"Get the Ball Home!"
Basketball Origins in Honeoye Falls
Now that the "Lady Cougars" of Honeoye Falls-Lima Central School have completed a pioneering sojourn to Disney World's hoop tournament in Orlando, Florida, let's travel back to the era when both sexes pioneered the game in our fair village.
Before 1890, sports such as baseball, football, hockey, golf, and lacrosse were firmly a part of American life. That year James Naismith, an instructor at a Young Men's Christian Association training school in Springfield, Massachusetts, sought to present a new feature to rather humdrum gymnasium work.
With forethought he created an indoor team game without the roughness of most other sports, either to players or to the gymnasium itself. Trial-and-error improvement followed the posting of rules on the walls of Springfield YMCA gymnasium.
This snippet from a 1903 Rochester Democrat & Chronicle article describes how the game was accommodated to indoor playing:
From before the turn of the 20th Century the new sport of basketball was incubated in urban schools, colleges, YMs and YWCAs. It then flowered throughout America's towns and villages just prior to World War I.
Slightly modified for their first half-century but changed significantly since World War II, Naismith's basketball rules to provide for athleticism without the roughness have carried into the 21st Century.
Local Sporting Scene
Honeoye Falls was bustling in 1900. It boasted three railroads, numerous mills, industries, shops, and the amenities of village life: a newspaper, bank, library, fire department and a community band. The ballroom of the 1886 Village Hall was the center of village social life; it remained so up to the opening of a brand-new school in 1928.
During warmer months, horse racing and fairs occupied the Peer lot out where Rittenhouse Drive sits today. The 'Husky Farmers' baseball team was a fearsome nine to reckon with, and the high school football squad backed away from no one. Two earlier pastimes, roller skating at rinks on Locust and Ontario and bicycling down the side paths toward Rush and Rochester had gone out with the Victorian Era. Although winter sleighing and skating on the creek were popular pastimes, there was an itch for a winter activity more competitive, more exhilarating, and indoors.
In 1903, an interscholastic basketball league was formed out of the big Rochester schools, together with Batavia, Albion and Medina High and the normal schools at Brockport and Geneseo. A few years later, Genesee Wesleyan, the seminary school at Lima, constructed a fine gymnasium/basketball court that stands yet today.
The Union School in Honeoye Falls had no athletic facilities of any kind. When the Rochester "Pontiacs" offered a challenge game in 1911, there was no village team to accept. The introduction of basketball in Honeoye Falls required the coincidence of youthful exuberance constricted by winter doldrums and a feisty entrepreneur looking for new business ventures.
Fred Wolfsberger, a hardware merchant in town and a savvy observer, saw that automobiles and motion pictures were sweeping across America. He also surmised that the general fare of entertainment at the Village Hall left room for competition, so, to accommodate the desire for both motoring and movies, he built a boxy cinder-block building complete with a false front on a vacant lot on North Main Street in 1913. The ground floor became a repair shop for motor cars and the upper floor, a theatre for "High-Class Photoplays."
However, silent pictures at the "Honeoye Falls Amusement Company" (later the "Gem Theatre") attracted ruffians rather than the Village Hall patrons. The movie house didn't pay. Not even a visit by Anna Edson Taylor, the first woman to survive a descent over Niagara Falls in a barrel, could stem the flow of red ink. After three years of losses, Wolfsberger and a number of basketball enthusiasts designed and outfitted a "regulation" (loosely interpreted) playing court on the theatre floor. It was to be a symbiotic relationship—the village athletes got to play basketball and, at a quarter a head, the bills might get paid to keep Fred's venture going .
On December 14th, 1916, curious townsfolk crammed the upper level of "Wolfsberger Hall" for the inaugural game in Honeoye Falls. It was a barn-burner, as the "Independents" including athletes of all ages, edged Clifton Springs Sanitarium, 30 to 28. Called on to referee was local baseball legend, old-time catcher Ock Lee, whose stern demeanor evolved from the days when protective equipment was regarded as sissy stuff.
Two weeks later the "Independents" won again, 35 - 17 over Honeoye. About that time there were several reports that Honeoye Falls High School boys and girls teams had commenced play. Senior high schooler Leonard Pierce and senior girls: Agnes Hurley, Grace Myers, Violet Rittenhouse and Amo Thompson were acknowledged for their role on the first teams. (Amo, who married Postmaster Lyle Krieger, went on to become the first Village Historian and was instrumental in the founding of the Honeoye Falls - Mendon Historical Society.)
High school ball continued at Wolfsburger's through the winter of 1918 - 1919 with a boy's squad of ten and the girl's team of six. Townsfolk traveling to games saw other playing facilities and returned home with descriptions of new sports innovations and a desire for a better playing court. Funding schemes were hatched to build a new gymnasium.
For nearly three years, basketball and movies went in tandem at Wolfsberger's Hall. Aside from a pot-bellied stove protected by chicken wire in one corner and the low ceiling that discouraged the long, fast break pass or the "Hail Mary" game winner, play generally fell into the Naismith design.
Then Fred Wolfsberger sold his building. The Honeoye Falls Times of November 6, 1919, summed up the new direction:
So the theatre, then basket ball court was converted to manufacturing furniture, canvas products (including orders for military backpacks during WWII), toys, and furniture restorations which to this day keep Fred Wolfsberger's cinder-block building a vital part of the village economy.