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Elon men's basketball celebrates 100th season

by Pam Richter,
  • Photo courtesy of Belk Library Archives.

  • Photo courtesy of Belk Library Archives.

  • Photo courtesy of Belk Library Archives.

  • Photo courtesy of Belk Library Archives.

In 1908, women did not have the right to vote. It was the last year the Chicago Cubs won the World Series and William Taft was elected President of the United States. It was also the first year Elon men’s basketball began to play.

This year, the program celebrates its 100th season, but the program has gone through many changes — all helping it become the Division I program it is today.

The 1908-1909 school year was the first season for men’s basketball at Elon College. In the team’s first game, Elon played against Bingham Military Academy and lost 16-4.

In those early years, the game was not the high-scoring highlight reel we know today.

Elon College did not have a proper mascot until the 1922-23 season, when the athletic teams were referred to as the “Fighting Christians.”

This season does not mark the 100th year, but the 100th season. The administration canceled intercollegiate basketball during the 1943-1944 season because of World War II, but shortly after Elon built Alumni Gymnasium in 1950 to honor the Elon alumni who died during World Wars I and II.

With a new gymnasium, Elon basketball continued to succeed. The 1952 season marked the first time Elon basketball was on the national stage.

Elon finished with a 25-11 record and made a trip to the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball tournament in Kansas City.

Current Elon Men’s Head Golf Coach Bill Morningstar played Elon basketball from 1960-1964.

“I think I was fortunate to come to Elon when small college basketball was very good because you did not have all the TV games,” Morningstar said. “We would average about 3,000 to 3,500 people in the gymnasium.”

Morningstar went on to become an assistant coach under Bill Miller and eventually became the head basketball coach. There have been 16 coaches in Elon men’s basketball history, but none of them were as successful as Miller. Currently, Miller still holds the record with most coaching victories for an Elon men’s basketball coach with 331 wins in his Elon career.

With a successful program, Elon College said goodbye to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics and moved into the NCAA. The 1991 season marked the first time the basketball team played in Division II basketball.

The program was refurbished and the gym underwent the same process in 1994.

More changes were in store for the program with the start of the 1997-98 season, when Elon became part of Division I athletics and the school joined the Big South Conference. By 1999, the end of the season completed the transition to Division I athletics. Soon, the years of the Fighting Christians were over. In 2000, Elon ushered in a new, symbolic mascot — the Phoenix.

After only a few years in the Big South, Elon University joined the Southern Conference in the 2003-04 season and quickly proved that it was a competitor. In 2006, Elon won the North Division Title in the SoCon, which was the first SoCon trophy won by any Elon team in any sport. It was the first conference title for men’s basketball since 1974.

This past season, Elon men’s basketball reached the national spotlight. When the team played against Davidson in the Southern Conference tournament final on ESPN 2. Even though the Phoenix went on to lose the game, this historic run marked a great milestone for the program and university.

In its 100 seasons, the Elon men’s basketball team has had its ups and downs. There were years of championships and years of losing records.

Regardless, there were fans that stuck through it all.

“I have never been one of those fans who is unhappy if you lose a game,” President Emeritus Earl Danieley said.

The program survived the fire of 1923, endured through World War II and made the transition from NAIA to NCAA, to Division I to the Southern Conference.

“For all of our programs, we want to give all the student athletes an opportunity to win a championship while they are here at Elon,” Elon Athletic Director Dave Blank said.

EXTENDED VERSION:

Intro:
In 1908, women did not have the right to vote. It was the last year the Chicago Cubs won the World Series and William Taft was the President of the United States.

It was also the first year that Elon men’s basketball began play. This season, the program celebrates its 100th season. Over this time, the program has going through many changes – all helping it become the Division I program that it is today.

Early Years:
Dr. Earl Danieley, the president emeritus at Elon University, has watched Elon men’s basketball for over 60 years. He remembers the days when the team played games in North Dormitory. There are few people who have seen as many changes in Elon men’s basketball as Danieley.

He admits that he doesn't’t know too much about the first 30 plus years of the program. Those early years laid the foundation for the Division I basketball program that we have today.

The 1908-1909 school year was the first season for men’s basketball at Elon College. In the team’s first game, Elon played against Bingham Military Academy and lost 16-4.

In those early years, the game was not the high-scoring highlight real that we know today.

A major move happened with Elon in 1913, when a new gym was constructed in the North Dormitory. This was the first season the team had a proper place to play.

There was a gym in West Dormitory, but it was not suited for basketball. There we’re columns in the middle of the gym that obstructed the court.

With its new facility, Elon began to be able to host home basketball games.
1921 was the best season early on for the then Fighting Christians. The team won every home game in its new facility and went on to win a state championship finishing with a 12-8 record.

