The Original Nexus of Blacks and Jews in Basketball (Parts 6-7 of 9)

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Updated: June 15, 2014
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by Claude Johnson

During the 1910s, a Lower East Side basketball coach brought Jewish Americans and African Americans together in the sport for the first time. Who was he? What did he do? Was he Jewish?

Basket Ball

Augustus Edward "Jeff" Wetzler

At the beginning of the 1904-05 season, Augustus Edward “Jeff” Wetzler was appointed as the first basketball manager in the history of Public School No. 188.

By then, basketball had become by far the most attractive sports activity on the Lower East Side. It could be easily learned, played, and practiced, even in tight quarters, with a ball or with anything even remotely resembling one. Out of necessity, a certain style of play evolved. It was gritty. It was hard-nosed. It was doing something with nothing. It was doing more with less.

The Amateur Athletic Union, or A.A.U., which saw itself as basketball’s governing body and whose officials were considered the highest authorities in the sport, believed that it was a great vehicle for social progress. “The habits of obedience to authority and of respect for the law and order, which are developed by our excellent rules and efficient officials, lead many to useful civic careers,” its leaders espoused. “The intermingling of immigrants around our courts unconsciously acquaints them with our American customs and helps to teach them, through use, our language and laws.”[15]

Edwin Bancroft HendersonEdwin Bancroft Henderson, considered the “Grandfather of Black Basketball.” He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.

There was not enough interest or participation in the sport within New York City’s black community—concentrated in what is now considered midtown Manhattan—for there yet to be any independent, formally organized African American basketball teams.

In addition, despite the A.A.U.’s impressive stated vision, the fact of the matter was that the organization prohibited African American membership until 1914. The all-black Alpha Physical Culture Club, which was the country’s first African American athletic club, was established in Manhattan in 1904 in part as a step toward helping to remedy this situation.

Meanwhile, Edwin Bancroft Henderson, an African American gym teacher in the segregated public school system of Washington, D.C., had just begun teaching basketball to his students there, after learning about it at a Harvard University physical training course over the summer. This was the first time the game had been introduced to blacks on a wide scale, structured basis. It would soon take off in New York City as well.

During this time, there were three major New York City athletic organizations deeply committed to the sport, each having close relations with the school district. They were the Inter-Settlement Basket Ball League, the Public Schools Athletic League, and the Evening Recreation Center Basketball League. Lower East Side basketball teams were heavily involved in all of them. Meanwhile, the A.A.U. held annual New York Metropolitan District championships that were open to any team from these leagues.

The Inter-Settlement Basket Ball League

In the late 1800s, social reformers and philanthropists helped establish dozens of settlement houses throughout New York City in order to accommodate and provide services in neighborhoods congested by throngs of newly arriving immigrants, most of whom were poor. The houses were actually small tenement buildings, which provided temporary shelter for a few families while as well as assistance with social assimilation, practical education, and advocacy for neighborhood-related civic causes.

The social settlements served all of New York City’s distressed neighborhoods. Those on the city’s Lower East Side were inhabited mostly by Jews from Eastern Europe. The Stillman Branch for Colored People, on West 60th Street in Manhattan, was located in what was then the heart of the city’s black community. That facility offered a repertoire of services that was typical of settlement houses: a nursing service, a circulating library, classes in city history, folk dancing, carpentry, domestic science and sewing, a men’s civic club, an open air playground, and “social clubs for all ages and with various aims.”[16]

The Alfred Corning Clark Neighborhood House on Rivington Street at Cannon Street.

A view of the Alfred Corning Clark Neighborhood House, ca. 1900, which was on Rivington Street at the corner of Cannon Street, which no longer exists. The building was at the site on the Lower East Side now occupied by the Baruch Houses of the New York Housing Authority. (Kindergarten Magazine)

As these settlements evolved, they outgrew their original tenements and, through philanthropy, either added more locations or, as was the case with several Lower East Side houses, expanded into full-fledged architected buildings. These new structures, while still accommodating a few residents, now became the headquarters for dozens of community-based, cause-related programs, clubs, and societies for all ages.

