“Making Basketball History” was the heading of an article in the January 28, 1938 Bangor (Maine) Daily News. So, who made basketball history? It was the Presque Isle Future Farmers basketball team. They had finished the season with a 20-1 record. The only team that beat them was a team composed of alumni members of their own FFA chapter.
The article went on to report “Practically all games this season have been against major competition. The Farmers have met all the small high schools in Aroostook County that were willing to play them. The team will terminate the basketball season by competing in the District Future Farmer tournament in Houlton in March. The team is coached by George H. Barnes, agriculture instructor in the high school.” See Figure 1.
Figure 1. Presque Isle Maine FFA Basketball Team - 1938
How common was it for an FFA chapter to have an athletic team in the early days of the FFA? The answer – very common. There was often competition at the county, regional, and state levels. Basketball seems to have been the favorite FFA team activity.
When the FFA was established, most members were farm boys who had chores to do and other work on the farm that occupied their time. And they often lived a distance from the school. So, it was hard for them to participate in varsity athletics.
One of the early books for FFA Advisors was Fun and Work for Future Farmers. It was written by L. L. Scranton, State FFA adviser in North Dakota. It was published by Interstate in 1934. The book contained a collection of fun activities for FFA members and had a chapter on "Athletic Activities."
When the FFA was established, a set of aims and purposes for the FFA was established. The 1929-30 FFA Manual listed nine aims and purposes of the FFA. Number 4 on the list was “To provide recreation and educational entertainment for students of vocational agriculture.” Over the years some wordsmithing was done but the intent remained the same. An FFA classroom poster from the 1930s listed “To provide and encourage the development of organized recreational activities” as the twelfth purpose. See Figure 2.
Figure 2: FFA Poster from the 1930s
Achieving the Recreation Goal
A search of Newspapers.com using the search term “FFA basketball” yielded 4,699 hits from 46 states (see Table 1).Newspapers.com is an indexing service that puts thousands of newspapers on the Internet. However, It should be noted that all newspapers are not indexed in Newspapers.com and the word basketball had to closely follow FFA. If a story said the “Future Farmers will be in a basketball tournament” that story might have been missed. But on the other hand, if “FFA basketball” appeared four times in one article that would count as four hits. While this search is not scientifically rigorous it does give a broad indication that FFA basketball tournaments were common at one time.
Table 1 Mentions of “FFA Basketball” by State in Newspapers.com
|New York||88||North Carolina||7|
A perusal of the articles found that most newspaper articles reported on the scores of the games, announced the upcoming games, or indicated the local team would be competing in a regional or state tournament. A few articles provided details about the composition of the FFA team or the league.
Here are representative samples of what was reported in the newspapers:
West Virginia. Philip Meador, Lacy Wood and Jesse Farley, were named to investigate the possibility of securing a school bus to take Hinton FFA boys to the regional FFA basketball tournament at Pineville on March 23. – The Independent Herald, Hinton, WV – March 13, 1940
New Hampshire. The FFA participated in the district FFA basketball tournament last week. Representing Newbury FFA were Sydney Bailey, Eugene Piper, David Boyce and James and “Ronnie” Page. – The River News and Twin State News-Times – March 8, 1962
Colorado. Ault defeated Loveland 53 to 32 to win the FFA basketball championship of Northern Colorado on Saturday night. Seven teams were entered in the tournament – Ault, Gilcrest, Johnstown, Platteville, Loveland, Brighton and Greely. – Fort Collins Coloradoan, January 7, 1940
Delaware. Robert “Fuzzy” McCormick, who has been an overpowering pitcher in local baseball leagues demonstrated his ability on the hardwood by leading his Newark FFA Chapter basketball team to a 23-13 victory over Middletown. McCormick scored 15 of his team’s 23 points. The News Journal (Wilmington), January 31, 1991.
Nevada. Basketball teams of the Reno and Sparks chapters of the Future Farmers of America played Tuesday evening in Sparks High School gymnasium with Sparks winning the game. Following the game the members of the Reno chapter were hosts at a party at the Reno High School. A feature of the party was a special motion picture on parasite plants. The meeting was then adjourned to Sanford Equipment Company where the FFA members viewed new farm tractors. Reno Gazette-Journal, December 13, 1940.
Hundreds of similar articles could be cited.
