Hepbron Hall, Part 1: George

Hepbron Hall bids us remember two members of the Hepbron family at Silver Bay, a father and daughter, with two very different stories. First, the father:

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George T. Hepbron (1863-1946)

George Hepbron was active in the YMCA for more than 50 years. As a member of the Physical Education Committee, he served on 42 national and local committees at the same time. But it was in the sport of basketball that he had his greatest impact.

Working with James Naismith, who invented basketball at the YMCA’s Springfield College in 1891, Hepbron became one of basketball’s first officials. In the sport’s early days, tackling and body blocking were common and many YMCAs sought to ban the sport as too violent. Hepbron struggled valiantly to see that the rules were enforced. Known for his quick whistle, Hepbron disqualified so many men at the first national basketball tournament (1893) that the final game had to be halted for a day until replacement players could be found.

In 1896, Hepbron became the first secretary of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Basketball Committee, and in 1898, he was named as secretary of the YMCA Athletic League. From 1896 to 1915, he served as editor and rules interpreter of the men’s and women’s basketball guides. In 1904, he wrote the first book on basketball, published by A.G. Spaulding.

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Working with the AAU, Hepbron sought to register every basketball team in the nation as a member. His stated goal was the salvation of amateurism, and he wrote in the AAU’s Basket-ball Guide that the failure of the registration drive would see the sport “degenerate into a game where men would be welcomed who play for money.”

Hepbron felt that amateur basketball must have control and structure, noting, “The practical way to accomplish this is to affiliate your team with this organization and play only such other teams as will do the same, leaving the irresponsible teams to play among themselves without any order or regulation.”

The crusade met with mixed results. The AAU’s only enforcement tool was suspension. So while working to bring teams in, the AAU at the same time suspended teams who violated the rules, usually the rule against playing a team that was not in the AAU. The ax fell often; eleven teams were suspended in one day in 1901. By 1905, one history notes, half the colleges in the northeastern U.S. had been ejected from the AAU for playing other teams ejected from the AAU.

While the absolute control of amateur basketball proved to be beyond his grasp — and men did eventually play the game for money, lots of money — George Hepbron had much to be proud of, especially his quick whistle that saved basketball from becoming indoor football on hardwood, and his years of teaching others to play and love the sport. Hepbron was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1960, as a referee.

At Silver Bay, when Dr. George Fisher led the Summer Training Institute of the YMCA, George Hepbron was on the staff to teach basketball. And by bringing his family to Silver Bay, he made a contribution of a completely different nature, introducing his daughter Adele to Silver Bay and generations of water color artists to an inspiring instructor.

Hepbron Hall

Hepbron Hall, July 2009

* * *

“Basket Ball Teams Out” in The New York Times, December 28, 1901

“Commercializing Amateur Athletics” by Charles J.P. Lucas in The World Today, January 1906

“George T. Hepbron” in The New York Times, May 1, 1946

The Rise and Fall of American Sport (1994) by Ted Vincent

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