CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Soon after the start of the 1914-15 high school basketball season, officials at West Virginia Wesleyan College began making plans and stirring up interest in another state tournament.
It would be West Virginia's second annual high school tournament, the logical followup to the inaugural tourney that had been a success - albeit simply as a two-team event - in March of 1914 at Wesleyan.
The college already had made it known the state tournament would be an annual fixture in boys high school basketball and that its new gymnasium in the middle of campus would be its home for years, maybe decades, to come. And, in fact, the tournament remained there through the 1938 season.
In preparation for the 1915 tourney, Wesleyan sent letters to the state's high schools, inviting their teams to the tournament, informing them that all schools were welcome and instructing them on such matters as lodging, dining and playing dates.
The college's letters brought an overwhelming response.
"From every section of the state, letters are coming in, asking more detailed information than that contained in circular letters sent out relative to the affair,'' the Fairmont Times reported on Jan. 4, 1915.
The Times went on to predict the tournament would be "the biggest athletic event the state of West Virginia ever witnessed.''
Because Wesleyan had undertaken the initial tournament project late in the 1913-14 season, it had been forced to settle for just two teams that were considered the state's best, Elkins and Wheeling.
The tourney scheduled for March of 1915, however, would be open to all teams, a benevolent offer that nonetheless posed some difficult questions: How many schools would accept the invitation, where would fans stay and would one gym floor be enough to handle the onslaught of games?
Hotel space was insufficient, but Wesleyan solved the housing shortage by calling on townspeople to make their attics, basements and spare rooms available to the teams. When the Buckhannon newspaper published stories asking residents to open their homes, they responded enthusiastically.
The Parkersburg News, previewing the 72-team tournament of 1924, assured its readers the Big Reds would be staying at a home at 100 Florida St. in Buckhannon.
Despite the challenges, the tournament enjoyed a rich 25-year run on the Wesleyan campus and earned a niche in West Virginia basketball lore. Along the way, Buckhannon and its 3,500 residents demonstrated their logistical ingenuity by finding ways to accommodate the basketball multitudes.
The 72-team tournament of 1924 was the state's biggest ever and attracted such long-forgotten schools as Wadestown, Wallace, Cairo, Smithfield, Jacksonburg, Cowen, Bristol, Renwood, Jane Lew, Greenbank and Burnsville. Originally, 80 teams registered that year, but eight, including Huntington, dropped out.
But by 1939, the tournament had outgrown the Upshur County town and moved to the 6,000-seat Field House on the West Virginia University campus, where it began a somewhat more nomadic run, finding homes in Morgantown, Huntington and Charleston.
The tournament in March of 1915 attracted 14 teams. It was a respectable turnout at a time when travel was sometimes difficult, housing raised questions and the tournament itself had not yet established credibility.
The numbers increased to 24 teams in 1916 and 28 the following year, and all teams competed in one division without regard to school size.
Starting in 1922, tournament officials split the field into divisions A and B, depending on enrollment. In 1925, they did away with the open-to-all approach and adopted a sectional-regional format, in which teams earned their way to Buckhannon.
In 1924's 72-team tournament, 32 teams competed in Division A and 40 in Division B, and the tournament was completed in three days. The Fairmont Times called it "probably the biggest in the country.''
Under the sectional-regional format in 1925, 16 teams in each of the A and B divisions qualified for the Buckhannon tournament.
Play continued with the A and B divisions until returning to the one-class format from 1943-48. It again used A and B divisions from 1949 to 1958, when it introduced the current Class AAA-AA-A format for the 1959 tournament.
From the tournament's beginnings, the Wesleyan folks knew they needed to improvise to accommodate what they envisioned as an ever-growing number of teams.
With that in mind, they scheduled games half-court style in the tournament's early rounds, thereby allowing two games to be played simultaneously and, as the event grew, as many as 16 games in one day.
In addition, the early-round games were shortened from the standard 32 minutes to 25, which not only eased scheduling but helped lessen fatigue in a tournament that sometimes required teams to play five games in three days or four in two. In some years, games would start at 9 a.m. and continue into the night.
Playing four games in two days, however, probably was a bit less taxing physically a century ago than it would be today. The fast break had not yet arrived and, instead, teams worked the ball methodically around the perimeter. After each basket, teams returned to midcourt for a center jump, one of the game's original rules that would continue until 1938.
The game differed in other ways. The preferred offensive weapon of the day was the set shot; the jump shot would have to wait for a later generation. Player substitutions were minimal; rosters usually consisted of fewer than 10 players. The basketballs had laces similar to those on a football.
In the tournament's early years, sometimes just one official worked a game; in later years, there were two. To determine tournament pairings for each round, a local dignitary - sometimes the Buckhannon mayor - literally drew school names out of a hat in full view of spectators, lest someone suspect hanky-panky.
By the tournament's third year, excitement had picked up considerably. "No athletic event ever staged in the state has attracted such widespread interest,'' the Parkersburg Sentinel said in preparation for the 1916 tournament. "The results not only will be watched by the thousand or more spectators but by the state at large with acute interest.''
The Gazette said that, as a statewide sports spectacle, the 1917 tournament ranked second only to West Virginia's football game with West Virginia Wesleyan.
"The fourth annual West Virginia tournament to be held at Buckhannon on Friday and Saturday has steadily increased in popularity so that no athletic event staged in the mountain state of West Virginia, except the WVU-Wesleyan football game, draws a larger crowd of spectators,'' the newspaper noted.
The Gazette in 1917 also predicted "there will be a magnificent burst of spirit and ecstasy and elevated fancy for the teams in play.''
The Clarksburg Exponent in 1924 called the tournament crowd "a roaring volcano of youthful voices.''
The fans, meanwhile, seemed to enjoy themselves. "There is a din and noise that never ceases,'' the Gazette reported in describing the 1925 tournament, "caused by high excitement and nerves strung taught [sic] to the breaking point.''