Warren Tribune Chronicle Account

 

Basketball Anniversary has Local Tie

by Dave Burcham


It's not much bigger than a quarter, but for Hiram College, it's an invaluable treasure.

Exactly 100 years ago, the small institution of higher learning that's located about five miles from the Trumbull County border in Portage County, brought home a rare momento from the Olympic Games held at the World's Fair in St. Louis.

And the first college basketball gold medal remains untarnished and encased in the Hiram College archives.

A seven-member team captured the rarest of prizes in a sport that was known then as basket ball (two words) at the 1904 Olympic Games. It was played for the first time as a demonstration sport at the first Olympics held within the borders of the United States.

Hiram qualified by winning the Ohio intercollegiate championship.

Since travel from Europe was costly and time consuming, 500 of the 700 athletes competing in the 1904 games were Americans. The winners of the 1904 gold-medal game were billed as winners of the world's championship.

Games were played outdoors, on a clay surface. Baskets were attached to the top of a pole, not a backboard. The ball had laces on the outside--similar to a football--which made passing important and dribbling difficult. Players could not shoot after dribbling, only after receiving a pass.

There was no three-second rule. Only shots taken using the set-shot style of shooting counted in the scoring. A jump ball at center court followed each basket. There was no shot clock to speed up play, so games were low-scoring affairs that highlighted ball movement to create open shots. No noise was
permitted from the sidelines, so spectators could not cheer.

Hiram played Wheaton College of Illinois in the first game at 10:45 a.m. after a night of rain, creating slippery conditions. The game was described as fast
and furious. Despite enjoying an advantage in size, Wheaton trailed 15-13 at halftime and lost to Hiram 25-20.

After Wheaton defeated Latter Day Saints University (LDS&), 40-35, in the afternooon game, Hiram defeated LDSU 25-18 to earn the gold. All seven players, plus two advisors received a gold medal. One of the medals is displayed in Hiram's archives.

Members of the gold-winning team were: J.J. Line, Paul Wilson, Wallace Smith, Carl Clark, Lester Hurd, Ben Phillips and Earl Clark.

Timothy Bryan, assistant to the President at Hiram College in media relations, is attempting to track descendants, although he admits, "We're not having much success."

Bryan remembers how he first felt when he first learned of the gold medal years ago: "This was just too good to be true."

Bryan said Hiram college has promoted its gold medal in different ways during his 17 years at the school, but there never has been a better time than now--the 100-year anniversary of the event that just happens to coincide with the 2004 Olympics.

Hiram had hoped to schedule a game against Wheaten [sic] during the upcoming season to commemorate their game 100 years ago. But Bryan says there has been little interest from the Illionois school.

Latter Day Saints University, in Salt Lake City, Utah, was one of the schools founded by Brigham Young and eventually evolved into Brigham Young University.

Bryan said the college plans to make replicas of its gold medal and offer them to members of this year's team representing the United States. Of course, that depends on whether Allen Iverson, LeBron James and company can be successful in Athens, Greece. Perhaps the U.S. team should have included a player from Hiram to enhance their chances.

-from the August 15, 2004 issue of the Warren Tribune Chronicle