Week of April 3, 2022

Sporty Starts


The sport of baseball derived from cricket and the children’s game rounders, and references to a game played with sticks, balls, and bases go back to at least the 18th century. However, most of the basic rules of the modern game were established in 1845 in New York City by Alexander J. Cartwright. Among other things, he established that runners must be tagged out rather than the previous (and dangerous) method of hitting them with the ball.


Basketball began at Springfield College in Massachusetts over the winter of 1891-92. James Naismith, a teacher who had come to study under physical education pioneer Luther Halsey Gulick, wanted to honor a directive from his mentor to create a new game “that would be interesting, easy to learn, and easy to play in the winter and by artificial light.” The two square boxes Naismith asked the school janitor for were not to be found, but two peach baskets were, the original two nets.


Although football was derived from rugby and influenced by soccer, “father of American football” Walter Camp developed the rules to differentiate it from both sports, from his first conception of the game at Yale University in the 1880s and while personally developing the rule book until his death in 1925.


Bandy, hurling, and shinty, the games which are the most direct ancestors of modern ice hockey, were played in England, Ireland and Scotland since the 1400’s, though other “stick and ball” games were played among indigenous Americans, ancient Greeks, and Egyptians long before that. Bandy was likely played on ice without skates in the 1600s, then later with skates by the 1700s, and balls were later replaced by “cork-bungs” or barrel plugs, the precursor to the modern puck.


“Jeu de paume,” a French game played since the 11th century, was the ancestor of modern tennis, which got the name from “tenez!” or “here it comes,” said to an opponent upon serving. Through the centuries, however, bare hands were replaced by a racquet, a rubber ball became the norm, the unique scoring system was standardized, and the courts went from grass to “hard” courts of concrete or acrylic.


Like many modern sports, golf also has roots in ancient games played all over the world, but the closest relative of modern golf came from 15th century eastern Scotland with players hitting pebbles with clubs. At one point, the game was banned for fear players would neglect their military training against the frequently-invading British. When the ban was lifted and royalty later adopted the game, its popularity blossomed, and by the 20th century standardized rules and governing bodies had been established worldwide.


Bowling goes back over 7,000 years, with evidence of similar games going back to ancient Egypt and Polynesia. In the case of the latter, the standard lane length was 60 feet…the same as today. When played centuries ago in Germany, the game also had religious significance, and variations spread across Europe. Notably, this game, like golf (see above) had to be temporarily banned for distracting archers from their shooting practice, this time in England. English, Dutch, and German settlers helped bring the game to the U.S., where a tenth pin was added.