Archives for posts with tag: basketball

dust bowlWith March Madness in full swing and the winning streak of the Connecticut Huskies women extending to 107 games, Lydia Reeder’s new book on another record setting basketball team is a timely addition to our collection.

Depression era Oklahoma was not the first place I thought of when talking about women’s basketball. Dust Bowl Girls: The Inspiring Story of the Team That Barnstormed Its Way to Basketball Glory has changed my perception. It’s the story of the Oklahoma Presbyterian College Cardinals and their 1931/1932 championship season.

The author has combined family, social, and sports history to bring this remarkable team to life. Reeder’s great-uncle, Sam Babb, was coach, recruiter, and fund raiser for the Cardinals. He joined OPC, a tiny junior college located in Durant, in 1929 as professor and basketball coach.

When Babb recruited he looked for players with talent and character. He found both qualities in prolific shooter Doll Harris. She joined the Cardinals in the fall of 1930 and for the first time in team history they were invited to the American Athletic Union (AAU) National Tournament.

Doll was named an All-American and they brought home a trophy – for sportsmanship. The Dallas Golden Cyclones led by Babe Didrikson won the championship. Babb knew his team could do better so he took to the road travelling to farming communities in Oklahoma.

He offered the young women the opportunity to go college for free and play basketball for OPC. The Depression was worsening and many of these players worked family farms that were struggling to survive. The decision to leave, even for a free education, was not easy. Babb was persuasive and 35 players accepted scholarships.

Women’s basketball in the 1930s was much different than what we see today.  It wasn’t until 1970 that the game changed to what is played now. Then women were considered too delicate for such a vigorous sport so they played half court with 6 members to a team.

Some believed even this level of competition was too much. Reeder explores the history and attitudes on women and competitive sports throughout the book.  It’s interesting and highlights the difficulties for teams especially with funding.

The AAU encouraged competitive sports for women whereas most colleges emphasized less vigorous activity. Many of the teams in the AAU were sponsored by companies and college teams like the Cardinals needed donations and gate receipts to survive.

Babb was very good at fund-raising and managed to pay for scholarships but a barnstorming tour over Christmas break was needed to fund the team. Practice was every morning from 4am -6am (they used Southeastern State’s gym when the men didn’t need it). They also had to run at least 1 mile and shoot 100 free throws each day. Their first game was in December when they scrimmaged with a high school team.

By the time of their barnstorm tour through Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas the rigorous practices in addition to school commitments had reduced the roster to 16. The tour started in Celeste, TX for the first of 17 games. Three weeks later they had won every game including one in Dallas with last year’s national champions. They finished the season undefeated and were invited to the national tournament.

Much of the story of the team and season is related by 2 of the players, Doll Harris and 16-year-old Lucille Thurman. Through Doll and Lucille you feel the drive, dedication, and camaraderie develop as they become a team.

You also see the conflict of being a woman and an athlete. News coverage gave as much emphasis to how they looked as to how they played. The biggest trophy awarded at the tournament was given to the winner of the player beauty pageant.

The record books tell us they won the AAU national championship becoming the first college team to hold the title. From 1931-1934 they won 2 championships and 89 straight games. What Reeder tells us is who Sam Babb and the OPC Cardinals were and how they did it.

If you enjoyed “The Boys in the Boat”, you will definitely want to read “Dust Bowl Girls”.

index-aspxIn 2010 the BBC developed a radio series telling the history of the world in 100 objects. The accompanying book by Neil MacGregor was a bestseller. Cait Murphy has used this format to great success exploring the history of sports in America.

A History of American Sports in 100 Objects is a fun and at times sobering look at the games America plays. The order of the book is chronological but you can open it at almost any page and be entertained with entries on the history of Annie Oakley’s rifle, the first Zamboni, or the golf club Alan Shepard used on the moon.

As with any such book you may not agree with all of the objects and stories the author chose. Murphy concentrated on the moments, people, and events that were catalysts for social and technological change and/or changed perceptions on race or gender. She also made it a requirement that the object had to exist and a photo accompanies each entry.

The most popular sports are well covered. Football objects include the modern football (the first balls were round not tapered and had a tendency to deflate) and the scorecard from Red Grange’s NFL debut. Before Grange brought his popularity to the game it was considered disreputable being played for and by a tough crowd. When Grange signed up, in one season, attendance went from hundreds per game to a record attendance of 70,000 at the Polo Grounds.

You will also find the 1959 Championship game, Lamar Hunt and the founding of the AFL, the Ice Bowl, Super Bowl III, Monday Night Football and a CTE scan.  Baseball coverage includes Babe Ruth’s bat, the program from the first night baseball game, the handbook from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, jerseys of Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron, and Yogi Berra’s catcher’s mitt.

Roberto Clemente is remembered from his baseball card. Except the 1968 All Star card gives his name as Bob Clemente. Even though he made it clear that Roberto was his name the press and baseball cards makers called him Bob or Bobby. Clemente paved the way for players born outside the U.S. to play in the Big Leagues and by the end of his brilliant career no one called him Bob.

Basketball is well covered with Naismith, Bill Russell, Bird and Magic, and Michael Jordan. The oldest known bowling ball is found in Katherine Naylor’s privy. A statue of a chunkey player, a lacrosse stick, Bobby Orr’s knee brace, and the Husky Clipper tell both obscure and well-documented moments in American sport.

As for the safety bicycle in the 1892 entry, Susan B. Anthony declared it “has done more to emancipate women that anything else in the world”. Besides transportation the popularity of the bicycle called for a less constricting form of dress and changed the perception that women were too delicate for exercise.

Women have a rich history in American sport. Some you will probably know like Babe Didrikson, Billie Jean King and Jackie Joyner Kersee. Momentous achievements also came from little known places like Tennessee State University and Immaculata College.

Before Title IX TSU was one of the few places black female athletes could compete. The Tigerbelles track team trained on an unfinished track located between a cow pasture and a pigpen. Impressively from 1952 to 1984 40 Tigerbelles competed in the Olympics bringing home 27 track and field medals.

The first women’s national basketball champion was the Immaculata College Mighty Macs. Unlike the Tigerbelles the Mighty Macs had a gym but in 1972 their uniform was a wool dress worn with bloomers. Despite the uniform this small Catholic school played a mean game of basketball and won the first three national championships.

Wrestling, boxing, tennis, swimming, even President Lincoln’s handball are all covered in this entertaining book.  The history of American sports is at times glorious and in other times ugly and rife with injustice.  Murphy has not shied away from the more unsavory moments while still celebrating the games Americans play.