Community Sports

Gig Harbor Now and Then | Basketball in the old days was more shutout than shootout

Posted on April 8th, 2024 By: Greg Spadoni

With the 2024 NCAA women’s basketball championship game having been played Sunday, April 7, and the men’s title being decided tonight, it’s timely that today’s Gig Harbor Now and Then column is all about local basketball — over a hundred years’ worth.

Revisiting early basketball scores

Back on Sept. 11, 2023, we presented the true but very difficult-to-believe fact that in the 1930s basketball scores on the Peninsula were sometimes in the single digits. Five to four was one of the final scores given in our example, when the girls of Gig Harbor’s Union High School defeated a team from Olalla. The scores in earlier years were not always in single digits for each team, however.

In October 1909, the local basketball season started with the Vaughn High boys playing the Gig Harbor team at Gig Harbor. Each squad had only five players, so everyone played the full game. And what a game it was!

For Gig Harbor, the team was made up of Mack Reese, age unknown, center; Jacob Kahrs, 14, forward; Bert Uddenberg, 15, forward; Billy Beam, 12, guard; and Herman Uddenberg, 13, guard.

The Vaughn team consisted of Orval Kaufman, age unknown, center; Hut Lacky 15, guard; Harold Bollman, about 15, guard; Harmon Van Slyke, 14, forward; and Clyde Davidson, 15, forward.

The poor boys from Vaughn got skunked. They didn’t score a single point.

The Gig Harbor team, on the other hand, did. One, single point.

That’s all it took to win. The final score was 1-0, in Gig Harbor’s favor.

Remember, this was a basketball game.

Not single digits; a single digit

How could a basketball game have a final score of 1-0? Well, weather was a major factor. There being no indoor court at Gig Harbor at the time, or even a covered one, the game was played outside. Having no hard surface to dribble on, they played on dirt.

According to a newspaper account, the game was played on a “wet field” in a “driving rain.” That means both mud and puddles. Can you even imagine how a ball could be dribbled in mud? Every bit as well as a deflated ball on concrete, no doubt.

How do you come up with an illustration for a basketball game played in mud when you don’t have any mud? You can either make mud or take a lousy picture of a well-worn basketball on wet crushed rock. Guess which was easier? Photo by Greg Spadoni

More than likely, most of the action consisted of passing. But at that time, the only basketballs available were made of leather, which gets slippery when very wet. There were no outdoor basketballs made of synthetic materials. Even passing couldn’t have been sharp with a slimy ball.

The October 26, 1909, News Tribune stated that: “The heavy downpour did not dampen the eagerness of the players nor did it keep a large crowd from witnessing the sport.”

The “large crowd” couldn’t have stayed home and watched the game on TV, or listened to it on the radio, neither of which had been invented yet. They didn’t have any other choice if they wanted to watch or listen to sports … although it could be argued that a basketball game in which only one point was scored isn’t much of a sport.

The newspaper apparently considered it a sport, crediting the defenses for the low score, not the weather: “The guards on both boys’ teams did excellent work. Not a single free try for goal was allowed by either side.”

The girls outscored the boys

That was not the only game at Gig Harbor that day. The Gig Harbor girls, who also played during the “driving rain,” showed the boys how it was done. They scored four times as many points while defeating the Vaughn girls, 4-0. (It must be noted, however, that the girls played under very different rules from the boys, which may have made it easier for them to score.)

The Gig Harbor girls were Belle Proctor, 14, center; Mattie Dorotich, 13, forward; Nettie Novak, 14, forward; Mae Cruver, 14, guard; and Hulda Carlson, 13, guard.

The scoreless foes from Vaughn were Helen Rodman, 13, center; Bertha Howell, age unknown, forward; Ethel Woodrun, 15, forward; Glenna Case, age unknown, guard; and Esther Austin, 16, guard.

Although this Basketball Barbie was originally intended to illustrate a future Gig Harbor Now and Then column on logging, there’s no reason it can’t do double duty. In this column it colorfully depicts the aforementioned girls’ basketball game in 1909. Since it was purchased at the Dollar Tree store on the Key Peninsula, it specifically represents the Vaughn girls’ team. (Marshmallow fudge oatmeal cookies make very appealing basketball mud, don’t they?) Photo and cookies by Greg Spadoni.

The unimpressive scores aside, isn’t it cool that all the players are getting their names published in the local news again, over a hundred years later?

Several of the players have either descendants or branch relatives living in the area today. With any luck, some of them may see this and get an idea of what their ancestors had to go through to play basketball in 1909. It shows either how dedicated they were to the sport or how incredibly bored they must’ve been.

One to nothing in basketball?!

Either common sense prevailed in 1910, when the scheduled basketball game between Vaughn and Filucy (it wasn’t really a high school) was postponed due to heavy rains, or somebody wimped out. The News Tribune, November 12, 1910.

