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Basketball
Chapter IX - The Development of Girls' Basketball


ALTHOUGH basketball was originated in a men’s institution, it was scarcely a month old when it was taken up by girls. Badminton, cycling, and sometimes tennis were considered correct sports for girls at that time. The gymnasium in which basketball was originated, as I have said before, was in a basement, and a door led from the balcony directly to the sidewalk. One day some young women teachers from the Buckingham Grade School passed the gymnasium on their way to lunch. Hearing the shouts in the gymnasium, they stepped through the door into the balcony to see just what was causing the commotion. They discovered a basketball game in progress; it was only a few minutes until they were clapping and cheering for one side or the other.

The visit to the gymnasium became a daily occurrence for the teachers, and about two weeks after they had first come, a group of them asked me why girls could not play basketball. I told them that I would find an hour in which the gym was not in use, if they would like to try the game. The girls were enthusiastic, and the hour was set.

When the time arrived, the girls appeared at the gymnasium, some with tennis shoes, but the majority with street shoes. None of them changed from their street clothes, costumes which were not made for freedom of movement. I shall never forget the sight that they presented in their long trailing dresses with leg-of-mutton sleeves, and in several cases with the hint of a bustle. In spite of these handicaps, the girls took the ball and began to shoot at the basket. None of the other fundamentals was observed; often some girl got the ball and ran half way across the floor to shoot at the basket.

The practice of this group was very regular, and it was not long before some of the girls became proficient at the game. The team practiced passing and shooting until it decided that it would like some competition. Other teachers were brought in, and two girls’ teams were formed.

In March, 1892, the boys were conducting a basketball tournament, and among the spectators were many women. At the conclusion of the boys’ play, it was suggested that the girls have a tournament. A team was organized from a group of stenographers; but since there were not enough of them, some of the wives of the faculty were asked to play. One young lady who took a prominent part on the newly organized team was a Miss Sherman, whom I later asked to become Mrs. Naismith. Throughout her life she remained actively interested in the game, and often commented on the progress the game had made.

The contest between the two girls’ teams was the first really scheduled game. Soon afterward the game for girls began to spread almost as rapidly as the boys’ game.

In 1893, a physical-education convention was held in the Yale gymnasium, and among the directors at this convention was Miss Senda Berensen, the director of physical education at Smith College. She became greatly interested in the game, and I told her that the girls in Springfield were playing it. Miss Berensen spent some time studying basketball in order that she might introduce it at Smith.

The Springfield Republican, in 1893, printed an article about a game that had been played between the freshman and sophomore teams at Smith College. No men spectators were allowed at this game, as the girls wore bloomers. Evidently much preparation had been made for the game, for the article describes the manner in which the gymnasium was decorated. One side was draped with green bunting, and the other side was trimmed with lavender flags. Large bows of the class colors were tied on each goal. The class of ’96 encouraged their team with words to the tune of “Long, Long Ago,” while the class of ’95 answered with the song, “Hold the Fort.”

Bryn Mawr took up basketball; and in a letter to A. A. Stagg, his sister, who was attending that school, described the popularity of the game.

In my scrapbook is a letter from Mrs. H. L. Carver, of Greenville, Texas, dated April 20, 1893. Mrs. Carver asked for the details of the game in order to introduce it into that state. There is little doubt that Mrs. Carver introduced basketball into Texas. A few years ago, in Dallas, I was much impressed with the type of basketball that the girls were playing. I have often used data obtained on that visit in citing the good that basketball has done for girls.

Miss Strickland, who was a graduate of the Sargent Normal School, introduced the game in Denver, Colorado. In 1896, I was invited to attend a girls’ game at Wolfe Hall. The reporter who covered the game was somewhat of an artist, and a sketch that was printed in the paper the following day clearly shows a very good likeness of Bishop Spalding and me as spectators.

A quotation from the Denver News of February 1,1896, describes the game in this manner:

The two captains were Miss Adeline Rockwell, commander of the blues, and Miss Anna Ryan, captain of the reds, and the battle raged fiercely. The ball flew about in a most astounding way, lighting on the heads of the just and the unjust, for once it came down with a resounding whack upon the venerable head of Bishop Spalding and once it grazed the News reporter.

It is a light ball, and no harm was done.

