Column: The histroy of the YMCA

Published 3:33 pm Tuesday, January 17, 2006

By Staff
When you come to the Niles-Buchanan YMCA, most people think of it as a place to come with their family, a place where no one is denied membership, a place to be around friends, or a place to be healthy. These are all true, but the YMCA also has a lot of history behind it to get it to where it is today. Without its history, who knows where the YMCA would be or if there would even be one.
The YMCA is not only a fitness center or a place for swim lessons, it is a place of history and stories to tell. We are going to take a trip back into time to see what has been involved in past of the YMCA.
The very first YMCA was established in London, England in 1844 by a man name George Williams. His goal was to help young men find God. In 1851, a man named Thomas Valentine Sullivan, who had been shipwrecked in the Antarctic, fell from a yard-arm and was nearly killed; was attacked by pirates off the coast of Brazil and by the time he was thirty-three he had made a fortune and lost it, through all of this, his long-lasting accomplishment was founding the YMCA of the United States.
He was a Boston sea captain and missionary who was inspired by stories of the YMCA in England. With six colleagues, Sullivan called the first meeting leading to a constitution, and on Dec. 29, 1851 the YMCA began at the Old South Church in Boston.
In 1853, Anthony Bowen founded an African American YMCA in Washington D.C., which was also one of the earliest African American organizations in the United States. He was a minister and the first African American to work in the U.S. patent office. In 1881, Boston YMCA staffer Robert J. Roberts coined the term “body building” and developed exercise classes that anticipated today's fitness programs. During WWI – 5,145 women worked in the YMCA military canteens, although it was not until after WWII that females had full membership privileges.
What about sports at the YMCA? Did you know that basketball, softball, racquetball and volleyball all began at YMCAs? In 1891, James Naismith, a Springfield College instructor, invented basketball as an indoor winter sport. During the 1890's a man named William Morgan thought that basketball was too strenuous for businessmen.
He incorporated basketball, tennis, and handball and came up with a game called mintonette, which in 1896 became known as volleyball. In 1910, the Kansas City YMCA had the first indoor filtered pool. In the beginning softball was called “sissy ball” or “kitten ball” but a Denver YMCA state Secretary renamed it softball and came up with the rules and regulations we have today.
In 1950, Joe Sobeck, a YMCA volunteer invented racquetball. In 1953, a YMCA in Philadelphia won the National YMCA basketball championship with professional basketball star Wilt Chamberlain on the team. A YMCA in Pennsylvania sponsored the first professional football game. In 1969, dancer Judi Missett began Jazzercise in an Illinois YMCA. Following that Jackie Sorgensen began “dance exercise” which led to the boom of aerobics.
Interesting Facts about the history of the YMCA:
In 1869, membership dues were only $2.00. When president George W. Bush Jr. was eight years old he won first place in electric train races at a YMCA. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. frequently swam at a YMCA with his family. Ronald Reagan was a YMCA lifeguard in Illinois. He saved 77 lives from the fast currents of the Rock River. Collectively, the YMCA is the largest not-for profit organization with more than 600,000 volunteers.
Now that we know about the history of the YMCA in the United States ,what about our Niles-Buchanan YMCA. In 1944 Niles businessmen brought the YMCA to Niles. In 1959-1961, there were plans for a new building. In 1961, the building we know today opened. We were the only area indoor swimming facility of this time. In 1977, racquetball courts and the field house were built. In 1992, the Endowment fund was established and in 1999, a $50,000 cardiovascular room was added.
In 2000, they added a new program position for adults and in 2001, the field house was turned into the new aerobics room, the children found themselves in a new, big, bright daycare room, a personal training program began, and adult leagues made a come back. Last but not least we are in the process of our exciting new YMCA!!!
As you can see the YMCA has offered many things to the United States. With all of these positive attributes what else could one ask for out of a family center? One of the greatest things I believe the YMCA offers is their scholarship program. They do not turn away any child. If someone cannot afford to be a part of the YMCA they can apply for a scholarship and have assistance with their membership. “We build strong kids, strong families, and strong communities” goes a long way with the YMCA.
I believe these last two quotes describe the YMCA perfectly:
This Saturday starts the new Stability Ball Class at the YMCA - 9 a.m. (space is limited)