The University Settlement Society and the Clark Neighborhood House, which both began in tenements as two of the Lower East Side’s earliest settlements, moved into prominent buildings around 1899. At that time, those two as well as several other settlements began organizing basketball teams and then, in 1903, collectively formed the Inter-Settlement Basket Ball League, which allowed the squads to compete against one another in a manner compliant with the suggestions of the A.A.U. The most well known Lower East Side settlement teams were Clark House, Educational Alliance, the Henry Street Settlement, and the University Settlement Society, all predominantly Jewish.

Within a few seasons, their basketball teams had become some the best in New York City. One program in particular, the University Settlement, stood out far above the rest. Its teams won the Inter-Settlement League championship in 1903, 1904, and 1905. Their “breakout” season, however, was in 1907, when they swept the Senior and Junior Division championship titles in both the Inter-Settlement League and in the A.A.U. Metropolitan District championships, which was open to all New York City area teams, not just settlement house squads.

This was an extraordinary accomplishment, praised by the A.A.U., because University Settlement as well as several other competitive settlement house basketball programs had developed their games “in places where some teams would refuse to play, such as lofts with low ceilings, empty storerooms, back yards and in fact in any place where two basket ball baskets could be placed.”[17]

They had utilized limited resources and overcome challenging conditions to achieve major success against the odds. Or had they?

The University Settlement team practiced on the roof of their handsome five-story building on Eldridge Street at the corner of Rivington on the Lower East Side. However, it was “far from ideal” because “the rain and snow often made the court slippery and the ball hard to handle, when it did not stop the game entirely.”[18] The Inter-Settlement League ruled out the use of their court for its games, so University Settlement teams “had both the disadvantage of playing on strange courts and against gymnasium-trained players.” Yet, at least they had a building large enough to use its roof. And, they still won the league championship in both divisions three seasons in a row, from 1903-1905.

Their advantage multiplied in 1904, when, on the strength of a $50,000 philanthropic gift, they added a brand new gymnasium, “modern and thoroughly equipped,” with 20-foot ceilings, “built upon the surface of the old roof,” now the sixth floor. All of its gymnastics equipment and exercise apparatus were “on movable stands so that they can be readily moved off the floor for basketball games.” Complete with 350 lockers and “modern showerbaths,” this was a dream facility at the time.

The brand new gymnasium at University Settlement, ca. 1905.

The brand new “modern and thoroughly equipped” gymnasium at University Settlement, ca. 1905. The apparatus being shown in use are Indian clubs, parallel bars, rings, basketball, pummel horse, and bar bells. The wooden basketball backboard and basket are seen in the background, with a balcony level for onlookers.  (University Settlement Society of New York)

What’s more, since this space was only available for basketball on Saturday nights, the new roof was fitted up with a second basketball court “by covering it with an iron cage,” allowing the basketball teams to practice more nights while the regular gymnasium was in use.

The University Settlement building, ca. 1906, after an iron cage was built on the roof.

A view of the University Settlement building, ca. 1906. An iron cage, built on the roof after the sixth floor gymnasium was added in 1904, is visible on top of the structure. The gymnasium was 20 feet high, with full-length arched windows for maximum natural light. (Courtesy of the New York Public Library Archives)

But perhaps the biggest advantage of all for the University Settlement was its players. The teams of 1907 included several future professionals, some of whom were eventually inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Max “Marty” Friedman, Barney Sedransky, Ira Streusand, Harry Brill, and Louis Sugarman, all in their teens.

Friedman would soon leave University Settlement to explore his options in professional basketball, eventually playing with Newburgh of the Hudson River League as well as with several other pro leagues, before joining the New York Whirlwinds, an independent barnstorming team he helped form, in 1921. One of his Whirlwind teammates, Nat Holman, another future Hall of Fame member, was a fellow settlement league player with Educational Alliance and Henry Street who later played for the New York Original Celtics and other pro teams while he was simultaneously a renowned long time coach at C.C.N.Y. Friedman, meanwhile, also played and coached with the Cleveland Rosenblums of the American Basketball League, before retiring in 1927. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1972.

Sedransky, who later changed his name to Sedran, became a star player at College of the City of New York, or C.C.N.Y., before joining Friedman as a professional with Newburgh in the Hudson Valley League. He played in several other professional leagues before, along with Friedman, helping to organize the New York Whirlwinds, for which he also played. In 1925, as had Friedman, he joined the Cleveland Rosenblums in A.B.L. and played with them through 1926, after which he began an extensive coaching career before retiring from the game in 1946. The Basketball Hall of Fame enshrined Sedran in 1962.

