Men like [James] Naismith and [Luther ] Gulick sought to develop the whole person””mind, body and spirit””and the YMCA emblem, an inverted red triangle, symbolized their threefold purpose. As Gulick stated, “Christ’s kingdom should include the athletic world.” From their beginning in 1851, YMCAs on college and university campuses had tremendous participation nationwide. Close to 50,000 men were enrolled in YMCA college Bible studies by 1905. There were 1,000 men at Yale alone in 1909.
One notable characteristic that defined these college YMCAs””particularly those among the Ivy League schools””were their weekly “deputations,” or local mission trips. Groups of college students ministered to needy children in nearby urban neighborhoods and rural areas. These trips would last three or four days and included musical entertainment, sporting events and Christian instruction, both in the schools and from the pulpits of local churches. On a February 1911 trip to New Hampshire, 43 out of 70 boys enrolled at Kimbell Union Academy embraced the Christian faith. Weeks later at a church visit in London, N.H., the official deputation logs recorded an eyewitness account from Dartmouth student Cedric Francis (class of 1912): “One very touching case was where it was through the young boy of the family that the mother and father were led to Christ.”
This was the generation of the Student Volunteer Movement which sought to reach the world for Christ “in this generation.” Basketball served as an important evangelical tool for many during its first 50 years. In his 1941 book “Basketball: Its Origin and Development,” Naismith wrote, “Whenever I witness games in a church league, I feel that my vision, almost half a century ago, of the time when the Christian people would recognize the true value of athletics, has become a reality.”