It’s an exciting time in the sports world as teams across the country hit the court with NCAA® March Madness in full swing. In the spirit of the game, we are stopping to reflect on our own basketball heritage and our contribution to the game of basketball.
Hillyard’s founding father, Newton S. Hillyard, was one of many that helped propel the game of basketball to what it is today. Yes, while everyone knows the story of Dr. James Naismith, few know the role Newt played to improve the game and safety of the players on the court.
It really all started when Newton’s son, Marvin, approached him to sponsor an AAU basketball team. As Newton agreed, he became more and more aware of the dangers of the slippery, oily floors the teams were playing on, and realized how unsafe they were to the players. He quickly decided to develop wood gym floor coatings that were durable, easy-to-maintain, and offered players a sure-footed playing surface.
Sadly, in 1918, Marvin passed away and was never able to see his wishes come to fruition. His father and brother Robert B. Hillyard carried on, working to carry out Marvin’s wish and worked together to build a championship team.
Newton continued to work to make basketball a prominent indoor sport. To help develop his revolutionary new gym floor coatings, and to give his team a home court to display their talents, he erected a new plant and office building in 1920 that had one important addition: a 90’x140’ wood floor gymnasium on the top floor of the building. At the time, it was the largest gym floor west of the Mississippi River. He used the floor to perfect his world-class, wood gym seals and finishes, and his team supplied the grueling tournament play needed to test his new inventions.
With the help of R.B. Hillyard and Coach George W. Levis, the Hillyard team grew in ability and stature. By the 1925-26 season, the Hillyard team won the National AAU basketball championship. They won it a second time in 1926.
The Hillyard team was made up of early All-American legendary players: F. S. DeBernardi, the team captain and forward who was later inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame; G. E. Rody, forward; E. R. Giltner, forward; Harold Hewett, forward; J. R. Mosby, guard; G. O. Starbuck, guard; C. D. Allen, guard; Earl E. Mueller, center; and J. P. Wulf, center. It was the "dream team" of the era that Marvin wished for.
Basketball greats thought so highly of N. S. Hillyard that sports writers had fondly nicknamed him the "Mr. Big" of basketball and he was continually honored for his contributions to the sport. When it came time to award the game ball from the first Olympic tryouts in 1936, the United States team members all autographed the ball and presented it to N. S. on behalf of the players, coaches, officials and sports writers for his contribution to the game.
Newt passed away in 1936, but his legacy carried on as the company continues to expand and develop revolutionary wood gym floor coatings and carry on the tradition to the sport of basketball, by supporting organizations such as the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., the NCAA, NAIA, NABC, Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, and several other basketball organizations.
The Hillyard family and companies have supported the Basketball Hall of Fame since its inception. Newt’s son-in-law, Elliot C. Spratt, was the first president of the organization. Later, his grandson R. Haskell Hillyard, carried on the tradition by serving as the Hall of Fame Trustee, and remains a Trustee Emeritus. In 1988, Haskell received the John Bunn Award for his and his company’s many contributions to the Basketball Hall of Fame. Current Hillyard President Jim Carolus sits on the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Board of Trustees. The main lobby of the Hall of Fame has been dedicated to Hillyard as a permanent exhibit to their many accomplishments to the sport.
Currently on display at the Hillyard headquarters in St. Joseph, Mo., an authentic copy of the first draft of the original 13 rules of basketball written by Dr. Naismith. It was presented to the Hillyard Companies by Ian Naismith, grandson of James.
Hillyard is also heavily involved with NCAA Basketball. Hillyard’s SureFoot™ Gameday Mop has been the Official Mop of NCAA Basketball since 2013. And just this year, Hillyard was named the “Official Floor Coating and Maintenance Products of NCAA Basketball.” Hillyard will provide floor coatings and maintenance products for all 2019 NCAA Division I, II and III Men’s and Women’s Championship games.
As in the beginning, today Hillyard coatings and maintenance products remain the products of choice for wood gym floors in community centers, grade schools, high schools, colleges, universities and on NBA courts throughout the U.S. and the world.