About the Y

History & Our Cause

Fun Facts

Did You Know?

  • Two major sports, basketball and volleyball, were born at the YMCA.
  • A YMCA instructor created the first group swimming lesson.
  • The YMCA was the first to establish certification programs for lifesaving, swimming and aquatic instruction.
  • The YMCA also pioneered and greatly expanded summer camping, night school, vocational counseling, adult education, college student services, and junior college.
  • YMCA World Service workers were forerunners of Peace Corps volunteers.
  • The YMCA assisted in the formation of other major voluntary groups such as Boy Scouts, Camp Fire, and the USO.

Many Common Sports Started at the YMCA

It was at the International YMCA Training School in December 1891 that James Naismith invented the game of basketball, at the request of Luther Gulick, the director of the school. Gulick needed a game to occupy a "class of incorrigibles" - 18 future YMCA directors who, more interested in rugby and football, didn't care for leapfrog, tumbling and other activities they were forced to do during the winter. Gulick gave Naismith two weeks to come up with a game to occupy them. Naismith decided that the new game had to be physically active and simple to understand. It could not be rough, so no contact could be allowed. The ball could be passed but not carried. Goals at each end of the court would lend a degree of difficulty and give skill and science a role. Elevating the goal would eliminate rushes that could injure players, a problem in football and rugby. The first goals were actually peach baskets!

Volleyball was invented at the Holyoke YMCA ( Mass.) in 1895 by William Morgan, a Y instructor who felt that basketball was too strenuous for businessmen. Morgan blended elements of basketball, tennis and handball into the game and called it "mintonette." The name "volleyball" was first used in 1896 during an exhibition at the International YMCA Training School in Springfield, Mass., to better describe how the ball went back and forth over the net. In 1922, YMCAs held their first national championship in the game. This became the U.S. Open in 1924, when non-YMCA teams were permitted to compete.

Softball was given its name by motion of Walter Hakanson of the Denver YMCA in 1926 at a meeting of the Colorado Amateur Softball Association (CASA), itself a result of YMCA staff efforts. Softball had been played for many years prior to 1926, under such names as kittenball, softball and even sissyball. In 1926, however, the YMCA state secretary, Homer Hoisington, noticed both the sport's popularity and its need for standardized rules. After a gathering of interested parties, the CASA was formed and Hakanson moved to settle on the name softball for the game. The motion carried, and the name softball became accepted nationwide.

Racquetball was invented in 1950 at the Greenwich YMCA ( Conn.) by Joe Sobeck, a member who couldn't find other squash players of his caliber and who did not care for handball. He tried paddleball and platform tennis and came up with the idea of using a strung racquet similar to a platform tennis paddle (not a sawed-off tennis racquet, as some say) to allow a greater variety of shots. After drawing up rules for the game, Sobeck went to nearby Ys for approval from other players and, at the same time, formed them into the Paddle Rackets Association to promote the sport. The original balls Sobeck used were half blue and half red. When he needed replacements, Sobeck asked Spalding, the original manufacturer, to make the balls all blue so they wouldn't mark the Y's courts.

Aquatics, Weightlifting and Fitness Classes All Have Roots In the YMCA

Swimming and aquatics have long been associated with the YMCA, and tens of millions of people across the country learned how to swim at the YMCA. It was not always this way, however, and for many years swimming was seen as a distraction from legitimate physical development.

It is hard to overestimate the effect the YMCA movement has had on swimming and aquatics in general. A Springfield College student, George Goss, wrote the first American book on lifesaving in 1913 as a thesis. It was a YMCA national board member (then the YMCA International Committee), William Ball, who in the early 1900s encouraged the Red Cross to include lifesaving instruction in its disaster and wartime services programs. The first mobile swimming pool was invented at the Eastern Union YMCA (N.J.) in 1961, enabling the Y to take instruction and swimming programs to people who could not go to the Y.

The term "bodybuilding" was first used in 1881 by Robert Roberts, a member of the staff at the Boston YMCA. He also developed the exercise classes that led to today's fitness workouts.