6 Brief Histories of Sports in America
(Last Updated On: October 9, 2020)


6 Brief Histories of Sports in America – Americans love their sports. From an early age, the thrill of competition and the roar of a crowd keeps athletes and fans coming back again and again. And many of the games loved by Americans have deep roots and ancient history. They grew with the nation that loves them, too.


Originally known as stickball, the game was played by the Algonquian tribe and spread westward to other Native American tribes. Using sticks and deerskin balls, players moved the ball across goals using only the sticks to gain points. One of the earliest documents mentioning lacrosse was by a French Jesuit missionary named Jean de Brebeuf. By 1860, Canada named the game the country’s official sport. Since then, the country has since named it its official summer sport, while hockey is the official winter sport.


In 1891, with peach baskets and an old soccer ball, James Naismith devised a new game for his gym class at Springfield College (also known as the YMCA Training School and the International YMCA Training School) in MA. He wrote 13 rules, giving the game two 15-minute halves and a 5-minute rest period in between. The objective was to score the most points by placing the ball inside the opposing team’s basket. The game soon spread across the country, with schools and colleges incorporating it into their sports programs. In 1936, the sport debuted in the Berlin Olympic Games.


Considered America’s pastime, the first recorded baseball game took place in 1846, where Alexander Cartwright pitted his Knickerbockers against the New York Baseball Club at Elysian Fields in Hoboken, NJ. However, the game existed before that time, with small towns all across the country organizing teams to play this game with a stick and a ball. These teams pitted a single player against eight fielders and a pitcher. The goal was to hit the ball with the bat and move runners around the bases, scoring points when they crossed home plate. Most sports historians point to the 1500s English game of rounders that involves a bowler, batter, and a fielding team.

The first professional team debuted in 1869 when the Cincinnati Red Stockings recruited paid players from around the country. From that time forward, professional teams grew, and by 1875 the National League was established, followed by the American League. In 1903, the first World Series baseball game was played.


Before the 1840s, bowling was primarily an outdoor sport. With roots dating back to ancient Egypt, the sport of knocking over objects with a rolled ball evolved from other lawn games such as kegels and bocce. An attempt at cracking down on gambling associated with the game in the 1840s reduced the number of pins from 10 to 9 to avoid the law. Bowling turned professional in 1901 when The American Bowling Congress brought teams to compete in a tournament in Chicago, IL. Bowling even found its way into the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea.


Football combines the games of rugby and soccer with the goal of carrying the football across the opposing team’s goal line to score points. Different teams played the game with differing philosophies for years – some playing the game more like rugby while others played it more like soccer. The first matches, including the intercollegiate game on November 6, 1869, between Princeton and Rutgers, were played without helmets. Football grew with differing philosophies on the game until, in 1892, the Pittsburgh Athletic Club and the Allegheny Athletic Club squared off in the first professional match. This protective equipment began emerging in the 1920s.


Combining the sports of basketball, baseball, tennis, and handball, physical education teacher William G. Morgan developed the game of Mintonette, which would later be called volleyball. Similar to tennis, the object of the game is to volley the ball over the net and keep the ball airborne. Points are scored when the ball lands (is grounded) in the opposing team’s court. The first exhibition match would be played in 1896 at the same college where Naismith had developed basketball a few years earlier – Springfield College. The sport would even evolve from an indoor sport to a completion played on the beach in the 1930s.

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