For many of us, basketball has always been around as long as we can remember. For me, I can remember shooting basketball in our dirt driveway at home in Parkhurst Siding on the East Presque Isle road. We used to play out there year round, shoveling off the outdoor court in the winter. There were also other places that became available to us: inside of barns and potato bins, once empty, in potato houses, where farmers would put up hoops for us so we could play. Wherever there was a basket you would seem to find people playing.
I am interested in knowing when basketball began formerly in many of the communities in this area and who was responsible for introducing it. Many people believe it began with boys, however in Presque Isle it was girls who had the first organized basketball team.
Myra Vickery, who was born and raised in Bangor and attended Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, introduced the game to girls at Presque Isle High School in the fall of 1900 and continued through the winter. She began her teaching career at Presque Isle High School and felt that young people needed something active to do during the winter months.
It is believed that Mount Holyoke College was probably the first women’s college to incorporate the playing and instruction of basketball. While attending college Ms. Vickery participated in the sport and developed a strong liking for the game. Although the time or place when the first game was played in Aroostook County hasn’t been established, it may have been Houlton, Presque Isle or Caribou.
Dr. James Naismith, while at Springfield College in 1891, developed and introduced the game of basketball. The initial introduction to the sport did not go smoothly in Presque Isle. There were many objections to the sport as some thought Ms. Vickery’s influence would be a source of danger and many did not feel the males should be allowed to watch the girls play.
Needless to say, they overcame the opposition and the girls continued to play. The girls made their own uniforms, which consisted of blouses with long sleeves and high necks, bloomers pleated around the waist and gathered in by elastics below the knees, long black stockings and rubber soled gym shoes. Many mothers in the community thought it was unladylike for girls to wear such apparel.
They began playing their games in the Opera House in Presque Isle until it was damaged by fire and the games of 1900-1901 had to be cancelled for the remainder of the winter. Outdoor courts were constructed at Gouldville and in May the girls continued to play and before the end of the year had played five games.
During the fall of 1901 they were able to move baskets back into the Opera House. The sport continued during the 1901-1902 season and the girls were rewarded with increasing interest in the game. Team membership doubled and spectators paid admission to watch them practice and play. Fees were five cents for students and 10 cents for the general public.
The girls’ basketball club became a worthwhile activity and a financial success. An evening game between the “Blues” and the “Reds” was played Oct. 30, 1901. According to the Star-Herald, the game was well attended and proved interesting and exciting. Enough money was made to pay for the use of the hall for the season.
Under Ms. Vickery’s leadership, the first team was formed to represent the town and play teams from outside the community. It appears the Presque Isle-Caribou girls’ rivalry is the oldest between the two schools. The teams played two games, the first one on Jan. 15, 1902, in Presque Isle. It is believed to be the first basketball contest between two rival towns played within Aroostook County. The first game saw Presque Isle prevail 34-9 and on Jan. 31, 1902, a return game was played in Caribou and won 29-26 by the home team.
Myra Vickery taught at Presque Isle High School from 1899-1904 and in 1918 and 1919. She married businessman Leon S. Howe and they later moved to Houlton where she continued teaching for a total of 33 years.
The first boys team in Presque Isle was organized in winter 1902 and the coach was the principal, J.E. Roberts. The first men’s basketball club in Presque Isle consisted of 17 members. They practiced twice a week during the winter and played two exhibition games. The exhibition games netted part of the money necessary to fund athletics.
They played a game in Presque Isle on April 10, 1902, with Ricker Classical Institute of Houlton. Presque Isle won by a score of 40-10. On April 17, 1902, there was a return matchup in Houlton and Ricker came away with a 22-10 win. The team did well financially and cleared enough from games to cover all running expenses for the next term.
In 1903, Colby J. Kitchen coached the Presque Isle team and scheduled games with Houlton and Caribou high schools. Presque Isle won both Caribou games, 29-11 and 28-6. The Houlton game, which was played at Presque Isle, was won 24-5 by PI.
In 1914, Aroostook Central Institute, Caribou, Fort Fairfield and Presque Isle formed the Northern Aroostook League. In the fall of 1925 the Northern Aroostook League ceased to exist and was replaced by the Aroostook League, which comprised the four schools in the Northern Aroostook League plus Washburn and Houlton. The league consisted of both boys and girls teams. The Aroostook League remained in existence until 1962.
Most people remember that when the game of basketball first originated (1891), peach baskets or boxes were nailed to the walls of the area where the game was being played. There were bottoms in these and when the ball went into the basket someone would use a ladder and go up and retrieve the ball. It was 10 years later (approximately 1901) that nets were introduced and placed around a metal rim.
Jim Carter of Presque Isle is a retired teacher and coach in the Caribou school system. The Presque Isle native is the author of “Six Decades of Wildcat Basketball: A History of Boys & Girls Basketball at Presque Isle High School 1950-2009,” which was published in 2009 by Northeast Publishing. He also wrote “Aroostook Basketball History & Eastern Maine Tournament History,” which was self-published. The 1971 Husson University graduate, who retired in 2001, has since been a fixture on the County basketball scene as a commentator on TV, radio and the internet, most recently doing live streaming at wagmtv.com
Carter thanks the Mark and Emily Turner Memorial Library in Presque Isle and Nathan White’s book, “Fifty-One Years of Playing Basketball in Aroostook County, Maine: 1900-1950,” for providing valuable information for this story and his books.