Elon College did not have a proper mascot until the 1922-23 season. This was the first time that Elon athletic teams were referred to as the “Fighting Christians.”

Even after the devastating fire at the University in 1923, the basketball team endured and began to become successful and reach several milestones.

In 1939 was the first year that an Elon team scored 1,000 points in a season. The days of 13-6 victories seemed to be over.

On December 7, 1941, the world was shattered with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Soon after this attack, World War II began.

Many Elon students packed their bags and headed to war, when the athletic department was faced with a tough decision.

The administration cancelled intercollegiate basketball during the 1943-1944 season because of the war. Elon was one of many schools in the state to cancel intercollegiate basketball.

Post WWII:
Basketball became the first intercollegiate sport reinstated at Elon College during the 1944-1945 season.

It did not take long for the school to be back on top. In the 1947 season, the Fighting Christians won the North State Conference Tournament.

Shortly after the end of WWII, Elon built Alumni Gymnasium to honor the Elon alumni who died during World War I and II. The 1950 season was the first year that the team played in this brand new facility.

With a new gymnasium, Elon basketball continued to succeed. The 1952 season marked the first time that Elon basketball was on the national stage.

Elon finished with a 25-11 record and made a trip to the national NAIB tournament in Kansas City. In addition to this national trip, the team became the first in school’s history to win 20 or more games in a season.

Current Elon men’s head golf coach, Bill Morningstar, played at Elon basketball for four years from 1960-1964.

“I think I was fortunate to come to Elon when small college basketball was very good because you did not have all the TV games,” Morningstar said. “We would average about 3,000 to 3,500 people in the gymnasium.”

Morningstar would go on to be an assistant coach under Bill Miller and eventually become the head basketball coach.

Currently Morningstar is the head golf coach at Elon and has been a coach at this university for 37 years.

When Jesse Branson started his Elon basketball career in 1962, he made an unprecedented impact on Elon basketball history. During his career he set 17 all time Elon records and tied another during his four year Elon career.

Morningstar praises Branson’s play and says that he was enjoyed playing with Branson at Elon.

1970s – 1980s

There have been 16 coaches in Elon men’s basketball history, but none of them were as successful as head Coach Bill Miller. Currently, Miller still holds the record with most coaching victories for an Elon men’s basketball coach with 331 wins in his Elon career.

1971 might have been one of the best for Miller. Elon went 21-8 and won the Carolina’s Conference regular season title. Coach Miller won Carolinas Conference and District 26 coach of the year honors.

The 1980s marked a time of change in the Elon program. Coach Miller, no longer was coaching the team. His assistant and former Elon player, Bill Morningstar took over the program.

Morningstar said one of his best memories is winning coach of the year in his first season. The team also beat the number one seed in the district tournament that same year.

1990s: A time of change

Elon College said goodbye to the NAIA and moved into the NCAA. The 1991 season marked the first time that the basketball team played in the NCAA in Division II competition.

The program was refurbished and the gym underwent the same process. Alumni Gym was refurbished in 1994 and on Feb. 9 of that year, Elon played its first game in the newly renovated facility.

More changes were in store for the program. As the school continued to grow and find itself on that national scale, the basketball program grew as well.

With the start of the 1997-98 season Elon joined the Big South Conference and became a Division I basketball school. By 1999, the end of the season completed the transition to Division I athletics.

After this transition, Elon men’s basketball was on the biggest scale in college basketball.

2000s: The start of the Phoenix

The years of the Fighting Christians were over. In 2000, Elon ushered in a new, symbolic mascot – the Phoenix.

After only a few years in the Big South, Elon University joined the Southern Conference in the 2003-04 season.

Within two years in the new conference, Elon made its mark as a competitor in conference. In 2006, Elon won the North Division Title in the Southern Conference. This marks the first SoCon trophy by any Elon team in any sport. It was the first conference title for men’s basketball since 1974.

This past season Elon men’s basketball reached the national spotlight. The team played against Davidson in the Southern Conference tournament final on ESPN2. Even though the Phoenix went on to lose the game, this historic run marked a great mark for the program and the university.

The future of men’s basketball?

In its 100 seasons, the Elon men’s basketball team has had its ups and downs. There were years of championships and years of losing records.

Regardless, there were fans that stuck through it all.

“I have never been one of those fans who is unhappy if you lose a game,” Dr. Danieley said.

The program survived the fire of 1923; endured through WWII; and made the transition from NAIA to NCAA, to Division I to the Southern Conference.

This is a program that is continuing to grow and change.

With a program that has undergone so much growth and change in a hundred seasons, what does the future hold?

“For all of our programs, we want to give all the student athletes an opportunity to win a championship while they are here at Elon,” Elon athletic director Dave Blank said.