Public Schools Athletic League (New York City)
Public Schools Athletic League, the public high school athletic conference for all the boroughs of New York City in continuous existence since its founding in 1903, is one of the most storied leagues in interscholastic sports. The genesis of the Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL) came from the appointment in early 1903 of Dr. Luther Halsey Gulick as director of physical training for the New York public school system. Compared to other major cities, the athletics program for the New York boroughs were backwards, underdeveloped, and rife with corruption. Gulick found "semi-truant" boys playing baseball for schools they did not attend, and that there was much unsportsmanlike conduct and dishonesty on the playing fields. And only a small percentage of students participated in athletics. He saw a serious need for reform and devised a grandiose plan to form a new league--the PSAL--that would involve most of the student population, grade school and high school, and working with two influential New Yorkers--General George W. Wingate (a member of the City Board of Education) and James E. Sullivan (secretary of the Amateur Athletic Union)--presented it in October of 1903 to the superintendent of schools, William H. Maxwell. He with the concurrence of the school board approved of Gulick's plan.
Although the PSAL received sanction by the board of education, it was set up as a private corporation that would not receive public tax money. The founders of the league recruited the businessmen of New York City to serve on the league's board of directors and also become paying members of the league, and also solicited contributions from prominent benefactors. Championships were held at the district, borough, and city levels.
Basketball and Track Launch the League
The league began with an athletic extravaganza held at Madison Square Garden on December 26, 1903. It involved 1,040 boys, mostly elementary school students, in basketball and track and field events. Among the high schools, Commerce won the track and field meet and Flushing won the basketball tournament. In the spring the league held its first outdoor high school track and field championship, won by Brooklyn Boys.
In July of 1904 the Flushing High basketball team went to the St. Louis World's Fair to participate in an "Olympic" interscholastic basketball championship. Flushing represented New York, which competed against Chicago, St. Louis, and San Francisco in a competition that was designated "Olympic" but which did not have any official relationship to the Olympic Games being held at the fair. New York took first, winning all its games. Chicago came in second in the standings. In February, 1905, the Flushing boys in a formal ceremony at the Seventy-First Regiment Armory in New York were presented with what the New York Times called the "Olympic Inter-City Championship Bowl."
In the 1904-05 season, the first regular basketball championship was held and was won by DeWitt Clinton, which in the first three decades of the PSAL won nearly one-third of all the basketball titles. Commerce High was a power in the early 1920s, winning four out of the first five titles in the decade. The private financing of the PSAL did not last, and by 1915 the New York Board of Education was supporting the public schools athletic program.
Basketball Tournament Moved to Madison Square Garden
The basketball program became the largest attraction in the PSAL and in 1937 the league moved the playoff finals for the championship to Madison Square Garden. The PSAL finals at the huge arena became one of the biggest secondary school tournaments in the country. The 1951 tournament was canceled due to a teachers’ strike.
In 1962, the PSAL introduced a second division championship for smaller schools, thus creating two basketball titles, namely Division I for the large schools and Division II for the small schools. Boys High in Brooklyn, under Coach Howie Jones, was the dominant power during the 1960s, winning five large school titles during that decade.
Tournament Gets Small
The PSAL removed its tournament from Madison Square Garden in 1964, after the championship game between Boys High and Franklin was marred by disruptions and fights in the stands and bottle throwing on the courts, which was the culmination of an an ever growing disturbing trend in the PSAL basketball tournament. Subsequent finals were played in competing schools, reducing attendance in the small gyms sometimes to about 200 spectators per team. The 1967 finals of the Division I tournament were cancelled when the schools fought over the venues. In 1968, the Division I and II were changed to Section A and Section B respectively.
Girls Tournament Added
In 1970, well ahead of the trend towards the adoption of girls sports competition in the high schools, the PSAL introduced a girls basketball championship, the first one won by William C. Bryant High. Also in 1970, when George W. Wingate edged DeWitt Clinton for the title 61 to 60 at the Queensboro Community College in Bayside, it marked the first time in six years that the PSAL boys basketball championship was not played in a high school gym. In 1973 the tournament was played at the Felt Forum, and in 1989 the finals were played again at the Felt Forum. In 1990, the tournament returned to Madison Square Garden.
Public Schools Athletic League, 1904-1990
|Year||School/Division I/Section A||Division II/Section B||Girls Title|
|1904||Flushing (won December 1903)|
|1930||Franklin K. Lane|
|1936||Thomas Jefferson/James Monroe|
|1953||Townsend Harris/New Utrecht|
|Division I||Division II|
|1962||Brooklyn Boys||Food and Maritime Trades|
|1963||DeWitt Clinton||Midwood/Thomas Jefferson|
|1964||Brooklyn Boys||Eastern District|
|1966||DeWitt Clinton||Eastern District|
|1967||tournament canceled||Samuel J. Tilden|
|Section A||Section B|
|1970||George W. Wingate||Bronx Science||William C. Bryant|
|1971||DeWitt Clinton||Bronx Science||Walton|
|1972||Carnarsie||Alfred E. Smith||Ft. Hamilton|
|1973||DeWitt Clinton||Adlai E. Stevenson||Ft. Hamilton|
|1974||William H. Taft||Adlai E. Stevenson||Bronx Science|
|1975||William H. Taft||August Martin||Julia Richmond|
|1976||Carnarsie||H. Lehman||Benjamin Franklin|
|1977||DeWitt Clinton||August Martin||Julia Richmond|
|1978||Benjamin Cardozo||Forest Hills||Julia Richmond|
|1979||Brooklyn Boys||Norman Thomas||Francis Lewis|
|1980||Adlai E. Stevenson||Murray Bergstraum||Charles E. Hughes|
|1981||Alexander Hamilton||Norman Thomas||John F. Kennedy|
|1982||Benjamin Franklin||Norman Thomas||James Madison|
|1983||Springfield Gardens||New York School of Printing||August Martin|
|1984||Harry S. Truman||Murray Bergstraum||August Martin|
|1985||Andrew Jackson||Samuel Gompers||August Martin|
|1986||Abraham Lincoln||High School of Graphic Arts||Murray Bergstraum|
|1987||Springfield Gardens||Samuel Gompers||August Martin|
|1988||Adlai E. Stevenson||Samuel Gompers||August Martin|
|1989||Adlai E. Stevenson||Mabel Dean Bacon||August Martin|
|1990||William E. Grady||James Monroe||August Martin|