The Crooked Lake Review

Winter 2003

Home Index Museums Blog Authors Site Map About


"Get the Ball Home!"

Basketball Origins in Honeoye Falls


Paul S. Worboys

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:

In all games, where the opening of the goals is vertical, there is a great deal of swift passing and throwing, which in a gymnasium would ultimately result in damage to the apparatus and possibly to the players. To overcome this in an indoor game, the goals were placed horizontally and at such a height that a player could not cover them and prevent the entrance of the ball. The first goals were simply a couple of peach baskets hung at each end of the gymnasium and hence the game took its name.

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:

The conversion of Wolfsberger Hall into a furniture factory brought great grief among basket ball fans in Honeoye Falls. The game, but lately brought into town, quickly gained great favor among the townspeople. Upon the questioning of the townspeople as to whether the game was to be played this year, a committee was appointed to find a suitable place for a basket ball court. Reports showed the Village Hall the only suitable place. Reports also showed that when properly netted to protect the windows and walls that the said hall would be the best court in many counties. The court has about 40' x 60' dimensions with no net behind the goal on the stage end…

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.

In the Village Hall

Olin Rittenhouse wired the Village Hall for electricity complete with red exit lights and a fire alarm in the fall of 1918. Teams played there that winter. A benefit play "Hulda Thorn" with home talent raised money for nets, not for the goals, but for huge ones to hang from ceiling to floor to separate the court from the fans. Many players got snagged seeking loose balls or passing the sphere back into play from the sidelines. Pulleys attached to the ceiling enabled the nets to be drawn up for movies, concerts and commencements. The pulleys still remain.

The Times announced on January 8, 1920, "The new basketball apparatus will be installed today, and the high school boys will start practicing immediately." Then on the evening of January 23rd, the visiting Batavia High team, ferried east over the Peanut Railroad, captured the inaugural contest, 51 - 31. Games with well-seasoned quintets from Rochester, Canandaigua, Newark, and Palmyra led to a miserable season, but the local and very vocal fans crowded the place for every game, including a 36 - 4 drubbing of an inexperienced team from Caledonia.

Over the next four basketball seasons, 200 to 300 fans rocked the place with excitement in battles with Pittsford, Victor, Livonia, Rochester Shop School and RBI. The orange and black school colors fostered a nickname which cried out with pride for over 50 years - "Go Hornets!"

Numerous highlights came out of that era, including the outstanding playing of HFHS's first basketball "star," Wilford Hulse. The January, 1923, game was almost canceled when the cars bringing the Shortsville players were mired in heavy snow drifts five miles out on Boughton Hill Road. Calls went out to rural folk, who hitched up their sleighs and carried the troupe on to Honeoye Falls and a 33 - 27 victory.

Additionally there were games by the HF "Barekats" town team, silent movies shown by Frank Barnard and many other social goings-on that made for a rare winter evening with the Village Hall quiet and dark.

A year later, HFHS closed out its season, not knowing it would be its last for several years. Those final games found the boys losing a 19 - 17 heartbreaker to Pittsford, while the girls team, described as the best in school history prevailed, 22 - 14.

As the 1924 - 1925 season neared, Honeoye Falls High School fell under deep budgetary cuts that axed basketball and virtually ended the sport in the Village Hall. "Death has visited the high school," stated a school news column, "leaving in its trail the basket ball team." Eliminated, also, were several clubs, magazines for the library and the annual track meet. The high school's players and alumni did manage an impromptu game in the hall in January, 1925, won by the latter, 70 - 28. Without a regular program, the game lapsed into a coma and serious players returned to cowbarn pickup games. The nets and basketball apparatus in the Village Hall came down, sedate movie goers replaced raucous crowds, and hopes hung on the growing talk for a new modern school—together with a spacious gymnasium.

After a three year lapse in basketball, Honeoye Falls had a new school, new coaches and a new set of teams.

Herbert J. Worboys and Mrs. Eunice Frank organized the troops and inaugurated the new gym on December 14, 1928, with the boys defeating Scottsville 29 to 13. There is no score reported on the girl's game. Familiar names played in the handsome new gymnasium. Girl players were Misses Burton, Green, Marasco, Rittenhouse, Scott, and Snoddy and boy players were Briggs, Burton, Leary, Longfellow, Nunemaker, Pelino. Mrs. Frank taught two generations of students at HF, and Herbert Worboys who came to teach history and coach baseball and basketball retired after 36 years as Supervising Principal.

Girls and boys basketball teams in the Honeoye Falls-Lima Central School have won championships in recent seasons and in December, 2001, the "Lady Cougars" went to Disney World's basketball tournament in Orlando, Florida, to play national high school teams.

© 2002, Paul S. Worboys
CLR Blog | Site Map | Contact CLR