The 1906-07 University Settlement Society Junior Division basketball included future Basketball Hall of Fame members Max Friedman (seated, center) and Barney Sedransky (standing, second from right). Their coach, Harry Baum (standing, far left), a 1902 graduate of the College of the City of New York, was pursuing an engineering degree at Columbia University. Friedman also played on the Senior Division team with Streusand, Brill, and Sugarman (not pictured).

The 1906-07 University Settlement Society Junior Division basketball included future Basketball Hall of Fame members Max Friedman (seated, center) and Barney Sedransky (standing, second from right). Their coach, Harry Baum (standing, far left), a 1902 graduate of the College of the City of New York, was pursuing an engineering degree at Columbia University. Friedman also played on the Senior Division team with Streusand, Brill, and Sugarman (not pictured). (Physical Culture Magazine)

Streusand, who began with the Clark House prior to joining the University Settlement team, and Brill, both later played as stars at C.C.N.Y. before joining their teammates, Friedman and Sedran, in Newburgh as professionals.

Sugarman leveraged his New York City A.A.U. championship into a full scholarship at Syracuse University the following year, where he played for one season before jumping to the University of Notre Dame. As his University Settlement teammates had done, Sugarman turned pro and joined Newburgh in the Hudson Valley League, where he played for several years before retiring in 1919. He eventually coached at the University of Pennsylvania and at Princeton.

Some historians of Jewish basketball point to a man named Harry Baum, a volunteer basketball coach at University Settlement, as being responsible for developing and teaching a certain style of play there, which allowed those teams and these players to dominate. ”Their victories,” wrote a University Settlement official, “have been entirely due to his hard work and untiring efforts.”[19]

Baum, who was born in 1882, raised in Harlem, and a 1902 graduate of C.C.N.Y., began coaching University Settlement basketball teams in 1906 as a volunteer while attending Columbia University in pursuit of an engineering degree. With experience playing lacrosse at both colleges, it is said that he adopted some of that game’s tactics—moving without the ball, using speed, picking, rolling, cutting, man-to-man defense, switching defenders—and adapted them into basketball with his settlement team. For that, Baum has been called, “the father of fundamental basketball tactics.” According to Marty Sedran[20]:

He really taught us kids all we knew about basketball. He was the greatest coach of basketball’s early years. He taught us a style of play which we carried with us during our entire careers. In fact, his style of basketball was followed by most of the pro teams.

In subsequent years, this style of play was sometimes referred to as “Jew ball.” But in a 2010 interview on NPR with David Yorst, whose documentary, The First Basket, explores the early history of Jewish basketball, the filmmaker says the characterization was not derogatory[21]:

That would be a proud term. I mean, I think basketball is cool. And there’s a–you know, there’s kind of a basketball chic and a basketball hip. So I think Jewish people are proud of playing basketball and their basketball heritage. But Jew ball’s a type of basketball that I think was best exemplified by the 1970s New York Knicks, which is a team that I worshipped when I grew up, the Willis Reed–Walt Frazier teams that, you know, won two championships. And it stresses team play, five men playing together, tough defense, never slacking on defense and always hitting the open man on offense.

That style ball, we say in the film, originated kind of in the settlement house leagues, was kind of developed by Nat Holman, the famous coach of City College of New York in the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s, and passed on to Red Holzman, who played for Holman at CCNY on the Knicks. And Phil Jackson, the coach of the Lakers today, of course, played for Red Holzman’s Knicks. So we’d like to think that the influence–the kind of genealogy of Jewish basketball, the essence of Jewish basketball is spread from one generation to the next.

What I find so fascinating and remarkable is that here were these numerous Jewish players, all of whom came out of the Lower East Side. There is no doubt that they were outstanding talents. But also, they were outstanding as teammates, sticking with one another and, following the bold move of the pioneering Friedman, seeing the opportunities, making the most of them, finding success, and then, once established, making it possible, one-by-one, for the next teammate to come along. They overcame their limited beginnings, rose up out of their surroundings to become professionals, achieved record-setting accomplishments, and were considered some of the best players of their time. They truly created something from nothing. Basketball allowed them to do that.

