, coupled with the knowledge that if this strong guy could not hear the cheers, he likely could not hear a potential injury-saving whistle either, led to many an expression of relief on opposing wrestlers’ faces, once they had been pinned.)  Often this was the deciding match in a meet.  But we could never carry the big guy off the mat on our shoulders — he was huge, and flaunting victory was not his style.

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