James Naismith was 31 years old when he created the first rules for the game of basketball. Six years later, in 1898, he founded the University of Kansas' basketball program.
By the time of his death in 1939, basketball was an Olympic sport. Today, of course, its popularity rivals baseball and football in the United States and it is played all over the planet.
Naismith - portrayed by educator and actor Bill Worley - returns to his Midwestern haunts for a conversation as part of the Library's popular Meet the Past series on Wednesday, July 11, 2012, at 6:30 p.m. in the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.
Conducting the interview is Library Director Crosby Kemper III. The program will be taped by KCPT for later broadcast.
Born in Canada and educated at Montreal's McGill University - where he participated in Canadian football, lacrosse, rugby, soccer, and gymnastics - Naismith came to the U.S. in 1891 to teach physical education at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Faced with rowdy students confined to indoor games during freezing New England winters, Naismith created an "athletic distraction" that could be played in relatively small areas. He called it "basket ball" after the two peach baskets mounted high on the walls that served as goals.
In 1898 Naismith was hired by the University of Kansas to serve as a chapel director (he was a Presbyterian minister) and physical education instructor. He founded the Jayhawk basketball program and became the university's first basketball coach.
He was also a National Guard chaplain with the First Kansas Infantry Regiment and taught soldiers to play basketball to control their excess energy. The game improved morale and lowered disciplinary incidents.
Naismith's career at K.U. lasted until his retirement in 1937 at the age of 76. He is buried in Memorial Park Cemetery in Lawrence, Kansas.
Bill Worley teaches history at the Metropolitan Community College's Blue River campus and has portrayed James Madison, Harry S. Truman, and Richard Nixon, among others. For Meet the Past he has portrayed Tom Pendergast (in 2007) and Wallt Disney (2009). He is the author of J.C. Nichols and the Shaping of Kansas City, Beale Street: Crossroads of America's Music, and The Plaza: First and Always.
Admission is free. RSVP online or call 816.701.3407. A 6 p.m. reception precedes the event. Free parking is available at the Library District Parking Garage at 10th & Baltimore.
Major funding for this season of Meet the Past has been provided by the Courtney S. Turner Charitable Trust, Ken and Cindy McClain, and the J. B. Reynolds Foundation.