The Basketball Program Begins 1916-1925
Although athletics started at St. Thomas college during the 1890s, basketball apparently did not begin until 1917. The first issue of the Aquinas briefly summarizes the history of athletics at the college. The only comment about basketball is that there should have been a team in 1916, since the college had a number of fine athletes. But the Aquinas campaigned for the creation of a baseball team and took credit when one was established in spring 1916.
The October 1916 Aquinas reported that the senior class had begun organizing a basketball team. At a meeting held on 13 October, Benjamin Mahon was elected manager and began arranging games for the team. The first tryout was held on Wednesday 18 October with about 25 to 30 candidates. A team was quickly organized and the first game was played on 17 November. Unfortunately, St. Thomas lost its first basketball game to Dunmore High School 25 to 15. At the same time that the basketball team was organized, a football team was also taking the field. Consequently, basketball was quickly sidelined for a few weeks because many of the athletes were also playing on the football team. In the meantime, each of the other undergraduate classes (including the high school classes for each grade and the team for one of the commercial classes) also organized their own basketball teams. The eight non-senior undergraduate teams then formed their own Inter-Class basketball league. An Athletic Board composed of representatives from each of the classes had been organized and had approved an expenditure for uniforms for the basketball teams.
When the basketball team finally returned on 12 Jan. 1917, St. Thomas defeated St. John's of Pittston 24 to 18. The game was played at home in the Catholic Club gymnasium. Another nine games were scheduled for the season with St. Thomas playing high school teams from Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, Pittston, and Stroudsburg, although some of those games were rematches. The Inter-Class league also began play with a variety of games. Finally, the students of St. Thomas formed the Royal Rooters of St. Thomas College who were "pledged to follow the teams of St. Tho mas College wherever they go" and make "noise." The Rho Rho Society was organized as a secret society, but run along the lines of college fraternity. The membership would be limited and select. "A student must have a spotless record in every respect in order to be elected as a member and it is to be considered an honor to be one." ; "Watch yourself, boys; don't walk with your toes turned in or have your hair parted in the middle, for if you do, you won't have a chance in the world to become a member of the Rhos."
The exhortations of the Rhos notwithstanding, the basketball team only won 7 of its 15 games. However, as the Aquinaspointed out, the St. Thomas varsity squad was "new at the game and inexperienced" while their opponents were "well seasoned and experienced teams." And St. Thomas managed to outscore their opponents, mostly high schools, 331 to 308.The sophomores won the inter-class cup, even though the season was cut short by the college president in order to give the varsity team full access to the gymnasium for practice. But the sophomores had defeated all of the other classes and the Athletic Board gave them the championship cup.
Practice for the 1917-1918 season began on November 19 with about 30 players trying out for the team. By December the team had a tentative 16 game schedule assembled, with a few open dates included. Once again St. Thomas College would be playing mostly high school teams.
Apparently, a number of the games on the schedule were quickly canceled since the first account of the season already shows some discrepancies with the published schedule. It seems that St. Thomas opened the season with a 29-28 overti me loss to Larksville High School but then followed that with a convincing 27-14 victory over the same team. The team was still not quite a fully functioning unit. A game against Wyoming Seminary was technically canceled by St. Thomas because two of the players were not able to play, for unspecified reasons. But Wyoming Seminary urged St. Thomas to send a team of some sort to the game because it had been advertised and they did not wish to disappoint the spectators. Consequently, St. Thomas sent down "a quintet of second string men, who were badly defeated.... Wyoming did not appreciate the favor we bestowed upon them, since they published the account of the game as [the] St. Thomas college team. When they come up here they will find out which is which before they have run up a very big score." But St. Thomas rebounded with a 18 to 17 double overtime victory over Carbondale High School.
The St. Thomas squad continued its winning ways by defeating four of its next five opponents before then losing four of its next five. The team ended the season with two back-to-back losses to Central High and finished the season with a record of seven victories and nine defeats. Once again, St. Thomas outscored its opponents, but the tally was not recorded in the Aquinas.
Little information about the 1918-1919 season is available from the Aquinas. Because of World War I, the Aquinas was reduced to a four-page monthly newsletter and only issues one and five have survived. The February 1919 issue simply noted the names of the team members and that St. Thomas had defeated Keystone Aca demy, Pittston High School, St. John's High School, and alumni teams. The Scranton Times did not regularly cover St. Thomas basketball.
Only occasional copies of the Aquinas survive from 1924. But the team, still under coach William Moore, was extremely successful playing a combinat ion of high school, junior college, and university freshman teams. The team went undefeated in the 1923-1924 and the 1924-1925 seasons winning 52 consecutive games. According to the Aquinas: "On Jan. 10, 1925, Trenton Normal School finally stopped the onwardmarch of the Tommies but only because most of the Tommy dependables had graduated.