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Monday, January 2, 2017

Beginning of High School Basketball In Nebraska

Roy Gordon’s Letters

1914 Benson High School Basketball Team:  Roy Gordon holding ball

I discovered some old letters in the attic of my grandfather, Roy Gordon when he was a senior at Benson High School.  They fill a few gaps in our family history and described the infancy of high school basketball in 1914.  It appears basketball teams were just forming.  Some schools had teams, others didn’t.  Roy was a team member and apparently responsible to contact other area schools to determine if they had teams and if they were willing and able to schedule games.  Transportation was by railroad not by bus or car and communication was by ‘snail mail’ since there were few phones and certainly no smart-phones.   

There were 5 letters.  The first is in granddad’s hand, written to Mr. W.H. Morton, Superintendent of Ashland Public Schools dated January 19, 1914.  

The letter was returned with a note on the bottom; “We have no basketball team” signed W.H. Morton.

My grandfather and his parents, Alex and Lucy Gordon were farmers who lived 1 ½ miles northwest of Bennington.   The Easter Sunday tornadoes of 1913 completely destroyed their home.  It was rebuilt later in 1914.  The letters suggest the family temporarily moved to Benson where Roy attended high school.  (Bennington’s District 59 Public School didn’t offer an eleventh or twelfth grades until 1924.)  Apparently, it was the responsibility of a member of the basketball team, possibly the team captain arranged the game schedule.
Hollyrood Farm prior to the Easter Sunday Tornado of 1913
Hollyrood Farm following the storm.

The remaining four letters were replies.  The first was from Robert Miller, Manager of the Arlington High School Basketball Team.  Mr. Miller suggested the teams played games at each other’s school.  I found it interesting that the opposing school paid expenses.  Those expenses was probably train fare.  

The next letter was from H.H. Reimund, Superintendent of Weeping Water Public Schools dated February 4, 1914.  Weeping Water didn’t have a basketball team either.  

The last two letters were mailed from Gretna, Nebraska by Frank Burns, who appears to have been Secretary of Gretna Public Schools.  He replied on February 26th by postcard.  The first letter sets a game to be played in Gretna on February 13.  The next is a postcard agreeing to a game on March 6; possibly in Benson.  

1 comment:

  1. This is from my history of Benson High School:

    1913-14: Benson's first boys basketball team played games in February and March. The record for Coach H.B. Stapleton included a loss to Arlington, then wins of 14-12 over Gretna, 9-8 over the Omaha High sophomores and 12-11 over Plattsmouth in a March 13 game at Gravert’s Hall. Arlington did not show for a March 20 return engagement in Benson.
    On the team were Glen Gardner, Howard Furbush, Louis Campbell, Roy Gordon, Alvin Siert and Charles Pilant.

    Roy Gordon also played football for Benson in 1912, so he was there before the 1913 Bennington tornado. He was involved in a play that resulted in the death of a son of a Valley hotel proprietor and the end of football at Benson until 1927:

    "With Valley leading 39-6 late in the game, Valley sophomore Clair Fitzgerald broke his neck and his second vertebrae as he went to tackle Benson kickoff returner Roy Gordon. Fitzgerald died three days later at St. Joseph Hospital in Omaha."

    What a great find!

    Stu Pospisil
    Benson High Alumni Association
    (World-Herald sportswriter, too)