For the sports fans out there, we probably don’t have to tell you that James Naismith was the inventor of basketball.  We certainly don’t have to mention it at Lawrence or the University of Kansas, where the beloved professor held forth and yet, with a touch of irony, is the only basketball coach in KU’s history to have a losing record (55-60).  We could say much about him, but this is one of those people where enough has already been written.  Here it is more important to say what he did in World War I.

Naismith saw military service before the war began.  He had been a chaplain in the Kansas Army National Guard, and had served in Texas on the Mexican border when the army had been called out to capture Pancho Villa.

He sought to continue military service when America entered the war in Europe, desiring to be an army chaplain.  At 55, however, he was thought to be too old for service.  There was also the matter of the Canadian-born Naismith not being an American citizen at that time.  But the army needed chaplains, and the Red Cross and the Salvation Army filled the vacancies, and Naismith had his chance.  Eventually it would be the YMCA that would send him to Europe.

As luck would have it, there is an article about his service.  If anything, perhaps the title should read, “Inventor of Basketball Served as Army Chaplain.”

After the war, Naismith returned to Lawrence, continued his work with the University, passing away in 1939. Oh, yes–he became an American citizen in 1925.

Blair Tarr is the Museum Curator of the Kansas State Historical Society. He oversees the three-dimensional collections of the Society, but has special interests in the Civil War, Wichita-made Valentine diners, and Leavenworth's Abernathy Furniture. In the last few years he has also done a lot of cramming on The Great War. He is a past president of the Kansas Museums Association and the Civil War Round Tables of both Kansas City and Eastern Kansas. He is currently a board member of the Heritage League of Greater Kansas City.