At the same time, this collective was far more than merely a group of Jewish ghetto kids who scratched their way out against all odds. The University Settlement and its players had significant, singularly unique, game-changing advantages working in their favor.

There were, of course, no such advantages or opportunities for African Americans in basketball, even long after the game had been introduced to blacks by Edwin Bancroft Henderson in 1904. The same pathways, access, and mechanisms simply did not exist.

First, though new African American basketball clubs like the Smart Set Athletic Club of Brooklyn and the St. Christopher Club of Manhattan were emerging—organized in 1906 and 1907, respectively—exclusion from joining the A.A.U. meant their teams were unsanctioned, making them off-limits for sanctioned clubs to schedule. This not only made it difficult to play well-known teams but also hampered their development. In fact, black squads were not allowed to enter the A.A.U.’s New York Metropolitan District Championships until the late 1910s.

A photographic image of the Smart Set Athletic Club of Brooklyn, ca. 1911, on display in the Civil Rights Gallery of the New-York Historical Society as part of the first-ever exhibition on the Black Fives Era. (The Black Fives Foundation)

Moreover, gymnasiums at athletic clubs and Y.M.C.A.s were whites-only, while playing space at schools, colleges, armories, ballrooms, and other facilities was prohibitively expensive to rent without major civic backing, which did not exist, or a consistent level of ticket sales, which had not yet been established.

Furthermore, although numerous predominantly white colleges and universities admitted African American undergraduates even before World War I—C.C.N.Y. had its first black graduate in 1884—most excluded blacks from their intercollegiate sports teams, a practice that in some cases lingered well into the 1960s. For example, even the basketball’s inventor, Dr. James Naismith, could not get the University of Kansas to change its no-blacks policy while he was its athletic director during the 1930s.

Instead, African American basketball players usually attended black schools like Howard University, Hampton Institute, or Lincoln University of Pennsylvania. But since white colleges would not schedule games with them, these programs lacked the mainstream visibility to attract the attention of whites-only professional leagues, let alone for a team to consider bringing in an African American player for a tryout.

The only known black player in a predominantly white pro league during that time, and for that matter, prior to World War II, was Harry “Bucky” Lew. Lew joined the Pawtucketville Athletic Club in the New England League in 1902, played for several other teams, and enjoyed a solid career before retiring in the 1920s.

However, while one odd African American player may have been acceptable, professional basketball leagues were not ready for what they would have considered the “over-population” of any team by black players.

Finally, if systematic resistance to African Americans in pro leagues wasn’t enough, there was also tremendous push-back against professionalism in the sport at all, not only from the A.A.U. but also from within the black community itself, particularly in New York City.

It took courage for African American basketball promoter Major Aloysius Hart to organize the New York All Stars as the sport’s first all-black “pay-for-play” team in 1910, amid withering criticism.

The New York All Stars, ca. 1910, with Major Aloysius Hart (seated, second from right) and future African American basketball promoter and team owner Will Anthony Madden (reclined), then the All Star's mascot. (The Black Fives Foundation)

The New York All Stars, ca. 1910, with Major Aloysius Hart (seated, second from right) and future African American basketball promoter and team owner Will Anthony Madden (reclined), then the All Star’s mascot.  (The Black Fives Foundation)

Considering the successes of those former University Settlement players and other such professionals in the news at the time, we now can understand Hart’s dilemma so poignantly. “We want to play the game as our white friends play it,” he pleaded.[22] Still, his All Stars team was boycotted by local strictly-amateur African American clubs, forcing it to fold, while Hart went into basketball exile, never to return to the game again.

One of the members of that pioneering New York All Stars team was a 27-year-old assistant manager named Will Anthony Madden. Madden had been with the St. Christopher Club as a mascot before joining the All Stars with Hart, but when that venture fell apart he returned to his old club and they welcomed him back. This time though, Madden took over as the team’s manager and promoter—a promotion, in essence, to the head of basketball operations and marketing. Within a few years, one of his moves would be to hire “Jeff” Wetzler as the club’s new head coach.

7

Wetzler Takes Over

The opening of Public School No. 188 in 1903 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan made available to the surrounding neighborhood, and beyond, brand new athletic facilities that most residents had never imagined. Beyond just being a novelty, this was probably awe inspiring. It is even quite possible that the fresh, well-lit, spacious new gymnasiums inspired the 1904 construction of the penthouse-style gym at the University Settlement.

