We are excited to introduce our new feature, Legacy Leads the Way. Throughout the 22-23 school year, as Visitation celebrates our 150th anniversary, we will share Visitation stories and tidbits and how they have helped shape who we are today. Have a story idea? Please contact Cecilia Petschel, Director of Communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-683-1748.
Winter Athletics are underway at Visitation! As we reflect on our legacy and athletics at Visitation, we asked archivist Colleen Hansen to share some of Visitation’s basketball history. Be sure to follow the Blazers this season! Full schedule available at visitation.net/athletics
When did basketball get started at Vis?
There is some evidence showing that basketball began at 720 Fairmount Avenue campus in 1919-20. It’s important to remember that basketball was only “invented” in 1891, so it was a relatively new and trendy activity. There is a short blurb from the June 1919 Record that details when the basketball equipment was added at Vis: “May 25, Brought us a wonderful surprise. A basketball outfit, the gift of friends, arrived and was installed to the great delight of our athletes. Exciting games and hard-fought battles are anticipated.”
Each consecutive year from then on, there are stories about basketball games. An annual tournament was held between the 7th-12th grades. But who the friends that brought the “wonderful surprise” were and where the equipment was installed remains a mystery.
Why is the location a mystery? Wasn’t there a gym?
The gymnasium at 720 Fairmount was not built until 1925! The building had a recreation space for physical education classes before then, but those classes were mostly dance or posture classes. During the 1924 school year, a basement was dug out under the school because they were not able to build an addition onto the building or on the property.
So, is that why there are pillars in the middle of the floor?
Yes! The pillars were there to support the weight of the school. The pillars acted like an additional player and a source of strategy when playing any sport, but specifically basketball. There are a few stories about when some students went on to college, they had a hard time playing basketball without pillars! It was the deepest hope of the 720 Fairmount students that when the new building was built in Mendota Heights, a gym would be built as a stand-alone building without pillars.
Did they have teams and play games?
They did, but only within the walls of the school. The teams were both decided by grade, but there are a few anecdotes about teams being decided by “drawing straws” to even out the playing field. There was a basketball season which mainly happened during the winter. Games were often included during Winter Week (known also as Winter Carnival) and were a very big point of pride when the teams were victorious. Basketball was included in the physical education curriculum as well, so all of the students participated. It was of such great interest at Vis, there is an anecdote about a (lay) phy-ed teacher using basketball as leverage to get the students to try harder in the other lessons in gym class!
What about competitive basketball?
There’s a very interesting, bigger story that definitely influenced our history with basketball. Basketball was played by students in the 1920s-30s as a competitive sport. In the late 1930s, the department of education decided that girls should only play intramural basketball so the Girls Athletic Association (GAA) was formed. There was a time when all girls' sports were disbanded, but a strong movement in the 1960s and 70s brought them back. However, because they played independently of other schools, basketball at Vis remained very popular and the girls never stopped playing it.
When did Vis start competing with other schools?
In 1974, Urban Langer, the new head of school (first lay head of school) made it a priority to get Vis students involved in competitive sports.That was the first year that the MSHSL accepted non-public schools into the league. Mr Langer, with the help of Ms. Peg Neumann, brought Vis into the Metropolitan Girls Athletic association, which was a subsidiary of the MSHSL. The first competitive season was in 1974-75.
And clearly, basketball continued to grow after the 1970s.
It did, indeed! Basketball was played in what we now refer to as the Auxiliary Gym. The growth of the programs required an even bigger space so in 2004 the Foley Athletic Center was built to accommodate the growth of the basketball program and other additional athletics.
The Vis Basketball program has had many years of success at all levels, including Lower School girls and boys teams, Middle School teams, 9th grade, Junior Varsity and Varsity teams.
As part of our Legacy Leads the Way, we will periodically spotlight a story from our archives. Colleen Hansen, Mendota Heights Visitation Archivist, has enjoyed collecting, preserving, and sharing all things Visitation since 2019.