While basketball was being adopted by many of the girls’ colleges, Miss Clara Baer, of Newcomb College, was experimenting with the game in an effort to eliminate some of the most strenuous parts. Miss Baer modified the game so much that the only things left were the ball and the goals. From her woi’k were developed the nine court game, captain ball, and several other variations.

In 1895, Miss Baer published a set of rules that contained several modifications of the boys’ rules. One of these modifications was the division of the court into three sections. This division came about in an interesting way. On one of the diagrams of the court there appeared a dotted line running across the court in two places. This line was meant to describe the positions of the players, but it was taken as a restraining line and was introduced, therefore, into the girls’ game.

By 1898, the game had become so popular as a sport for girls that a group met in New York City to discuss a set of rules for them. This group felt that the game, as it was played by the boys, was too strenuous for girls; for this reason it accepted the following modifications of the boys’ rules:

1. The ball could not be taken away from the player who was holding it.

2. The player in possession of the ball could not hold it longer than three seconds.

3. The floor was divided into three sections, and a player could not cross these lines under penalty of a foul.

4. A defending player could not reach over another player who was in possession of the ball.

The arms must be kept in a vertico-lateral plane, and a violation of this rule by a defensive player was called overguarding.

The natural tendency was for the girls to follow the ball, and the constant running up and down the floor exhausted the players quickly. Another factor was that girls were not developed reflexly in sports as the boys were, and it was difficult for them to make their judgments and to act quickly. To meet this condition, the three-second interval was introduced. The overguarding clause was put in because of the three-second interval. If a girl were allowed three seconds in which to play the ball, it was necessary that she have at least an opportunity to pass in these three seconds.

In recent years there has been some attempt by certain girls’ teams to return to the boys’ style of play. It is true that many of the restrictions that were necessary in the early stages of the game are not necessary today, but I firmly believe that the girls’ game, as it is played today, is a much better game for the girls than the boys’ game is for the girls.

On witnessing the National Girls’ Tournament that was held at Wichita, Kansas, recently, I was forced to admit that I had not seen a boys’ game during the entire season that would compare in speed, accuracy of passing, and team work with that of the girls. The boys’ game is not adapted for girls’ play, and there was little interest shown at the tournament in the teams that played the boys’ rules.

There has been some controversy in regard to the suits that are worn by many of the girls’ basketball teams. To play the game, freedom of movement is necessary, and the suits now worn are far more conducive to activity than the high shoes and

bustles of yesterday.

The first set of girls’ rules was printed in 1898. Several times since then the rules have been revised. The girls’ rules are now printed yearly.

Basketball was played very early on the Pacific Coast, and a description of a game between the University of California and Leland Stanford appears in the San Francisco Examiner for April 5, 1895. Even the headlines of this article were, to say the least, amusing.

WATERLOO FOR BEREKLEY GIRLS Stanford’s Fair Basketball Players Won by a Goal.

Was a Homeric Contest and the Best Team Triumphed.

Clad in Bloomers and Sweaters Muscular Maidens Struggle for Supremacy

Such headlines appeared in many papers all over the country as basketball was enthusiastically received by the girls. It was really the first chance that they had to participate in an active sport. The gentle art of cycling, along with badminton, was doomed to be displaced by activities such as basketball.

Not only in this country was basketball accepted by the women, but in many foreign countries it was also introduced as a woman’s game. I have already said that the introduction into England as a girls’ game has had much to do with the present attitude of the English men toward the game.

In my estimation, girls have made far greater strides in physical education in the past twenty-five years than boys. The development of sportsmanship in women is to be marveled at. I can well remember officiating at a girls’ game in Springfield. When a foul was called, it was a signal for a violent argument with the player. During the entire tournament at Wichita, however, I did not see any girl openly object to a decision of a referee.

Not only have the girls developed in sportsmanship, but they have developed also in reflexes, muscular control, and judgment. A clipping in my scrapbook describes Miss Dorothy Compston, of Warwick, Rhode Island, as shooting forty-nine goals in one game. This number of goals would have been considered almost impossible in the early stages of the game. Many of the games of the early time ended with scores as low as three to one or even one to nothing.

I have often been asked what I think of men coaching girls’ teams. This question is one that has been much debated, and I feel that the girls’ use of boys’ rules was due to the fact that the coaches were men. Regardless of who coaches the technique of the game, there should be some competent woman directly in charge of the girls. No game should be placed before the welfare of the girls.


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