The sport of basketball was invented in the year 1891 and has been played here at Ohio Northern officially since 1904, though unofficial games undoubtedly predate this. Intramurals were opened for men and women this year, but the intramural teams would soon be placed under the leadership of an official athletics department as popularity grew. Basketball was the only sport offered to men and women, though they had different leagues. Men played baseball and football as well, while women were offered softball and volleyball.
Conduct was so bad by spectators at women’s basketball games that the women were not allowed to play before the men, in an attempt to draw smaller crowds. Reports say that crowd activities became so obnoxious that all crowds were banned from attending any women’s athletic competitions soon after. What the crowds did or said is not explicitly stated in historical sources, and it is unknown as to the nature of the rambunctious crowd.
The first official basketball game at Ohio Northern was played on January 15, 1904, in the Brown Building gymnasium against a team from Kenton. Games were played for several years against city teams and the YMCA. Intercollegiate basketball did not start until 1909 when more local universities organized teams and more official leagues were formed. But the team faced financial problems starting in 1913 when funds were not available to reserve gymnasium space. Brown Building and the local Ada gymnasium could not be reserved, and most sports funding went to the football team. The team was allowed to use the name of the university, but they would not receive funding. Luckily, a player fee solved the problem.
The women’s basketball team saw major success immediately in their program. After their first year of playing in 1904, they went undefeated for three years. They won the Ohio basketball championship in 1905, 1906, and 1907. The athletic association was so impressed with the skill of the team that three women were awarded varsity letters in 1908, a first for the women’s basketball team.
The men’s basketball team also saw success early in their program. Sources say that the Ohio Northern team was the first basketball team to score over 1000 points in a single season. This 1919-1920 season saw a record of 20-5 with 1004 points scored.
The Taft building served as a home for the basketball teams starting in 1929 and continued to host games until the 1970s. The building was outdated by this point and lacked proper seating and insulation. Crowds for basketball games had to crowd around the court due to a lack of seating and winter winds chilled the building faster than the furnace could heat it. The last game in Taft was in February of 1974, and King-Horn housed athletics after this. Taft was remodeled, gained its current flat roof, and the gymnasium was replaced with new classrooms and laboratories. King-Horn gained the fieldhouse in October of 1991 as an addition to the building, and the teams use this complex to this day.
Both men’s and women’s basketball have a storied history here at Ohio Northern. These programs are now nearly 120 years old and they have never been strangers to success. Athletes from Ohio Northern have always been trailblazers, record setters, and early adopters in sports, and basketball seems to be the shining example.