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This Week in Illinois History: H. V. Porter, father of March Madness (October 27, 1975)

Henry Van Arsdale “H. V.” Porter (1891-1975)
Henry Van Arsdale “H. V.” Porter (1891-1975)

Henry Van Arsdale “H. V.” Porter passed away on October 27, 1975, at 84 years old. This Illinois native not only shaped modern high school athletics, but he popularized the term “March Madness.”

Porter was born in 1891 in rural Tazewell County, Illinois. After attending Illinois State University in Normal, he became a principal at several high schools. At Athens High School near Springfield, he served as principal, teacher, band and orchestra leader, and the basketball coach.

Porter led the Athens team to the state tournament in 1924 and 1926, catching the attention of C. W. Whitten, head of the Illinois High School Athletic Association (IHSA). Whitten hired Porter as his assistant manager in 1927. Porter trained officials and drafted rules for multiple high school sports, but his love was basketball.

In 1932, Porter joined the National Basketball Committee of the United States and Canada. He worked as co-editor of the Committee’s rules book, developing many of the rules still used today. He also introduced the molded rubber basketball and standardized the shape of the backboard.

In 1939, he published the essay “March Madness” in the IHSA magazine Illinois Interscholastic. He used the expression to describe the fanatic atmosphere at Illinois’ increasingly popular state basketball tournaments:

[He] lives to the utmost during March when a hundred thousand pairs of rubber soled shoes slap the hardwood in a whirlwind of stops and pivots and dashes on the trail to the state basketball championships. He is a glutton for punishment. When the March madness is on him, midnight jaunts of a hundred miles on successive nights make him even more alert the next day.

While “March Madness” was already an old expression, Porter was one of the first to associate it with basketball tournament season, and it became popular with Illinois sportswriters. It became associated with NCAA college basketball when former Illinois sportswriter Brent Musburger used it on air in 1982.

The IHSA has preserved several film reels related to H. V. Porter and made them available online.

Clint Cargile is the host of This Week in Illinois History and the creator and host of the podcast Drinkin’ with Lincoln.
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