Mintonette, the game eventually called volleyball, was the brainchild of a man who happened to be friends with the man who invented basketball.
James Naismith and William Morgan were teammates on the football team in 1892 at the YMCA International Training School (later renamed Springfield College). Naismith, who coached the team, had invited the younger Morgan to join.In 1891, Naismith had invented basketball while working for the YMCA in Springfield, Mass. He created the game not with dreams of it evolving into a major international sport. Rather, he wanted to keep young men occupied during the winter and in shape for spring when they could exercise outdoors.
In 1895, Morgan had moved on to work as director of the YMCA at Holyoke. There he found his old friend’s game of basketball a bit too strenuous for some members. Older men and others weren’t up for the rigors of running up and down the court and the occasional collisions it entailed. They needed something less strenuous.
Putting his mind to the challenge, Morgan examined the rules of sports such as baseball, basketball, handball and badminton. Taking pieces from each, he created a game he called Mintonette. He took the name from badminton.
The game involved a six-foot-six-inch-high net (too low today). Teams of players on each side hit a ball back and forth across the net. Points scored when one team could not get the ball back across the net. Teams could have any number of players. And while the game involved lots of running around, there was no physical contact as in football or basketball.
Originally played with the air bladder from a basketball, Morgan gradually refined the game. A smaller ball was created. The net was raised. And teams were restricted to touching the ball just three times before sending it across the net.
Morgan’s game today surpasses even basketball in terms of the numbers of people who play it both for competition and exercise. The only thing Morgan couldn’t claim to have invented was the final name of the sport. His old professor, Alfred T. Halstead, came up with that.
Watching the players demonstrating Mintonette, Halstead pointed out that the game basically involved volleying the ball back and forth. Volleyball, he suggested, was a much more descriptive name than Mintonette. Morgan agreed, and that’s what it became when added to the YMCA’s official sports handbook in 1896.
As for Morgan, he moved on from the YMCA in 1897, beginning a long career with General Electric and Westinghouse.
This story about mintonette was updated in 2020.