(Note: The following feature predates this web site.)
"The sport of basket-ball was introduced this fall. Its prospects seemed dubious at the start."
--Georgetown College Journal, 1907
Basketball at Georgetown University can trace its origin to a game on February 9, 1907 versus the University of Virginia.
Its roots, however, stretch deeper.
Because before there could be a Ewing, a Thompson, or any great figure in Georgetown's basketball annals, there had to be a man to bring the sport to the Hilltop.
That man was Maurice Joyce (1851-1939). A jack- of-all trades through his eighty-eight years, he held jobs ranging from a circus trapeze artist to that of a commissioned United States Marshal, and taught physical training to day laborers and U.S. Presidents alike. Yet he may be best remembered as the man who introduced basketball to Washington, D.C, and ultimately to Georgetown.
The impact of Joyce on the foundation of Washington basketball cannot be understated. It was Joyce who spearheaded the movement towards five man teams, organized numerous amateur and college teams from Baltimore to Charlottesville, and served as the sport's first coach at Georgetown University.
In 1892, the 41 year old Joyce arrived in Washington to assume the post of Physical Education Director at the Carroll Institute, a facility not unlike today's YMCA centers. Introducing this new sport in Washington, Joyce found interest in the new game among the working men of the city, and teams began to form among military personnel, industrial workers, and the like.
It must be said that basketball in 1892 was a far different game than what we know today. The original rules of Dr. Naismith allowed nine players per side (three forwards, three guards, and three centers) in a contest that would be closer to indoor rugby than the finesse sport we know today. Joyce discovered the sport in a magazine account of the new game, and traveled to Springfield, Massachusetts to meet its creator, Dr. James Naismith. After meeting Dr. Naismith and learning the game, Joyce introduced basketball to the physical training regimen of the Washington Light Infantry Armory's physical training program. The Washington Evening Star wrote that in the early years, Joyce had no peach baskets from which to serve as a goal--and instead hung chairs upside down across the ends of the hall as the goals.
By 1895, Joyce had assembled the first five man basketball team in Washington , and perhaps in the nation. In correspondence with Dr. Naismith, Joyce held that the original rules--nine men per side--failed to achieve sustained physical fitness for the players. Joyce ultimately suggested five men per side, and this was approved by Naismith and a national rules committee by 1897. His five man Carroll Institute club played numerous exhibitions, and it was reported the club was undefeated in five-on-five play for three consecutive years.
In the fall of 1906, Joyce accepted an offer from Georgetown University to become its Director of Physical Education. The selection of Joyce to oversee Ryan Gymnasium, the school's new indoor facility, offered hope that an intercollegiate team could be fielded that year. With the exception of an obscure 1904 intramural clash between the "Sub-Freshmen" and the "First Academics", basketball was completely foreign to the University at this time.
Tryouts were held in December, 1906, following football season, to select a varsity squad. The names of the students selected, while not quite household names, were all well known football and baseball stars for the school. Collegian Lou Murray was elected student manager and was charged with constructing a schedule. A game with Virginia was available in early February. Negotiations for a January series with neighboring George Washington University proved difficult, and the two teams would not settle on a date until well into February.
It must be noted at this time that until the late 1920's, the basketball coach at Georgetown was more a moderator of the team than the floor leader he is today. At this time, the student manager was responsible for the arranging of schedules, practices, and finances--all tasks expected of today's coaches and athletic directors. The early basketball coach was expected to be an instructor (a teacher, if you will) who taught fundamentals and lent his advice when requested by the team.
The eight man roster completed practices in January 1907. (Local accounts of a game with a club team, the Washington Shamrocks, is noted but could not be verified in the contemporary records.) The Shamrocks notwithstanding, the team met its first intercollegiate opponent in the University of Virginia on Saturday, February 9, 1907. Before a large crowd at the Washington Light Infantry Armory at 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Georgetown's inaugural quint upended its highly regarded foe from Charlottesville by the count of 22-11.
The Blue and Gray (the term "Hoyas" was still many years away) held a 10-9 lead after the first half of play, but the defensive play of Sam Simon and Hal Schumm held the visiting Virginians to one field goal in the final twenty minutes of play. Richard Downey, GU's starting center, led all scorers with eight points, holding his opponent without a field goal the entire game.
