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Rare Book Collection: History & Evolution of Sports

Springfield College is known as the “Birthplace of Basketball” because of James Naismith’s role in the formation of the sport while an instructor at the College when it was a YMCA training school. As you would expect, the historical sources on Basketball are deep, but they reside within a larger sphere of materials on the History & Evolution of Sport. This aspect of the collections encompass the growth in games, recreation for individuals, the development of team sports, and the rise of the Amateur Sports movement, including the Olympics. Examples include rare and foundational sporting periodicals like Wilkes Spirit of the Times (1859-1902) and Baily’s Magazine of sports and pastimes (1860-1894); a broad array of NCAA and AAU manuals, rules, proceedings and yearbooks; and an interesting cross-section of Olympic memorabilia.

During the 1880s American culture became increasingly fascinated with sports. The image below called “Sport on the Brain” - which is Puck’s phrenological chart for the season of 1887 - illuminates how the sports craze was on America’s mind.

Illustration titled 'Sport on the Brain.' A Caucasian man with long white hair and a scraggily beard wears a black pinstriped suit and a red and white striped tie. Rather than hair at the top and back of his head, he has pictures of various sports featured as segments of his brain.
Sport on the Brain, Puck's American Phrenological Chart for the Season of 1887, Puck, vol. 21, no. 534, June 1, 1887.
Front page of the Spirit of the Times newsletter
Wilkes' Spirit of the Times masthead, claimed to be “The sole and only recognized sporting authority of the Western hemisphere”.
Spines of Physical Education journals
The development of games and sports, like Bell's handbooks.


Springfield College is known as the Birthplace of Basketball, but it also has deep roots in the evolution of Gymnastics. Leslie Judd, widely considered a father of modern gymnastics, was head coach for many years. And Springfield College was the place where Volleyball got its name when in 1896 the name "Mintonette" was replaced by "Volley Ball" after an exhibition on campus.

Besides these sports that have deep connections to Springfield College, there are a wide variety of materials on specific sports in the Collection. Our sporting materials especially reflect the role of Springfield College in these sports development and history. We do not attempt to collect comprehensively, even for areas of great depth, like basketball. 

The sports that we continue to collect in are:

  • Basketball – 15 shelves, ~1,100 volumes
  • Volleyball – 4 shelves, ~300 volumes
  • Gymnastics – 20 shelves, ~900 volumes
  • Dance – 9 shelves, ~500 volumes

The following sports are not collected actively, but contain some rare and interesting items:

  • Water Sports (Swimming, Diving, Water Polo) – 15 shelves, ~600 volumes
  • Football – 9 shelves, ~500 volumes
  • Baseball & Softball – 8 shelves, ~500 volumes
  • Racquet Sports
    • Tennis – 9 shelves, ~300 volumes
    • Badminton – 2 shelves, ~150 volumes
  • Soccer – 4 shelves, ~350 volumes
  • Winter Sports (Skiing, Curling, Skating) – 3 shelves, ~300 volumes
  • Wrestling – 3 shelves, ~250 volumes
  • Track & Field – 2 shelves, ~175 volumes
  • Field Hockey – 1 shelf, ~100 volumes
  • Boxing – 1 shelf, ~100 volumes
  • Golf – 1 shelf, ~75 volumes
  • Lacrosse – 1 shelf, ~50 volumes
  • Handball – 1 shelf, ~50 volumes
  • Bowling – 1 shelf, ~50 volumes
  • Bicycling – 1 shelf, ~50 volumes