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Before the National Hockey League appeared in New York City, there was growing amateur hockey development the greater urban area that helped set the stage for the successful introduction of the pro circuit. During the shift from national amateur to professional hockey, Brooklyn’s Public School Athletic League’s (PSAL) hockey tournament captured Brooklyn’s attention in the late 1920s.
In New York City, Catholic and Private schools maintained a hockey tournament that also? included a few public schools. In November 1903, Gen. George Wingate had established the PSAL to organize and oversee school sports for Brooklyn and Queens. Along with Gustavus Kirby, PSAL’s vice-president, they kept hockey alive in Brooklyn until the late-40s.
Brooklyn high school hockey was organized nearly a decade after NYC. For the 1910/11 school year, the core hockey schools, Manual Training, Boys’ High School, Erasmus Hall and others, proposed hockey under the Long Island Interscholastic League (LIIL). (NOTE: The LIIL was not considered a precursor to the PSAL. but In 1916/17, LIIL hockey was folded into the PSAL.)
Starting in 1916/17, Winnipeg transplant and renowned coach, Tom Howard donated twelve of his coveted “custom” Spalding sticks to the highest goal scoring team each season. Manual Training won the league championship and the sticks that first season. In March 1918, Erasmus Hall won the sticks. Amidst unclear rules for the 1919 season, the league deemed Jamaica High School should be awarded the sticks. Then with World War I’s end and the sport’s subsequent explosion, PSAL hockey dropped from Brooklyn newspapers until the 1924/25 school year so the sticks were presumably awarded but the identity of the winners became lost over time.
Whether or not they knew it, the mainstay of American hockey, the US Amateur Hockey Association (USAHA), crested in 1924 and was about to break. Despite strong appearances, the USAHA struggled in some areas. Only Boston Athletic Association’s George V. Brown recognized the danger that professional hockey, the NHL, presented to the USAHA. In 1924, the NHL awarded Tex Rickard a franchise, which would become the New York Americans (Amerks). This shark was not an immediate threat as Tex’s Madison Square Garden (MSGIII) won’t break ground until 1925. Other significant events happened in 1924 that prepared PSAL hockey for the limelight.
In May 1924, PSAL announced Tom Howard to be its hockey director. This was especially noteworthy as half-way through the 1922/23 season, Columbia University had fired Howard and disbanded the hockey team due ineligible players playing under false names. Surprisingly, Gustavus Kirby, PSAL’s Vice President, was also the graduate-manager for Columbia University sports, one time president of the American Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), AAAU? a member of the US Olympic Committee and more. It is not known today what Kirby’s relationship to Brown was but as PSAL’s VP, Kirby’s interview of Howard must have been very interesting. Both men had resolved to uphold amateur ideals; however, one man had been tarnished by reputation and deed. In the end, Gustavus either allowed or was overruled which allowed “dirty” Howard to become PSAL’s hockey director.
Howard’s impact, nor the lure of the donation of his sticks, significantly impacted the 1924/25 season. His greatest contribution was to get much desired newspaper coverage. Although still very sporadic, the high school hockey beat writers started getting column space. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle regularly offered a brief glimpse in a highlight paragraph. The columnist noted that Jamaica retained only one star from its [1923/24] hockey team. Yet, there’s no other indication of that 1923/24 season. Additionally, there’s little mention of the 1924/25 season.
For the 1925/26 school year, the Daily News quipped that Tom Howard practically revived PSAL hockey unaided but Howard was probably aided by a few favourable factors. External factors included the USAHA nearing its 1926 collapse. Also, the NHL Amerks and MSGIII were still too new to have established a loyal following of hockey fans . On Howard’s side, there was General George Wingate, a highly respected New York National Guard General and one of the most prominent amateur athletic directors outside of Boston. Howard was no slouch, either. He was a cornerstone of Brooklyn hockey since 1900. He even carried a short radio program titled “Ice Hockey”. As result, many writers knew him as a player and a coach. While his relentless drive helped push PSAL hockey, it was not a one-man show.
For the 1925/26 school year, PSAL and the community really came to the fore and PSAL’s hockey wave reached its zenith. Rickard and Colonel John S. Hammond sought to fill the new MSGIII. Rickard, a boxing promoter, undoubtedly knew of Howard from St. Nicholas Athletic Club. Cornelius Fellowes Jr., manager of St. Nicks’, had turned it into a boxing rink in 1906 and he also became a boxing promoter. Rickard achieved success as a boxing promoter, and probably used St. Nick’s as a feeder ring for his main events at the Garden. Additionally, Colonel Hammond probably knew General George Wingate, even though one was regular Army and the other from the New York National Guard. Many Gilded Age families retained ties through the New York Guard even after they went from uplifted to derided. These intermingling connections created a unique chance for PSAL as Madison Square Garden agreed to host PSAL games.
