SI Vault
December 08, 1958
Decision for Dorsey
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December 08, 1958

Events & Discoveries

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Next day Erwin Erkfitz took his Thanksgiving dinner in a vegetarian restaurant. He was still flushed with success. "Next time I'd like to try to do it in 58 days," he said, and with gusto attacked a meat-substitute steak smothered in onions, baked potato and whole-wheat apple pie.

Survivor's Story

This month marks the 67th birthday of basketball, and many happy returns. It also marks the 89th birthday of Raymond P. Kaighn, and the same good wishes to him. Mr. Kaighn, now living in Chapel Hill, N.C., played in the original game of basketball at the YMCA training school in Springfield, Mass., along with its inventor, James Naismith. And as far as Kaighn knows, he is the lone survivor of the young men who were there.

"We had just wound up the football season," Kaighn was telling our correspondent the other day, "and we had moved indoors for Swedish gymnastics." Swedish gymnastics were every bit as devoid of sustaining interest in 1891 as they are in 1958, Kaighn went on, "so our department head, Luther Gulick, challenged the seniors to invent a new game that would help hold membership in the Y. We had several farfetched ideas. But the man with the best suggestion was Jim Naismith. Dr. Gulick liked his idea and told him to draw up some rules."

There were 18 boys in the school gym for the first game, and sides were split down the middle. "The janitor found two peach baskets for goals," Mr. Kaighn recalled, "and we nailed them on a running-track balcony at each end of the court 10.2 feet above the floor." (The janitor had been dispatched by Naismith to find two 18-inch square boxes but was unsuccessful; thus, that day, Naismith did not invent boxball.) A soccer ball was pressed into service, and each time it dropped into the basket, the janitor came hurrying over with a ladder to retrieve it. When the ball went out of bounds, the first one to reach it was permitted to throw it back in.

"Actually," said Kaighn, "this new game wasn't supposed to have any body contact like football, but it was plenty rough around there when the ball landed upstairs on the running track. There would always be a terrific blockade, arms and legs thrashing, at the spiral iron staircase leading up to the track. But Jim Naismith made one refinement right away. Kids would sit on the balcony with their legs dangling between the bannisters and kick the ball away from the baskets. A few days later Jim erected some backboards and that was that."

Like some other people, Ray Kaighn, an active fellow who likes to get on with things, thinks there is too much whistle blowing in today's basketball. But what irks him more is the misconception of some of his fellow townspeople. "Just the other day," said Kaighn, "I passed three ladies on a Chapel Hill street corner, and one of them remarked: 'There goes the old man who invented basketball.' Now Jim Naismith deserves all the credit, and that's all there is to it. And whenever I hear anybody say I invented the game, well, I blow the whistle right away."

Spain Samples Football

Although it is quite true to say, as we do (see page 14), that the year's largest football crowd was the one that turned out in the chilly blasts of Philadelphia last Saturday for the Army-Navy game, it must be understood that the statement applies only to Stateside football crowds. The biggest crowd anywhere to watch an American football game was the 120,000 who saw the start of the Air Force-Air Force game in Madrid the other day. And not since the Spanish Armada had so many Iberians been at sea.

For what must have seemed a good reason at the time, the exhibition game was billed by Air Force and American embassy officials as a "contribution to international understanding." To attract a proper assembly, the contest between the Toul Tigers and the Giebelstadt Taconeers followed a regular Spanish league soccer match. Mimeographed sheets describing American football were passed out after the soccer ended, and while the two service teams did push-ups and assorted exercises, ground crews erected goal posts and striped off the field.

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