Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Huskies today, "Lassies" yesterday

Women's basketball is big news today, thanks to UConn's Huskies beating the 88-game winning streak set by the University of California's men's team back in the 1970s.  Had it been a men's team to break the L.A. team's record, there would have been more coverage. No doubt.

But women's basketball has long been making history. In fact, just one year after John Naismith invented "basket ball" in 1891, Smith's College organized the first women's basketball team. Four years later, the first women's intercollegiate basketball championship was played between Stanford and the University of California at Berkley — before a crowd of 700 women.

Around the same time, high schools (including Western High School, Washington, D.C. — see inset), companies and local clubs started women's basketball teams, including such all-black girls' teams as the New York Girls and the Spartan Girls.

One New York Times story in 1907 reported on the Colgate YMCA women's team hosting two others: "The playing was fast and rough, and the girls were sprawling on the floor several times after lively scrimmaging. . . . There were many fouls called, not necessarily because the girls meant to be rough, but because they entered into the spirit of the contest with so much vim and aggressiveness that they slammed each other up against the wall with anything but girlish gentleness."

But all this ardor for b-ball wasn't without controversy. A number of colleges began banning women's basketball from intercollegiate competition. The Amateur Athletic Union took the position that women and girls shouldn't play basketball in public. And the split bloomers the players wore? In 1907, the Illinois State High School Athletic Association declared the costumes "objectionable" and that "the record of blacked eyes, scratched countenances and bruised bodies of the last season is an argument against the game as far as the lassies are concerned." At the time, that meant all 300 girls' basketball teams had to cancel their games.

Despite all that and even during women's baskeball decline before the passage of Title IX, girls and women have always played hoops. Congratulations to the Huskies for continuing to make history. 

P.S. December is Black Women's Basketball History Month.

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