The First Kentucky-Louisville Basketball Game

If you're a college basketball fan here in Kentucky, this is going to be the longest week ever. In fact, if you aren't a college basketball fan (or, heaven forbid, cheer for another team...), it's probably going to be a pretty darned long week as well. As we count down the minutes until Friday night at 9:45, when the Kentucky Wildcats take on the Louisville Cardinals, I thought it would be fun to take a trip back in time -- 101 years back in time to be exact -- to the first meeting of the teams we now know as UK and U of L.

The first meeting of the Kentucky State University basketball team -- deemed the Wildcats in 1909 -- and the University of Louisville Cardinals took place on February 15, 1913. Revolution was in the air on the international political stage, as the Mexican Revolution had just begun and the House of Romanov, celebrating 300 years of rule in Russia, would soon be overthrown. In the United States, the Republican attorney from Cincinnati, William Howard Taft, was wrapping up his four-year term as President, soon to be succeeded by Virginia-born Democrat Woodrow Wilson, the Governor of New Jersey and former President of Princeton University. American women were rallying to make their voices heard in politics and the famed Woman Suffrage Parade would be held a few weeks later in Washington, D.C.

Here in Kentucky, James B. McCreary, a Madison County-born attorney, Centre College alumnus, and Civil War veteran was sitting as governor. The 1910 Census listed Louisville as the 24th largest city in the U.S., with a population of 223,928 people. The Ford Motor Company would soon establish a Louisville factory at the corner of Third Street and Eastern Parkway, which would employ 17 workers. Lexington had a population of 47,715, and neither Keeneland nor the Kentucky Theatre had yet been established.

Downtown Louisville, 1913. via U of L Libraries.
Kentucky State University had an established basketball presence, with teams dating back to 1903. The Louisville Cardinals had only begun playing organized basketball the previous season.  The teams met at Lexington's newly-constructed Buell Armory Gymnasium.
Buell Armory 
Kentucky's team had recently experienced a coaching shakeup. Edwin R. Sweetland, Kentucky's first paid coach, had been forced to resign following a bit of a scandal involving the athletic office. The chair of the philosophy department, Dr. J.J. Tigert, was named athletic director and coach; he would later go on to serve as the President of the University of Florida. The first game of Taggart's 1912-1913 season was a crushing loss to the Lexington YMCA team. The Cardinals, under Coach William Gardinier, were at the disadvantage of having no gymnasium on campus and held games at the Tharp Business School gym.

Coach Edwin Sweetland's 1911-1912 Kentucky Wildcats
1913-14 Louisville Cardinals
Kentucky women's team, early 1910s
The game on February 12th was part of a double-header. Kentucky's women's team was taking on Kentucky Wesleyan, and the box office draw was $87.95, offsetting the $76 expense of putting on the game.

Gardinier's Cardinals suffered from injuries -- two starters were out of the game. Kentucky emerged victorious, 34-10, and set off an intrastate rivalry that is now in its second century.

Here's to another 100 years of great basketball between the Commonwealth's signature college basketball programs!

This post originally appeared on HerKentucky. The author, Heather C. Watson, is a freelance writer and the founding editor of HerKentucky. Heather grew up in an Eastern Kentucky coal town and has called Lexington, Louisville, and Nashville "home." A frequent contributor to Lexington's Ace Weekly magazine, Heather specializes in essays about Southern life. She tweets as @heathercw.

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