One can imagine that the whole school must have been buzzing when P.S. 188 began organizing its first sports teams for the 1904-05 academic year. With a student body close to 5,000 strong, basketball manager “Jeff” Wetzler was in the uniquely privileged position of having an enormous pool of student-athletes from which to choose. He also knew the neighborhood, having grown up on its streets, which may have helped him select the best players for his teams. As a result, E.R.C. 188′s basketball programs achieved immediate success.

A view of the interior courtyard gymnasium at P.S. 188 as it looks today.

A view of the ground floor gymnasium at P.S. 188, as it looks today. The lattice work, portal windows, and many other elements of the interior are exactly as they were in 1903 when it opened. (Photo: Claude Johnson)

Public Schools Athletic League

Wetzler’s teams became dominant in the sport not only on the Lower East Side but also throughout New York City. This was proven by the school’s phenomenal success in the highly competitive Public Schools Athletic League, or P.S.A.L.

This accomplishment still stands as the only time in the history of the P.S.A.L. that that’s ever been done.

P.S. 188 won the P.S.A.L. Senior Division (up to 15 years old) Championship for 1904-05, a highly coveted prize, in the first season that the school even had a team. This accomplishment still stands as the only time in the history of the P.S.A.L. that that’s ever been done.

In addition, this particular title game became such an important affair that it was officiated by future Basketball Hall of Fame member George T. Hepbron, then Secretary of the A.A.U.’s National Basketball Committee.

The unwritten headline was that Wetzler, a neighborhood boy with a neighborhood team, had brought great pride to the Lower East Side.

But he kept going. After being eliminated in 1906, Wetzler and P.S. 188 came back strong, capturing back-to-back P.S.A.L. Senior Division Basketball Championship titles for 1906-07 and for 1907-08.

It turns out, he was just getting started.

Evening Recreation Center Athletic League

The Inter-Settlement Basket Ball League and the P.S.A.L. helped steer the imaginations of kids living in the congested, filthy, often-dangerous Lower East Side away from the multitude of conditions, risks, and temptations with which they were flooded daily. However, these athletic programs could only do so much. The influence of the settlement houses was often localized to the blocks they served, and that of the schools faded after each dismissal bell.

To address this gap, the New York City Department of Education established an Evening Recreation Center program, which utilized school buildings for after hours youth programming.

To address this gap, the New York City Department of Education established an Evening Recreation Center program, which utilized school buildings for after hours youth programming. These centers were open six nights a week to anyone 14 or older. The program was originally launched in 1901, and by 1905, there were 19 such centers in New York City.

When it opened, P.S. 188 was enlisted to become the newest Evening Recreation Center, thenceforth known as E.R.C. 188. Also enlisted was “Jeff” Wetzler, the school’s basketball manager. With its number of students and quality of facilities, E.R.C. 188 became New York City’s largest and best equipped Evening Recreation Center. And, with Wetzler on board, its basketball programs would not only dominate but also attract attendees.

Evening Recreation Center No. 188 Senior Division basketball team, winners of the 1912 Evening Recreation Athletic League Championship, with Edward “Jeff” Wetzler (standing, second from left) and Eugene C. Gibney, Supervisor of Playgrounds for New York City (standing, third from right).

On average more than 400 visitors per night flocked to each Evening Recreation Center location. “Established all over town, they flourish best on the Lower East Side, for they practically furnish a warm, well-lighted clubroom for boys and girls and young men and women who would otherwise have to spend the evenings in crowded rooms in tenement houses or on the street corners.”[23]

The use of sports proved to be particularly effective. ”For most of the men and boys the gymnasium is the principal attraction,” one report observed.[24] ”No matter how bad a young man may be, the acquisition of the athlete’s code of honor is a triumph over lawlessness, the beginning of a citizen’s conception of duty.”

