So, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there’s a pretty big basketball game tomorrow. While the thought of a Kentucky/Louisville matchup may bristle your tail and ruffle your feathers, surely it can’t compare to the excitement of Paducah’s Original March Madness…in 1909.
Under the prophetic headline, “Basketball May Become Popular,” the Paducah Evening Sun reported in December 1908 of the possible institution of the city’s first basketball league. After the turn of the new year, that prospect became a reality and the Paducah Basketball League began playing games. Six teams made up the league, compiled of players from local clubs and societies: Paducah High School; the Elks; Knights of Columbus; the Chess, Checker, and Whist Club; D.A.D.; and Paducah Light and Power.
Basketball was such a new sport, that in 1909 the newspaper dedicated nearly a full page to describing for its readership the rules of the game and why they should be interested in it. Said the Evening Sun, “Basketball, if played by the rules is a most exceedingly interesting game, both to the payers and to spectators, but if the rules are not respected, the game resembles more a wholesale wrestling, boxing, and free-for-all contest. If gymnasiums had padded floors and walls, it would be interesting to see a game termed basketball or indoor football, where players could be thrown, tripped, given a half nelson every now and then, and at the same time stand no chance of injury, but the rules of basketball, as given by the official guide of 1909, define every point of the game so clearly that the game if refereed properly, should not even be termed rough.”
Held at the gymnasium in the Eagle building, the six teams played double-headers twice a week, Tuesdays and Fridays, during the first three months of 1909, and in keeping with modern tradition, the season culminated (in madness) at the end of March with the crowning of a champion. Unlike modern tradition, no championship game was played, rather the champion was determined by the team’s percentage of wins throughout the season.
And who was crowned champion of Paducah’s very first basketball league?
The Chess, Checkers, and Whist Club reigned supreme and were presented with a beautiful loving cup for their efforts ( a loving cup, by the way, is a silver, multi-handled, over-sized, wine vessel). According to the Evening Sun, the cup cost $20 and was “engraved appropriately.”
For more information about vintage sporting events in Paducah, visit us at the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.