The 1935-36 Tigers. Back, l-r, Mr. Cecil Tobin, Deane Joyce, Eugene Madsen, Gerald English, Edgar Miller, Dale Kent, Wilfred Bruns, Kenneth Duncan. Front: Ernest Nelson, Jay Felton, Donald Dolan.The New Underwood Girls' Athletic Association of 1936 pose in front of the school. Back, l-r: Doris Fernau, Phyllis Hofer, Darlene Burchard, Lucille Wallis, Inez Hofer, Bernice Reed, LaValle Burchard. Front, l-r: Louella Storm, Vera Walthall, Natalie Swanson, Arlene Morey, Amy Kopp, Miss Muriel Hebbert.

Basketball and New Underwood go hand in hand

When the New Underwood Tigers basketball teams take to the court, they are carrying on a tradition that has been over 100 years in the making in South Dakota, and even longer in the United States as a whole. 

According to numerous sources, including The Ultimate Youth Basketball Guide (, Basketball World (, and The Kansas Heritage Group (, the invention of basketball is credited to Dr. James Naismith, a Presbyterian minister and doctor who specialized in sports physiology. Originally, the game was played on a court that was about half the size of a modern basketball court. The game was split into two 15 minute halves, with a five minute break at halftime. Naismith had his first players use a soccer ball, and peach crates were nailed 10 feet off the floor as goals. 

Thirteen original rules governed the game when it was first played in 1891. Those rules decreed that the ball could be passed in any direction by a stationary player. The player in control of the ball could not move with the ball, though an allowance was made for players who had caught the ball while running, since they might not be able to readily stop. 

Fouls were committed when someone moved while holding the ball, when someone held the ball with some other way than his hands, or purposely hit, held, tripped or shoved another player. 

Two officials, an umpire and a referee, were designated to officiate the game, according to the original rules. The umpire was responsible for noting the actions of the players and calling fouls. The referee was in charge of the ball, noting when the ball was in play, who was in possession of the ball, and when points had been scored.

The rules and mechanics of basketball evolved over the next 100 years. At one time, basketball courts were surrounded by a cage of sorts to keep the basketball in and fan interference out. This boundary gave rise to the use of the term “cagers” to represent basketball players, a term which is still in use today.

Thanks in large part to the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), the organization through whom Naismith introduced his new game, basketball spread quickly around the country. Professional and amateur teams sprouted by the beginning of the 20th century.

South Dakota high schools were quick to grasp the idea of basketball. As early as the 1910s, boys’ and girls’ basketball teams began to play across the state. According to records kept by South Dakota Public Broadcasting (SDPB), the first boys’ basketball state tournament took place in 1912, with Redfield taking on Lake Preston for the state champion title. Redfield triumphed with a final score of 33-25. Though girls’ basketball was also popular in the state, the girls’ teams met with some resistance, and ultimately faced a 50-year ban from tournaments, according to SDPB.

New Underwood native Janet Fernau recalled hearing her mother, Helen Strom Batchelder, talk about playing basketball when she attended high school in Scenic, then coaching a sort of intermural basketball when she taught in New Underwood in 1939 and 1942. At this time, the girls’ version of basketball was only played on one half of the court. 

The girls were offered a sort of athletic program in the Girls’ Athletic Association (GAA), in which the girls could earn points toward lettering by playing kittenball, basketball, ping-pong, volleyball, and bound ball as well as hiking, skating, horseback riding, swimming and other such activities. 

New Underwood sported a solid boys’ basketball team, though, according to the school annual, “The Echo,” from the 1930s and 40s. The 1942 annual notes that the New Underwood boys’ basketball team won the Bad Lands (sic) Conference championship title in both 1942 and 1941. New Underwood played against teams from Owanka, Scenic, Vale, Piedmont, Rapid City, Cathedral (a forerunner to Saint Thomas More), Philip, Interior and Wasta.

The New Underwood mascot has not always been the tiger. The earliest available “Echo,” a 1932 edition, mentions the New Underwood Midgets instead of the Tigers. Despite the inglorious name, the New Underwood boys had a successful year in ‘32, winning their district tournament in Wall. The Midgets became the Tigers shortly thereafter, and are called the Tigers in the 1936 “Echo.”

Another major change came for all South Dakota high school basketball fans in 1936 when schools were split into A and B classes, thereby affording smaller schools – particularly those in West River – a chance to compete against their peers. School classification changed again in 1986 when the designations were changed to B, A and AA. 

Though much has changed about basketball since its inception, the game continues to be a core part of the extracurricular experience of many high school students across South Dakota. For New Underwood Tigers fans, the sport has provided an enduring chance to cheer on the home team and fellowship with neighbors. 

The Pioneer Review

221 E. Oak Street
Philip, SD 57567
Telephone: (605) 859-2516
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