The basketball I care most about tends to take place outside of NCAA brackets.
Like the summer afternoon, back when I was maybe 10 or 12, when my group of friends decided to play hoops long-distance — with one team aiming for the basket at our house, and the other team aiming for the basket at a friend’s house around the corner.
(I’d love to say we went at it for hours; but the truth was that dribbling down the street wore us out fairly quickly, and we soon went back to talking about whatever we talked about when I was 10 or 12.)
The sport of the streets hasn’t much worked its way into the Hope Street narrative before. My grandpa, I think, was more into baseball.
But, I’m piqued by a certain calendar entry of my grandfather’s.
While the world’s basketball attention is drawn to the top college players, come back 54 years with me, to a drafty and probably empty middle-school gym. The rest of the world this week is watching Storrs, in the northeast “quiet corner” of Connecticut, but we’re going to the opposite corner of the state:
What we have here is a girls’ basketball game, pitting a team from Dolan Middle School — including my Aunt Elaine — against a team from a private school called Cherry Lawn. (Pitting? Cherry Lawn? I knock myself out.)
Aunt Elaine wasn’t an athletic pioneer in any real sense when she suited up in Dolan’s bloomer-inspired basketball uniforms. Girls and women had been playing sports in defined settings for many decades by 1962.
But, my perception is that girls’ sports didn’t get much in the way of support and acceptance before federal Title IX took effect, which happened roughly a decade after Aunt Elaine took the court against Cherry Lawn.
If anything, an interest in sports was a social black mark for girls, as my aunt confirms:
I can’t say I was particularly athletic but I liked playing basketball and made the team somehow. Being tall for my age probably helped. I had one friend on the team who was in the same boat, and the rest of the team members were what was known as ” jocks” or worse, which were not favorable terms for girls at that time.
I also played in the annual badminton competitions in high school. I became quite good at that sport from playing nightly in the Blumenau backyard in the summers. However, people didn’t pay much attention to that competition either. Boys football and basketball were the attention-grabbers.
The Cherry Lawn School yearbooks from that period of time are posted online, and I looked through them, hoping to find a shot of the Dolan-Cherry Lawn girls’ hoop game. But the only sports pictures in those yearbooks are football and boys’ basketball, confirming Aunt Elaine’s perceptions of the athletic pecking order.
(The Cherry Lawn School story, by the way, is an interesting trip. Cherry Lawn was an independent school that unfortunately fell by the wayside in the early ’70s — just when you’d think alternative-minded parents would be geared up to send their kids there. Check out the website linked above if that sounds interesting to you.)
Anyway, Aunt Elaine went on to say that no one turned out for her games, or for any girls’ games:
There were other girls’ teams in sports but I don’t remember much about them, because none of the girls teams were a big deal. I don’t remember your grandparents coming to any of the games, because the girls games were in the afternoon after school. I don’t know if anybody came to the games, except the teams!
With that in mind, I respect those girls who went out for sports — including basketball — back in the day.
Sports for girls and women are an everyday thing now, their benefits taken for granted, from gym workouts to marathons to the lowest starter-level soccer teams.
(Among the millions of women participating in sports: Aunt Elaine’s daughter Kara, a former high-school swimmer who runs, spins, lifts weights and plays ultimate frisbee to stay in shape and work off stress. Also making a name for themselves: The women’s hoop team at Aunt Elaine’s undergrad alma mater, who won the NCAA Division II national championship in 2007. And let’s not ignore the 14 girls on this year’s Dolan Middle School hoops team.)
I steal from Wiki here:
In 1971, fewer than 295,000 girls participated in high school varsity athletics, accounting for just 7 percent of all varsity athletes; in 2001, that number leaped to 2.8 million, or 41.5 percent of all varsity athletes, according to the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education.
We know that girls and women gain from their athletic experiences. But what we encourage and accept now, somebody had to stand up for in empty gyms and stake the first claims to.
So, three cheers to them. (The cheers they might have liked to have heard while they were actually playing.)