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Geneva's Basketball First

Milestones Vol 26. No. 1

Basketball historians have not determined precisely the first intercollegiate game, but there is general agreement that Geneva was one of the earliest. Basketball historian Bill Mokray in the 1971 Converse Basketball Yearbook states: "Geneva is believed to be the first college to introduce the sport, and the University of Iowa and University of Chicago played the first intercollegiate game, with five players on a side, on January 18, 1896." The following account by the late J. Vale Downie describes the birth of basketball at Geneva:

"The old wooden gymnasium was begun in 1888 and finished in 1890, at a cost of about $2,000. It was about 30 feet wide and 60 feet long, the main entrance being in the end facing College Avenue, and was located about where the present William Pollock Johnston gymnasium now stands. The new gym was dedicated June 6, 1911 and the cost of the building was $28,000.

"The first regular Athletic Director of Geneva was Professor Charles 0. Bemies of Boston, a graduate of Springfield Training School. He was a highly trained gymnast and gave instruction in fencing, boxing and wrestling, as well as in the use of the various forms of apparatus then in use. He was also an enthusiastic baseball and football player. It was under his direction that the first Geneva football team was organized by W. H. Coverdale in the fall of 1890.

"Charles 0. Bemies was the father of basketball at Geneva. The Geneva Cabinet for February, 1892 reported: 'Football in the gym is a popular mode of exercise at present. Some severe knocks are received, but in the excitement, they are hardly noticed.' The Cabinet for December, 1892 said:- 'Basketball is quite a go in the gym now. It suits very well to take the place of football for those who love a rough and tumble game.' The Cabinet for April, 1938, calls it "Basket football", and records a matched game with a New Brighton team. 'New Brighton played a game of basket football on the Geneva (floor) Saturday night, April 8, 1893. The score was 3 goals to 0 in favor of Geneva.'

"Interest in the game lapsed with the departure of Professor Bemies. In the fall of 1897 a basketball team was organized by William T. Levis, a famous Geneva football star of that era. Two games were played: one versus Duquesne Country and Athletic Club, of Pittsburgh, in the old Sixth Avenue Theatre, in Beaver Falls; and the other against Westminster. Geneva lost both games.

"At that time Joseph H. Thompson was a player on the D.C. and A.C. team a notable athlete and basketball player. I understand Levis was instrumental in persuading Thompson to come to Geneva, where he entered the first prep class in the fall of 1898, to graduate in 1904. He achieved stardom in football at Geneva and later at Pitt. He was probably the greatest basketball player ever at Geneva."

With Thompson leading the way the 1899-1903 teams were the first to cornpile a notable record, winning 35 while losing only 9. Ken Loeffler came as coach in 1928 and compiled a 7 year record of 92-53, led by Cliff Aultman. Loeffler went on to establish an outstanding record at LaSalle. After several years of average success, Geneva began a long productive era under the leadership of Cliff Aultman. His outstanding career has contributed much to basketball not only at Geneva but in the District and nationally.

From a 1972-73 Geneva basketball program