Typically, the first 10 varsity basketball players in a high school were not allowed to participate on the FFA team but there were exceptions as illustrated in the following article from The Daily News Leader (Staunton, VA) Jan 13, 1936.
Figure 3. Article from The Daily News Leader (Staunton, VA) Jan 13, 1936.
An article from the Carroll (Iowa) Daily Times Herald Dec 8, 1941 reports on the formation of an FFA Basketball league involving six counties in Iowa. The article identified the league officials but fails to report they were FFA members. Typically, the rules and regulations for league play were determined by FFA members representing the various school districts in the league.
Figure 4. Article from the Carroll (Iowa) Daily Times Herald Dec 8, 1941
It was not uncommon to have a state basketball tournament that coincided with the state FFA Convention or some other FFA activity such as a judging contest. In 1932 a state basketball tournament was held in conjunction with the state FFA convention in Florida (The Miami News, July 3, 1932). In Wyoming, a basketball tournament was held in conjunction with the state livestock judging contest.
Figure 5. Article from the Casper Star-Tribune, March 12, 1950
People take sports seriously. The FFA Basketball leagues were no exception. Three letters to the sports editor appeared in The Daily American newspaper of Somerset, Pennsylvania on March 7, 1980. The first letter started with the words “This letter is written in response to a recent letter to the editor concerning the FFA Basketball League.” The letter was written by an agricultural teacher and was defending a decision made by the League’s governing body. The decision that was controversial was a ruling that a student on one of the teams was ineligible to play, thus the team had to forfeit their win.
The teacher explained that a student representative from each FFA chapter wrote the rules for the League and also interpreted the rules. In this particular case, the students made the decision that the player in question was not eligible according to the rules. The FFA advisors supported the decision of the students.
The second letter to the editor was from the President of the Somerset County Vo-Ag Teachers Association. He started his letter with these words “The following are the facts in a recently settled FFA basketball dispute which were erroneously referred to by several uninformed readers in a recent letter to the editor.” He then went into great detail about the rules that state “no one who plays on or practices with a Jr. High, Jr. Varsity or Varsity basketball team is eligible to play on an FFA basketball team.” He then provided evidence that the player in question had been a member of the varsity team of a competing school but had left the team after an injury. The letter concluded with the statement that “The county FFA officers voted overwhelmingly that the [school name] player was ineligible to play on the FFA team.” Because of the use of an ineligible player the team that had apparently won the championship had to forfeit that victory.
The third letter was from a school superintendent. His opening statement was “There was a very severe and misleading statement in a letter printed on your sports page on Tuesday. It concerned the VoAg teacher at [school name]. For you to print a nasty remark about a person without checking the facts helped no one.”
The letter that began this chain of events had been printed three days earlier and was signed by parents of the basketball team that had been disqualified. The letter started “This letter is written concerning the [school name] F.F.A. Basketball Team. A team that has been ripped off by a sore losing [school name] coach and team. You know Mr. Coach your team was beaten fair and square.” And the letter went downhill from there.
The Decline of FFA Basketball Tournaments
When one examines the data by decades it is readily apparent that the glory days for FFA basketball tournaments were in the 1950s. See Figure 6.
Figure 6 Mentions of “FFA Basketball” by Decades in Newspapers.com
Recreation was an important part of the FFA in the first half-century of its existence. And it should still be an important aspect of the FFA today. There should be fun FFA activities. If I were an FFA advisor today I would have a combination of fun sports activities and social/mental activities such as the Jackbox suite of games including Fibbage and Quiplash. If you do, you can create excitement for the FFA.
This is the first Friday Footnote for 2022. I hope you have a great spring semester. With the emergence of the Omicron virus, it could be challenging. However, agriculture teachers are resilient. We survived the Great Depression and the accompanying Dust Bowl and will survive the Covid pandemic.
I conducted a workshop at the recent NAAE convention in New Orleans comparing the 1930s with the Covid-19 era. The workshop concluded with eight research-based recommendations from the Center for Creative Leadership for being resilient. You are welcome to view the PowerPoint presentation I used if you need tips on how to be a resilient teacher. It can be downloaded from https://drive.google.com/file/d/1sy-Fm2tmbYaIxSM1WSo8VWvg4H34uBOI/view?usp=sharing.
The Friday Footnotes for much of 2022 will focus on the historical aims and purposes of the FFA. Are they still valid today?