A few weeks ago when I signed into my email account there was a poll on the screen asking how many games of March Madness I intended to watch. For once I was proud to be part of the majority who had responded “none” by a whopping 59%. For me at least this is in no way a reflection of a dislike for the game. I spent many a happy hour shooting hoops with first my dad and then my sons and enjoyed watching their games when they were in school. Neither my father nor I encouraged or pressured our sons to go out for any sport at school – he taught me that it was the locus of learning and that the chances of becoming a multi-millionaire professional athlete were between slim and none and having seen too many young people destroyed with performance enhancing drugs and premature injuries to bodies not yet hardened I was positively opposed to participation in school sports.
It was not always so. The collegiate game really got under way at the turn of the twentieth century and what would become the NCAA was formed at the suggestion of then president Theodore Roosevelt. There were no scholarships to play ball. Nobody left school early to turn professional. The concept in those days was the scholar athlete who was expected to graduate and not allowed to play if his grades were not satisfactory. There were no courses like Rocks for Jocks or advanced tin bending and places like the New Mexico School of Mines did not grant a Sociology Degree in order to attract the academically deficient athletically gifted student who would be coddled by a booster club and cast into the outer darkness as a functional illiterate after their eligibility ended – of after they had been injured.
Although there were small professional teams starting in the 1920’s organized professional basketball did not really get started until after the second world war and its advent did nothing to contribute to the sport and benefitted the schools only with television revenues for the modest price of their academic integrity.
It was not always so. In the 1930’s both Steve and Bill Leach played for the New Mexico School of Mines in Socorro, New Mexico. As a tribute to that program – and what intercollegiate athletics once were – we are publishing the pictures of their teammates. Like Steve and Bill most of these men are no longer with us but everyplace the game is played for the sport, and in the spirit of the founder James Nesmith – who believed it should improve the player in spirit, mind and body, they are there.