S.H. Foy was the superintendent of the Salem Cemetery in the early 20th century. He was also quite an amateur artist, whose wash drawings appeared occasionally in the Salem Academy & College yearbooks.

March Madness is nothing compared to the original…November Madness. Once upon a time, in the 19th century, there was baseball and football. They were played by men. Men told women that they should not play sports, because their place was barefooted and pregnant and in the kitchen. And preferably silent. Even so, some delinquent women tried playing football. And more played baseball. There was even a sort of baseball league, known as the Bloomer Girls. But for the most part, women complied and stayed off the playing fields.

Then, in 1891, a Canadian immigrant in Springfield, Massachusetts, concerned about the lack of sports activity in the worst winter months, invented a new indoor game. He nailed a couple of ordinary baskets to the wall of the local YMCA and the game of basket ball was born. Men had long claimed baseball and football as a male thing. But no one had any prior claim on basket ball.

Within weeks of James Naismith’s invention, Senda Berenson at Smith College had developed special rules for women and had her girls playing the game. Men liked it too, but it was women who truly embraced the game. The first inter-institutional game was played that same year between Cal Berkeley and Miss Head’s School. Four years later the first women’s intercollegiate game was played between, again, Cal Berkeley, and Stanford. It was a bitter struggle, with Stanford emerging as the winner, 2-1.

From the beginning, American institutions of higher learning embraced the Spartan ideal, a sound mind in a sound body. There had been gymnasiums on college campuses since the 18th century. But they were designed to accommodate the exercise of their times…gymnastic devices such as parallel bars, the horse, low hanging rings and trapezes, along with “medicine balls”, etc. Basketball, because of the arc of the ball above the basket, required taller spaces.

Trinity College (later Duke), claims in their archival resources that they built the first basketball compatible college gymnasium in North Carolina. It was named the Angier B. Duke gymnasium, and was always known as “The Ark”. It opened in late 1898 and was dedicated in March, 1899. But it was not the first basketball compatible college gymnasium in the state.


“The Ark” at Trinity College, Durham, NC, 1898

That honor belongs to Guilford College, which opened its basketball compatible gymnasium in 1896. That gymnasium was dedicated three years before The Ark. And there is a neat twist. Guilford College men had built an on campus YMCA in 1892 which was meant to accommodate the new game of basket ball. But it was a YMCA gym, not built by the college. The women students complained that they were not allowed to use this men’s gym. So in 1896, the college built a new basketball compatible gym just for women students. The dedication ceremony was attended by the state treasurer, who was treated to a lively exhibition of women’s basketball.


Guilford girls in front of their new gymnasium, 1896

From the start, basket ball sparked teams and leagues and intra and inter-organizational competition, mostly limited to YMCA games. It took fifteen years before the first intercollegiate games occurred in North Carolina. Again, Trinity (Duke) claims that they had the first team. And they claim that they played the first intercollegiate game of basketball in the state. But again, that claim is false. They may have formed the first team…we have no way of knowing the exact dates. But around the same time, Wake Forest and Guilford Colleges also formed teams.


Wake Forest College’s first basket ball team, 1906


The first college basket ball game in North Carolina, as reported by the Greensboro Daily News, February 7, 1906. At the time, both field goals and free throws counted one point.

After the 1905-06 Christmas break, Wake Forest announced that their team was going on the road to play other college teams, YMCAs, and anyone else up to the task. And we know from newspaper reports that the first intercollegiate game was played at Guilford College, on Tuesday, February 6, 1906, with the Quakers defeating the Baptists of Wake Forest 29-16. After the game, the Guilford team played host to the Wake Forest players at a banquet in the college cafeteria. Trinity’s first game against Wake Forest came a couple of weeks later.


The first women’s college basketball game in NC created quite a stir in Charlotte. Although men were barred from the Presbyterian Female College campus, since the game was played outdoors, the men took to nearby rooftops and were treated to quite a contest.


Presbyterian Female College basket ball team, 1907

But the women were no more than a step behind. On Monday, April 8, 1907, Elizabeth College (now defunct) and Presbyterian Female College (later Queens College) tangled in Charlotte. The game was played behind closed gates, no male spectators allowed, apparently for fear that some man might catch a glimpse of a girl’s ankle and go mad with lust. Reporters from the Charlotte newspapers had to interview female spectators after the game to discover that Elizabeth had won, 10-6. Shortly afterward, the second women’s game took place on the basketball field at Salem Academy and College. The home girls came back from a 7-6 halftime deficit to whip the ladies from Greensboro Female College (now Greensboro College), 18-11.


The Winston-Salem Journal reported the second women’s college basket ball game between Salem Academy & College and the Greensboro Female College. Salem trailed by a point at the half, but came back to win, 18-11. All the color and drama of today was already present, minus today’s abysmal sportsmanship.


Greensboro Female College basket ball team, 1907


Salem Academy & College Team, 1907

But the real madness was often intramural. Early on, Salem Academy and College established November Madness, a Thanksgiving ritual that would continue for years. In those days, Salem students did not go home for Thanksgiving. Instead, on that Thursday, they played a ferocious basket ball tournament. The first round was frosh versus sophomores, then seniors vs juniors. The winners then met for the college class championship. But the real blood bath was the final game, pitting the hard core rivals the Euterpean Literary Society against the  Hesperian Literary Society. The talent level in that game might have been a bit less than in the class competition, but this was the ultimate rivalry game.


Salem Academy & College seniors versus juniors, first round of November Madness, 1910.

I think my favorite November Madness came in 1910. Leading up to the first game, the fresh girls had been doing a good bit of trash talking about the sophs. The sophs, being older and wiser, said nothing back. They waited to let their play on the field do the talking. The outcome was sophs 19, frosh 6, both the highest score and the widest margin ever posted at the time. So much for trash talking. The seniors, having beaten the juniors, then defeated the sophomores 6-5 for the championship. But then came the literary society struggle. And it was a brutal one, with numerous wounded young ladies littering the ground before the Hesperians prevailed, 6-3.


In 1910, the freshmen talked trash, the sophomores taught them some manners, but this group of seniors won the tournament

More often than not, the seniors won the class championship. But in 1915, the sophomores upset the seniors in the championship game. The next year, that year’s seniors assured everyone that the previous year had been a fluke and that they would take down the defending champions in the first round. That did not happen. The juniors first knocked out the seniors, then went on to defeat the sophomores for their second straight title.


In 1915, the sophomores, the class of 1918, pulled off a major upset and won November Madness


In 1916, against all odds, the improbable indomitable class of 1918 pulled off their second straight November Madness championship

As Thanksgiving 1917 approached all three other classes were certain that someone would tame those brassy two-time champion seniors. In the first round, the seniors disappointed everyone by downing the juniors . And in the championship game, they topped the sophomores, thus becoming the first threepeat winners in school history, and maybe in all of North Carolina. The only earlier consecutive winners that we know of is Guilford College’s men’s team, which won the Carolinas-Virginia college championship two years in a row, 1913 and 1914.


Everybody said it couldn’t be done, but the class of 1918 made it three in a row at the 1917 November Madness. Helen Long, front and center, a mere substitute in the 1915 game, scored all but one of the senior’s goals.

Triumph is triumph. But no matter how hard they fought on the field, at the banquet later that night, each player on each team made a toast to an individual opponent on the other team. That is how college basket ball began in North Carolina. Maybe it should still be that way.


Elizabeth College, 1901


St. Mary’s College, 1900


State Normal School for Women (later Women’s College), 1900


Salem Academy & College Trophy Room