Though each center varied in size, equipment, nationality of attendees, or other individualities, “there is one feature that is omnipresent and that is basket ball.”[25] Evening Recreation Centers formed their own basketball teams and competed against one another in a league–the Evening Recreation Center Athletic League, or E.R.C.A.L. The league and its annual city-wide championships were governed by the Amateur Athletic Union. “The aims in fostering inter-club basket ball competition within each center and inter-center competition between all the centers, are three-fold–physical, civic, and moral,” argued Eugene C. Gibney, Superintendent of City Playgrounds for the City of New York, a highly influential position.[26]

It was not insignificant that Gibney was also the long time director of E.R.C. 188. A strong proponent of physical fitness and fair competition as a way of life, he would later say[27]:

The whole upward trend of society is toward the acquiring of freedom–national freedom, political freedom and social freedom. We secured national freedom when we liberated the slaves, political freedom with the abolition of feudalism, but social freedom involves race, color, and creed. To gain that, we must level the 100,000,000 people in this country. The community centre will go a long way toward this.

Unfortunately, his forward thinking didn’t go far enough to overcome the conventional wisdom that prevented a female version of this otherwise innovative league. “It is thought better not to make any public exploitation of the athletic prowess of the young women,” an official explained. “They play the game only for the fun of it.”[28]

Nevertheless, beyond sports, the Evening Recreation Center concept became an integral part of community life; the three-fold mission of the centers was relevant and remained at the core of its messaging[29]:

The motto of the Recreation Centers is FAIR PLAY FOR ALL, and every effort is being made by the President of the E. R. C. Athletic League, and by his able staff of principals, to instill into all the players a high standard of honor and honesty. The results cannot fail to create loyal citizens of New York, who will not only be strong physically, but also have the proper appreciation of civic duty and patriotism.

On the court, E.R.C. 188 basketball teams picked up where their P.S. 188 counterparts had left off, winning not only the 1908 E.R.C.A.L. championship title but also the 1908 Metropolitan District A.A.U. Senior Division championship.

There were 31 evening centers by 1910, the season when E.R.C. 188 began a streak of five consecutive Junior Division league championships, from 1910 through 1914.

By the end of the 1911-12 season, E.R.C.A.L. officials claimed it was the largest basketball league in the country, with 610 players on 63 teams in two age divisions having played a total of 413 games.[30] That’s when E.R.C. 188 won the first of three straight Senior Division league championships, from 1912 through 1914.

E.R.C.A.L. championships were played at fabulous locations. For example, the 1911-12 title game on March 23, 1912, was at the 5,000 capacity 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. “The armory was appropriately decorated, with the large Fair Play banner prominently displayed,” it was reported. “The music was furnished by the Orphan Asylum Band.”[31] The same facility was used through 1960 by the National Basketball Association for some New York Knicks home games. These were grand events, celebrated in their meaningfulness[32]:

Many of the thousands of spectators who attend the games at the recreation centers are immigrants or children of immigrants who have come from widely scattered European countries. These people rub elbows at the side of our courts; they intermingle, they applaud, they cheer and soon learn to do it in the real American way. The racial prejudices, national customs and foreign allegiances are being gradually eradicated, and they are being started toward American citizenship. These people are the most consistent and constant adherents of their favorite teams, and the loyalty they display and the devotion they evince for their center or team soon develops into municipal loyalty and national patriotism.

The tremendous basketball success of E.R.C. 188 raises an obvious question: How did Wetzler and his teams stack up against University Settlement coach Harry Baum and his highly praised teams?

Occasionally, the Inter-Settlement Basket Ball League and the Evening Recreation Center Athletic League would overlap in the post-season Metropolitan Association A.A.U. Championship Tournament, open to any qualifying team in greater New York City. This was the case in 1909, when E.R.C. 188 faced University Settlement in the final of the Metro A.A.U. Junior Division Championship.

The defending champion University Settlement team, nicknamed the “Busy Izzies” for their bewildering speed and ball-handling abilities, featured previously mentioned and distinctly acclaimed future Basketball Hall of Fame members Max “Marty” Friedman and Barney Sedransky, who would eventually become known as the “Heavenly Twins.”

Meanwhile, the E.R.C. 188 squad, nicknamed the “Mercury Five,” had defeated the mighty Clark House basketball team, multiple-time previous Inter-Settlement League champions, in order to reach the A.A.U. Junior Division final for a showdown with University Settlement.

