Basketball - and the Championship

Courtesy of Donald F. Davidson, son of Preston Davidson, a member of the 1909 Championship team.
Source - Hinsdale Doings, 1976.

Basketball had hardly come into being – it was invented in a Springfield, Massachusetts Y.M.C.A. in 1891 – before the fast-paced new game was seized upon by Village boys. The Hinsdale Basket-Ball Club was organized in December 1895 with 22 members, and committees were appointed to “secure a hall for practice and games, to recruit new members, and to obtain needed apparatus ....” This club was open to all, but since most of the members were young schoolmates, the sport soon gravitated to the high school and became its special province.

From the beginning of their infatuation with basketball, Hinsdale’s teams kept themselves high in the field. A.Irvine Jordan was captain and manager of the team in 1905. There were no finals for a state title back then, but if there had been, Hinsdale would have had fair claim to it, for we beat the Cook County league winners – Austin High School – 35 to 32. During 1906-07 Courtney Freeman, Philip Clarke, Hazan Dean, F.G. Schmidt, and Goodwin Clark all helped to “keep Hinsdale in the headlines”. Games were held every Saturday and practicing was continual. Some individuals were offended at the outfits worn by the boys – too much flesh and muscle showing – but this was more than compensated for by the girls’ team, which had uniforms of “heavy, full, wool bloomers, high-collared heavy wool blouses, black flowing bow ties, long black stockings and high black tennis shoes.”

The first state championship came in 1908, an invitational tournament, and it beckoned Hinsdale. The finals were held in March at the Oak Park Y.M.C.A.. Our squad, which besides Clarke and Dean included Ellsworth and Gilbert Keith, Si Blodgett, Fred Cortis and Harry Holversheid, went against Peoria Central. At the end of the first half, Peoria led, 15-14. A total of 26 fouls were called against Hinsdale, and of the 26 free throws thus given to Peoria, they got 24. Those points were crucial in their 32-24 victory, and the championship was theirs.

In the last play-off of the losers, Hinsdale battled Oak Park, but “the playing of four games in half as many days [took] its toll,” and we lost, 27 to Oak Park’s 41. Hinsdale finished fourth in the 1908 tourney, but the team did manage to set a record for the greatest point margin ever racked up in a state tournament game – 51 points in a 60-9 victory over Riverside – and that record held for over fifty years.

In 1909, a state high school association having been formed, the Illinois championship event was at last the climax of regular elimination play. Hinsdale was ready and confident. In the previous season they had totaled 838 points against 498 for their opponents, and had a 22-3 win-loss record. Gilbert Keith, the captain, had been named to the all-state team at center. During the 1908-09 season they beat such high-ranked teams as those from Waukegan, Evanston, Joliet, Elgin and McKinley high schools. But all their attributes, one which surely counted greatly was the fact that the boys were all close friends and had been playing together since seventh grade. More than that, their practice was tireless, though their coach, Jack Snyder, wasn’t the best. The team consisted of Preston Davidson – the only six-footer – and Fred Cortis, forwards; Fred Bahlman and Frank Dana, guards; Keith, center; Arthur Collins, manager, and Herman Fletchtner and Woody Melcher, substitutes.

The basketball team was self-supporting, since the school could not undertake their financing. Their uniforms were paid for with money gathered by door-to- door solicitation, and travelling expenses were paid for by contributions and out of the $45 gate receipts they had that year.

The championship game was held at Bloomington High School on March 20, 1909. Hinsdale’s opponent was Washington High School, whose team brought with them a thousand spectators – about two-thirds of the town’s population – and a brass band. Hinsdale had all of five home rooters: Mr. Giles, W.P. Cortis, Walter Janes Jr., and the Misses Sedgwich and Des Noyes, but some other visiting teams filled out the Hinsdale cheering ranks. “The gym was filled with a hooting yelling, catcalling crowd, whose one ambition was to make as much noise in as little time as possible,” said a newspaper report, and back in the Village things were the same. Hinsdale streets were filled with parading youngsters, who were cheering and beating drums and generally keeping up the noise while waiting for the game results to arrive. Play began at about 9 p.m. and it was nearly midnight before word was received in Hinsdale of the results, Hinsdale 18 - Washington 13.

Hinsdale had her victory, by five points. The bushed, but joyous, players were met at the depot the following morning by a crowd of several hundred townsfolk and classmates.

After winning the championship, Hinsdale was challenged by some prestigious teams. Townsend Harris Hall, the New York champs, were going to play here, but their squad was hit by some contagious disease at the last minute and the game never occurred. They also failed to notify the largest crowd that had ever come out to attend any school match, about 500. Others who wanted to fight Hinsdale were Salt Lake City [Utah champs], the Missouri tournament winners, and the Colorado School of Mines. But since none of these teams would travel here to test their prowess, and since Hinsdale couldn’t afford to go meet them, these games never came off, either.

After this first championship victory, Hinsdale came near it again on several occasions. In 1910, at a sectional tourney in DeKalb, Hinsdale left the floor losers, but a recheck showed the score to be a tie. Hinsdale was relocated, the game resumed; we won, and continued on to the state finals at Bloomington – but not quite the championship. We have come just as close a number of times in the past 65 years, and no doubt the second century of Hinsdale’s existence will see us champions again.