PSAL’s inaugural game at MSG was a doubleheader event which occurred on January 26, 1926 near the end of the season. Boys’ High School and De Witt Clinton played the first match. Jamaica faced Morris in the second. Boys’ lost naught to two. Jamaica served Morris a strong defeat by a score of two to nil.
Jamaica had dominated all season long, continuing the string of championships back to 1919. Jamaica won all six matches in 1925/26. Early in the season, they crushed Boys’ 11-0. Later, they repeated that score against Stuyvesant. They so dominated that Erasmus Hall and De Witt fought for second place in the playoff. In the seven-game season, Jamaica’s Captain Hubert Baylis scored a third of Jamaica’s 37 goals. In years to come, Brooklyn newspapers speculated about the scoring potential compared to the 1925/26 team. On February 10, 1926, Howard presented his sticks to the team.
Jamaica remained the dominate power in PSAL hockey throughout the entire 1920s. Unbeaten in 1926/27 and again in 1927/28, they eclipsed their rivals each time. Despite the initial double-header, PSAL never went back to Madison Square Garden. Rickard’s Garden sat on the edge of Hell’s Kitchen, where Irish immigrants were pushed significance? Irish not hockey fans? . More importantly, the Brooklyn Ice Palace, the regular home of the PSAL was centrally located at 1163 Atlantic Avenue. The Garden game attendance was likely low and families possibly desired to see their kids play without the MSG admission and commuter train fees. Thus, PSAL hockey did not return except for one more game.
Interest in PSAL hockey exploded in the 1927/28 season as two strong contenders, Manual Training and Erasmus Hall challenged Jamaica for the title. Manual Training handed Jamaica its first defeat in several years on November 14, 1928. Jamaica had a star goalie and team captain in Robert O’Farrell. Manual Training snuck two goals past him with the first being considered a fluke. Other than Manual Training’s success, O’Farrell blanked Stuyvesant, Franklin Lane, Boys’, Thomas Jefferson, New Utrecht and Erasmus Hall twice. For the season, he helped Jamaica achieve a record of 36 Goals For:3 Goals Against. Manual Training came in a strong third, scoring 15 to 7 but it was Erasmus Hall that finished second with 23 to 8 goals (excluding the playoff round)and dominated Thomas Jefferson by 11 to 1. Jamaica blanked Erasmus Hall in both playoff games.
To cap the season and serve as a crowning touch for the competition of the past four years, Madison Square Garden hosted Jamaica and Erasmus Hall for an exhibition game and awards presentation on January 17, 1929. Col John Hammond and Patrick Lester made the pomp and circumstance possible. The two PSAL teams played a seven-minute exhibition game prior to the Chicago Black Hawks vs Rangers NHL game. Tom Howard refereed. William Kennelly, President of the New York Athletic Club, presented the coveted Spalding sticks to Jamaica. A WWI Canadian soldier, Major Evans Haffe, presented the medals. After a decade of wins, the Jamaica team had their photo taken with US President, Calvin Coolidge. It was a very fitting cap to four years of PSAL hockey.
To be fair, PSAL hockey did not end that night, but a major shift happened. There are records of Howard teaching boy’s hockey in 1929 but then he left to disastrously coach the 1930/31 AHL New Haven Eagles. O’Farrell continued to play in the Metropolitan senior amateur leagues. He was recognized around the Rangers rink, and an unconfirmed story floats around about the Rangers requesting him to stand in for a missing practice goalie. The following year, 1930/31 Jamaica fell to Erasmus Hall.
With the Depression in full swing, the league’s fortunes loosely followed during the 1930s; PSAL hockey never regained prominence. Public high school died out in 1945 after dispute between schools and PSAL on uniting the private and public school leagues. Today, only private school leagues remain active in New York City.
Jamaica High School Team meeting President Coolidge
1900 – New York City interscholastic hockey. Mainly private schools
Nov 1903 – Gen. George Wingate forms Public School Athletic League (PSAL) to organize and oversee Brooklyn and Queens High School sports
1910/11 – Start of Brooklyn-based interscholastic hockey
1915/16 – Last year of Long Island Interscholastic League Hockey
1916/17 – First PSAL Hockey season. Tom Howard provides championship prize
1922/23 – PSAL Champion: Jamaica High School?
1923/24 – PSAL Champion: Jamaica High School (perfect record)
May 1924 – Tom Howard becomes PSAL Ice Hockey Director starting with 1924/25 season
1924/25 – Little record of season
1925/26 – PSAL Champion: Jamaica High school (Perfect record)
1926/27 – PSAL Champion: Jamaica High School
1927/28 – PSAL Champion: Jamaica High School
1928 - Gustavus Town Kirby, first vice-president, advanced to president after Wingate’s death (1928)
1928/29 – Last season with Tom Howard’s direct involvement
1928/29 – PSAL Champion: Jamaica High School
1929/30 – PSAL Champion: Erasmus Hall. Last season of Tom Howard sticks.
1945 – PSAL refuses to sanction an intercity loop consisting of public and private schools
1949 – PSAL hockey defunct. Only private school hockey remains.
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