As expected, the game was thrilling. It was played on the night of Wednesday, February 24 at the Loughlin Lyceum Memorial Hall, just over the Williamsburg Bridge in on North Henry Street in Brooklyn, and covered by the Brooklyn Standard Union[33]:

During the first ten minutes of play it looked bad for the Recreation team as the score stood 12 to 3 in favor of University. From then on it was an uphill fight, but Recreation never lost heart and at the close of the first period they were only three points behind, 12 to 9. In the second half, they showed off their real class and entirely outplayed the University men, scoring 11 to their opponents’ 4.

In their only known head-to-head meeting, E.R.C. 188 defeated University Settlement, 20-16. Sedransky, the team’s captain played at the left forward position, had three field goals, while Friedman, at right guard, had one bucket.

As the old saying goes, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. That’s exactly what the stars of the University Settlement did, following their loss to E.R.C. 188. The best players off both teams–Sedransky and Moskowitz from University Settlement; Klepper, Goldberg, Wishingrad, and Friedland from E.R.C. 188–banded together to form a new independent team called the Meteors.

The only missing University Settlement star was Friedman, who would soon join the professional Hudson Valley League. But even without him, the combined all-star team found winning easy. “The Meteors, composed of the pick of the Mercury Five and University Settlement, easily defeated the Eastern F.C. at Avon Hall for the 125 pound championship of Greater New York to the tune of 28 to 7,” reported the Standard Union. “As usual, every player on the winning team put up a very clean, scientific game.”[34]

“As usual, every player on the winning team put up a very clean, scientific game.”

The latter part of that comment regarding their usual “clean, scientific game” is, of course, very interesting. Most of the players on the Meteors were previously with E.R.C. 188, which means not only that they learned their game under the management of “Jeff” Wetzler but also that the sportswriter had become accustomed to seeing their style of play. This appears to indicate that Harry Baum, the legendary volunteer coach of University Settlement, may not have been the only “father of fundamental basketball tactics.” Not on the Lower East Side, anyway.

With classic Lower East Side brashness, the new team didn’t just bill themselves as champions; they dared anyone to challenge them: “The winning team have open dates for all teams who think they have anything like a claim to the title.”

Though the Meteors had swagger, this might have been the only game they ever played.

Sedransky soon joined Friedman, reuniting the “Heavenly Twins,” playing with Newburgh in the professional Hudson Valley League. They would go on to become big professional stars, while the stars of the E.R.C. 188 teams—Klepper, Goldberg, Cohen, Friedland, Wishingrad, Robinson, and others—though unknown today, would stick around to help Wetzler and his E.R.C. 188 keep their Evening Recreation Athletic League championship streak alive for five more seasons.

Yet, even these successes only represent a part of the legacy left behind by Augustus Edward “Jeff” Wetzler.

These are Parts 6 and 7 of a 9-part article. Its overall length made it necessary to break up the article into smaller pieces. Skip back to Parts 1-2 or to Parts 3-5.)


[15] “Basket Ball in Recreation Centers,” by Eugene C. Gibney, Official Basket Ball Rules, 1913-14 (New York: American Sports Publishing, 1913) [16] Handbook of Settlements (New York: The Russell Sage Foundation, 1911) [17] Official Basket Ball Rules, 1908-09 (New York: American Sports Publishing, 1908) [18] “The New Gymnasium” by Gardner Richardson, 18th Annual Report of the University Settlement Society of New York, 1905 [19] ”The New Gymnasium” by Gardner Richardson, 18th Annual Report of the University Settlement Society of New York, 1905 [20] Encyclopedia of Jews in Sports by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Company, 1965) [21] “New Documentary Explores History Of Jews and Basketball,” National Public Radio, 2010 [22] New York Age, 13 October 1910. [23] The New York Press, 11 October 1903 [24] Evening Recreation Centers by Clarence Arthur Perry (New York City: Department of Child Hygiene of the Russell Sage Foundation, 1910) [25] ”Basket Ball in Recreation Centers,” by Eugene C. Gibney, Official Basket Ball Rules, 1912-13 (New York: American Sports Publishing, 1912) [26] Ibid [27] “Sees Freedom In Forums,” New York Times, 24 April 1916 [28] ”Basket Ball in Recreation Centers,” by Eugene C. Gibney, Official Basket Ball Rules, 1912-13 (New York: American Sports Publishing, 1912) [29] Ibid [30] Ibid [31] Ibid [32] Ibid [33] Brooklyn Standard Union, 16 March 16, 1909 [34] Brooklyn Standard Union, 30 March 1909

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