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Organized sports quickly emerged as settlers moved into the state. Community baseball was an early option and offered entertainment and the opportunity for people to socialize. A baseball tournament was held at the 1867 Kansas State Fair in Lawrence. Town teams helped to promote exercise and community spirit.

Basketball became popular even before Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of the game, moved to Kansas and joined the University of Kansas in 1898. Considered to be a woman’s sport at the time, the first women’s collegiate game was held in 1896 at the University of Kansas.

Golf became popular in the Mission Hills area of Kansas when a new golf course was built in 1896. Topeka built its own course three years later.

Around 1900 Turnvereins or gymnastic associations became popular in German American communities in Kansas. These social and athletic clubs encouraged members to participate in physical fitness programs and competitions.

Football became popular around the state. As communities struggled to fill the 11-man teams, they adapted the game to include six or eight players.

Several Kansas athletes became known around the nation and the world for their skill. Jess Willard, from Pottawatomie County, began boxing in 1911. He would go on to be the world heavyweight boxing champion in 1915. Glenn Cunningham of Elkhart competed as a U.S. Olympic runner in 1932 and 1936.

These items in the Kansas Historical Society’s collection span a wide range of sports.  

Oversize baseball bat Rodeo chaps Narka uniform
Oversize baseball bat, 1929.31 Rodeo chaps, 1988.13.1 Narka uniform,
Silver baseball trophy Jess Willard's boxing shorts Jess Willard's boxing gloves
Silver baseball, Jess Willard's boxing shorts, 1994.28.9 Jess Willard's boxing gloves, 1994.28.12
Negro Leagues Baseball Program Negro Leagues Baseball Program Topeka Aces, women's basketball uniform
Negro Leagues Baseball Program, Negro Leagues Baseball Program, Topeka Aces women's basketball uniform, 2002.37.1
1920s football helmet Golf clubs and bag Wes Santee's Olympic track shoe
Schmelzer Company football helmet, 1920s, 1976.79.0 Golf clubs and bag, 2011.14 Wes Santee's Olympic track shoe, made by Karhu, 1952, 1966.67.1
Football helmet Football uniform Glenn Cunningham's letter sweater
Football helmet, 1990s, 2006.50.5 Football uniform, Glenn Cunningham's letter sweater, 2015.29.2

Entry: Sports

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: February 2016

Date Modified: December 2016

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.