The United States entered World War I in April of 1917. The consequences of the massive mobilization that followed through the summer and fall were felt by professional basketball as the ranks of the top players were depleted by the draft. The New York State Basketball League, which had shut down in the middle of the previous season, and the Interstate Basketball League both suspended operations for the duration of the war. The Eastern Basketball League began competition as usual, but discontinued play in mid-December.
The Pennsylvania State Basketball League was the only established circuit to complete the entire season, although it lost three teams along the way. The compactness of the circuit, with all the towns joined by trolly service, helped to keep expenses down to a manageable level. Pittston, Plymouth, and a new team in Providence (a section of Scranton, not the Rhode Island city) were the strongest clubs during the first half of the split season. Pittston used Jack Noll’s agility to control the taps and rebounds and Gerry Schmeelk’s muscle to lead the offense. Two local youngsters, Merle Harris and his younger brother Bucky, provided speed and enthusiasm. Bucky showed promise as a fine basketball player, but he would go on to much greater fame in his career that spanned four decades as a major league baseball manager. Stocked with veterans from the defunct Interstate League, including top scorer Frank Bruggy, the new Providence team compiled an impressive 19-8 record to capture second place. After two dreadful seasons, Plymouth upgraded its fortunes by signing scoring star Dick Leary as player-coach and added Herm Bergkamp and Dick Smyth to bolster the defense.
Before the start of the second half of the season, Providence, which had done well in the standings but not at the box office, dropped out. Carbondale, despite a roster that featured stars Barney Sedran, Elmer Ripley, and Lou Sugarman, played miserably, and early in the second half became the next casualty of the growing financial constraints caused by the war. Shortly afterward, Scranton became the third team to drop out.
First-half tailenders Hazleton and Nanticoke, jumped off to an early lead in the second half race and never looked back. Hazleton’s renewal was generated by the acquisition of Dick Leary from Plymouth to replace center Jack Lawrence, who had been lost for the season with a fractured collarbone. Leary’s tenure as player-coach in Plymouth had drawn to an abrupt conclusion because of the team’s poor second half play and Leary’s stubborn refusal to expand the playing time of local favorite Joe Berger. Nanticoke also strengthened itself with the signing of Johnny Beckman from the expired EBL. Beckman, a deadly set shooter and driver to the basket, was at the peak of his game. He averaged over eleven points a game, nearly twice the average of any other performer in the PSL. Hazleton won the last seven games of the second season to take the honors by a single game over Nanticoke. Hazleton was severely handicapped in the best-of-five-game playoffs against first half winner Pittston when Leary became ill with the flu. His sub par performance throughout the series allowed Garry Schmeelk to roam freely under the basket and Pittston to take three of four games and the Pennsylvania State League title.
In early January of 1918, the newly formed Connecticut State Basketball League began play. With most of the other leagues inactive, the new circuit showcased many New York metropolitan area stars including Nat Holman, Dutch Dehnert, Chris Leonard, Eddie White, Ernie Reich and Barney Sedran. The league benefited from a blistering battle for first place. In mid-March all four teams in the circuit were deadlocked with identical .500 records. Led by beefy stars, Garry Schmeelk and Frank Bruggy, Ansonia, took the title by closing out the season with five straight victories.
AMERICAN BASKETBALL LEAGUE OF PHILADELPHIA
CONNECTICUT STATE BASKETBALL LEAGUE