If for some reason fans were still not convinced as to the excitement of the new game, the Feb. 27th battle with George Washington would be a different story altogether.
The "Hatchetites", as the former Columbian College five were known at the time, were led by senior Fred Rice, an elusive forward who played offense and defense with equal skill. As GWU prepared for their battle with their collegiate neighbors, Rice was felled by illness and persuaded by a physician to avoid the contest. Adding more headaches for George Washington coach E. Blanchard Robey was the loss of another starter to academic difficulties days before the game.
The game, played at Mr. Joyce's former home at the Carroll Institute, saw George Washington surprise the Georgetowners with a 6-0 run to begin the game. But twenty minutes later, the Blue and Gray's teamwork and defense turned a 6-0 deficit into a 16-11 halftime lead, much to the chagrin of the many GWU fans in attendance.
Robey knew that his team could expect even more trouble from the Hilltoppers in the second half if a 16-11 score was any indication. During the halftime intermission, Robey caught sight of Fred Rice himself, seated amidst the large GWU student section. The coach called Rice to the floor and persuaded him to don the buff and blue for the second half. "It was a wise move for the George Washington coach,", wrote the Washington Post, "for the way that Hatchetite team fought after the lithe forward had entered the game caused its supporters to go almost frantic with enthusiasm."
With Rice on the court, George Washington's five could do no wrong--and Georgetown could do nothing at all. The Blue and Gray found very few opportunities to score against Rice and the Hatchetites, who shut out GU throughout the second half. As the crowd sensed a momentous upset, GWU tied the game at 16 before a late basket earned them an 18-16 win.
While it was Georgetown's first loss as a varsity team, the game carried a far greater significance at the time. This was the first time any athletic team from George Washington had defeated any team from Georgetown in an intercollegiate contest. Not unexpectedly, bedlam erupted in the stands upon the cessation of play, and delirious partisans spilled into the streets. Later that week, the GWU squad was featured at the head of the Post's sports page, under the headline
"FIRST TO LOWER GEORGETOWN'S COLORS"
The two teams met again within a week, this time at the Light Infantry Armory. Before a crowd of 1,100 (a figure unheard of in local athletics to this time), the two teams staged a controversial battle on and off the court.
The game itself was delayed over an hour as the two schools could not agree on a set of rules. Since the sport was in its infancy, such rule disputes were altogether common, making for a lengthy set of disagreements on the most basic of rules. As Messrs. Robey and Joyce debated over the use of sidelines, the restless and antagonistic crowd traded cheers back and forth across the hall.
The cheers were quite audible next door to the Armory, where a performance at Chase's Theatre was underway. The theatre management entered the Armory hall to ask for silence, claiming such rancor would disrupt its performance. The collegians' response was, as could be expected, to cheer even louder, causing the theatre to repeatedly threaten to have the contest stopped if the noise did not abate. This was to no avail, however, as the game (and noise) went on.
As sidelines were agreed to (thanks to Mr. Joyce), the game commenced, with Georgetown holding an 8-4 lead after the first twenty minutes. Fred Rice, who started for George Washington, was held without a field goal and missed seven free throws in as many attempts. Rice came alive in the second stanza, hitting the first five points of the half to cut the Georgetown lead to one, 10-9. As Georgetown led 15-13 with under a minute to play, GWU held for a last shot, which sailed through the basket--but after time had expired. Georgetown prevailed against its arch-rivals, as Hilltop fans swarmed the Armory floor to lift their heroes aloft in triumph.
The series was scheduled to be a best two out of three series, but for decades it was assumed that a third game was never played. The Georgetown College Journal noted two losses to GWU in their July, 1907 issue, but failed to list a score for this battle. Georgetown athletic records, perhaps using the Journal as a reference, for years listed this game as a loss with no score indicated. George Washington University does not recognize a varsity team prior to 1908, so there are no official records for the 1906-1907 squad.
The third game was delayed into mid-March, and by that time some of the team had gone on to play other varsity sports. Archival records confirm a 24-10 George Washington victory, with Rice again the star.
Fred Rice's career at George Washington was altogether brief. To his disappointment, GWU hesitated to announce whether it would sponsor basketball the following year. Knowing an opportunity when he saw it, Joyce convinced Rice to enroll at Georgetown's law school in the fall, where the nucleus would soon be in place for Georgetown's first great team, the 1908 "Champions of the South".