The Early Days of High School Basketball

The Start of Basketball

We all know how cold it gets in the winter. Back in 1892 at the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) in Springfield, Massachusetts, James A. Naismith wanted to find an exciting game that could be played inside during cold, wintry days. One day he finally came up with an idea. He fastened two peach baskets to a gym balcony. Players on teams tried to shoot a ball up in the air so it would drop through the basket. Eventually the sport was named basketball. The game is the only American sport that did not have roots in another country. People everywhere liked the game so much that it quickly became a popular winter sport. Today, it is played year round.

Since 1892 the peach baskets have changed into iron hoops with netting. Some of the rules have changed too. But still, the only equipment needed for playing is a ball, a basket, and court space. People play basketball all over the world. In 1936 this energetic sport found a place in the Olympic Games. Teams from 20 nations participated. The first Olympic basketball games were played in honor of James Naismith.

Basketball in Iowa

In Iowa several towns had their own town teams. Fort Dodge had its first basketball games in 1897. By 1902 there were teams in Boone, Cedar Rapids and Sioux City. During these early years many Iowa teams did not have a gym for playing and practicing. They often had to use the local YMCA But basketball grew fast as an organized sport for boys and girls. Dubuque began high school girls' basketball in 1898. Some other towns that had early high school girls' teams were Ottumwa, Muscatine, Delhi, Greeley, Epworth, Manchester and Correctionville.

High school basketball has remained very popular in the state. State competitions are held yearly. The first boys' high school competition was played in 1912. The tournament was in Iowa City with teams from Ottumwa, Sioux City, Grundy Center and Wilton Junction.

In 1925, at an annual meeting of school superintendents and principals, the state athletic union decided that competitive sports before paying crowds was good only for boys activities in Iowa, but not for girls. When this decision threatened girls' basketball, a small group of school administrators hey broke away from the boys' association and formed the Iowa Girls' High School Athletic Union (IGHSAU). Girls' high school tournaments began in 1926 at Hampton, with teams from Audubon, Ida Grove, Mystic and Hampton competing for the number one spot.

For many years when it was time for the annual state championships among high school teams in Iowa , Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines was packed with fans. In 2006 a new facility replaced Veterans Auditorium as the site for the boys' and girls' basketball state tournaments. The Wells Fargo Arena holds up to 17,000 fans. Thousands more watch the exciting tournament games on television.

Iowa is now a national leader in boys' and girls' organized basketball. Basketball is also played on the collegiate and professional levels. What started as a small-town recreation has become one of the foremost spectacular sporting events in Iowa.


  • Angelita Reyes, “A New Use for Peach Baskets,” The Goldfinch 4, no. 1 (September 1982): 8-9.