Establishing a tradition

The following is not a recommendation, or even a suggestion. It merely points out an opportunity: The 1909 Vaughn-Gig Harbor Driving Rain Basketball Game is a tradition-in-waiting.

With Vaughn kids now attending Peninsula High School, and Gig Harbor kids going to Gig Harbor High School, a resurrection of the 1909 contest is not only appropriate, but long overdue. And it would be easy. The two schools play each other in basketball already, so scheduling would not be a problem. All it would take is finding a semi-flat and reasonably level piece of bare ground that turns to mud when wet, or have a couple truckloads of dirt dumped on a parking lot. Plant a post with a basket at each end, get a slimy leather ball, and it’s ready for play. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One can easily provide the rain.

The annual basketball games between the two schools are currently known as the Fish Basket. If one of the two games per season were to be played outdoors (in the rain), it could be named the Splash Basket. The two games each year would then be, collectively, the Splish Basket.

One of the benefits of the new tradition would be that onlookers would get to participate too. They would experience what basketball spectating was like in 1909 by standing out in the rain the whole game. With any luck, they’d go home soaked, cold, and at least a little muddy. And, of course, very, very satisfied.

While that might not be everyone’s idea of a good time, there’s something to be said for tradition. And something that could be said of the Splish Basket is that it’s not quite as insane as jumping off the Olalla Bridge into Puget Sound on New Year’s Day. Yet lots of people do that, every single year. Why? Because it’s a tradition.

Major progress in basketball scores

It’s eye-opening to see the multi-generational progress in local sports. The 1909 Gig Harbor boys’ basketball team didn’t have a high school, didn’t have a gymnasium, didn’t have a hard-surfaced court, yet still played the game, however they could. As a result, the astonishing score of the season’s opening game was 1 to 0.

By the 1970s the Gig Harbor and Key peninsulas had long since been sharing a high school in Purdy, with an indoor, heated, lighted, and hardwood-floored basketball court. With a proper venue, the scores of the games more than 60 years after the one-to-nothing drubbing of Vaughn by Gig Harbor were dramatically higher. Some were even in the triple digits. As a matter of fact, I played in such a high-scoring game.

Many high school boys who were not on the school team in the 1970s played basketball on Monday and Wednesday nights in the Peninsula Athletic Association & Pierce County Basketball League. I was among them, playing on a team officially named the Raisins. But because we were required to represent either a local community or business, we were listed on the schedule as Rosedale.

The Rosedale Raisins were composed of a group of friends who weren’t that serious about basketball, but wanted to have fun, which we did. We also demonstrated that basketball isn’t that difficult a sport. It doesn’t take exceptional athletic ability to play a competitive game.

The primary Raisins were Kevin Meyer, Skip Van Diest, Randy Knapp, Rick Knapp, Roy Ward, and me. Additional players varied over the three seasons the team campaigned on the courts, with the core group remaining intact.

Although the Raisins lost our game on the Wednesday night of January 26, 1972, we were not embarrassed by a score of zero. Far from it. While I didn’t score any points that night, being preoccupied with serving as an integral part of our punishing defense, on offense the rest of the Raisins rose to the occasion and made up the slack. But in spite of making a furious run late in the fourth quarter, we were edged out at the final buzzer by Eddon Boat, 155-13.

The impressive, triple-digit score of the 1972 Eddon Boat-Rosedale game would be forgotten today had it not been recorded on the schedule sheet and tucked between the pages of a Peninsula High School annual.

Good times never last

After three straight columns with no questions of local history, the good times come to an end on April 22. That’s when we return to asking questions no one can answer. But boy, we have a good one coming up that day. And as good as the question is, the answer, on May 6, is even more interesting.

So, it’s not like we’ve been slacking off. We’ve got some really interesting stuff coming up. We’re working hard to draw more eyeballs to the column, and looking forward to the day when we can legitimately claim to have more than two dozen readers. Yes, 24 is a big number, and though we’re not there yet, we’re getting close. By year end, maybe? Hard to say, but it’s a nice thought.

Simply to pander to the large percentage of the population that would love to see Barbie face down in the mud, if only just once, here she is. Photo by Greg Spadoni.

Greg Spadoni of Olalla has had more access to local history than most life-long residents. During 25 years in road construction working for the Spadoni Brothers, his first cousins, twice removed, he traveled to every corner of the Gig Harbor and Key Peninsulas, taking note of many abandoned buildings, overgrown farms, and roads that no longer had a destination. Through his current association with the Harbor History Museum in Gig Harbor as the unofficial Chief (and only) Assistant to Linda McCowen, the Museum’s primary photo archive volunteer, he regularly studies the area’s largest collection of visual history. Combined with the print history available at the Museum and online, he has uncovered countless stories of long-forgotten local people and events.