The History of Baylor Basketball: Part 1

This article begins a five-day series on the history Baylor Men's Basketball, with the first part focusing on what we term the first true era of Baylor Basketball: 1907-1945. While Matt and I collaborated on all pieces, the format will alternate with each author. The primary author of this piece is Matt Wilson. The Bears begin the season this Friday November 14, 2014 at home versus McNeese State.

1906: Birth of Baylor Basketball

In 1905, the support for football from Baylor University waned. Fears the game was too violent lead to more athletic support for the basketball program. As a result, basketball became the sport of choice. Even so, wins were scarce in the first year, the only significant bright spots being two wins over University of Texas (then Texas University) and cross-town rival TCU in the second year of existence.

1927: Tragedy Strikes

It was on January 22, 1927 that Baylor Basketball met its first significant challenge in program history. That night, first-year head coach Ralph Wolf and his team boarded a bus and set off to Austin to play the University of Texas. A heavy rain hammered the trip, causing a near-blinding mixture when combined with road debris.

In Round Rock, just outside of Austin, a train collided with the side of the bus, killing multiple coaches, fans, and 10 of the 21 players on board, including one player, James Clyde “Abe” Kelly, who is reported as having pushed his best friend out of the way, saving his teammate’s life while sacrificing his own.

We now know of those lost as The Immortal Ten, and we honor them each year during Homecoming in a memorial and candlelight vigil service. The now famous statue to the side of Pat Neff Hall was erected in memory of those who lost their lives on June 22, 2007.

The tragedy sent shockwaves throughout the country, influencing safety protocols at railroad crossings. Due to the nature and extent of the loss, the remainder of the 1927 season was canceled.

1932 - 1945: Conference Champions and the Return of Irrelevance

Led by Coach Wolf, the Bears returned to the hardwood in 1928. Four years later, Baylor University claimed its the SWC basketball championship. Following the first conference championship in Baylor Basketball history the team fell back into national irrelevance. However, big achievements for the program were just around the corner.

Program Highlights

  • 1906-07: First season

  • 1927: Immortal Ten

  • 1928: First SWC Championship

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