Archive for Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Girls make sport their own

February 22, 2012

Anyone who is a sports fan will quickly tell you that athletics have changed dramatically over the years. Football is no longer a game of “three yards and a cloud of dust’ as it was in the 1950s. Now it’s a game based on passing and great athletic ability. Track distances aren’t measured by yards anymore – now its meters. Basketball was a game of running pattern offenses, now it’s a game of driving to the goal, slam dunks and three point shots. The list is very long and athletes are bigger, faster and more talented that was just a few years back.

However, in my opinion, no game has changed as much as girls’ basketball. It is every bit as rough and tumble as the male version. Probably the biggest difference now is that men play above the rim and the girls play below.

There was a time when all of that was different. Girls basketball was a “lady like” sport with relatively little pushing and shoving. It was a game played with three forwards and three guards and they could not cross the center line. In addition, they were only allowed to dribble the ball two times before passing.

I noticed the difference watching the local high school girls play. The girls’ version of the game is now fast paced and filled with long, three point shots and jostling for rebounding position. In my many years of sports writing I rarely covered a girls’ game. Jim Finley handled the girls’ games. In the mid-1990s I covered Basehor-Linwood games and in my last stint of sports writing for the Chieftain, I covered the girls as well as the boys. I will tell you that I enjoy watching both the Braves and Bravettes. Whoops, I made a mistake, they are now the Lady Braves and I’m not sure I like the change. On the other hand, Basehor-Linwood has always been the Lady Bobcats.

I got interested in girls basketball because as a kid I was bored on winter Sunday afternoons. I wasn’t allowed to attend the movies on Sunday, but I could go to sporting events and Holy Angels School often had Sunday afternoon games. The girls would play first, followed by the boys. The girls, of course, used the old rules which meant no fast break, no driving the length of the court. I think admission was only a dime or so and it was a good place for kids to hang out.

While almost everyone knows that Dr. James Naismith invented basketball in 1891 as a way for young men to stay in condition between football and baseball season I doubt that the good doctor would recognize his game today with ally-op passes, slam dunks and three point shots. Yes, Dr. Naismith served at Kansas University and is the only coach in the school history with a losing record.

One year after the invention of the game, a women’s PE teacher Senda Berenson at Smith College introduced the female version of basketball. She divided the court into three divisions and used nine players – three players in each section. A couple of years later, the first intercollegiate game was played, however no men were allowed to attend.

In the next two decades both men’s and women’s basketball became popular. In the early 1900s, Bonner Springs, Basehor, Olathe, Edwardsville, Linwood and Kansas City were playing girls’ basketball games. One of my favorites was in the fall of 1911 when Basehor and Bonner Springs played an outdoor game in a lot which was across the street from the present library building.

One of the big changes in the game came in 1908 when bloomers were developed. Prior to bloomers girls often played wearing ankle length dresses.

For some reason girls sports lost popularity in the 1940s and 1950s and nearly disappeared. In the early 1970s, the movement to reinstate girls’ sports wasn’t without controversy. I wrote an editorial urging the Mulvane schools to start girls’ basketball and softball. I received a barrage of letters condemning the idea. As is always the case, most of the negative arguments were completely wrong and based on misguided emotion, not fact. Now women’s basketball is played at all levels from junior high, high school, college and professionally.

I would urge fans to attend a girls’ game. They are very entertaining and competitive. Locally, Bonner Springs has an outstanding girls team.

The sub-state tournament will be held in Bonner Springs and will have some great basketball at a bargain price and includes both Bonner and Basehor-Linwood and If you catch a girls’ game, you will see a far different sport than in the old days with bloomers and six players on the team.

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