It used to be said that when spring arrives, a young man’s fancy
turns to love. A modern version might be that a young man and a young
woman’s fancy turns to March Madness and basketball tournaments. Boys
and girls high school basketball teams are now well into their state
tournaments, set up exactly alike and very well attended. But it wasn’t
always like this.
In the 1920s, the relatively new game of
basketball was beginning to appear in high schools as an interscholastic
sport. Delphos High School had their first girls basketball team,
playing 5 games, all preceding the boys games. Girls basketball games
were very popular and very competitive. 70 of the 88 counties of Ohio
had girls basketball tournaments culminating in a state tournament.
health authorities and educators felt that there was undue physical and
emotional strain put on the girls when they played interscholastically
and it “ just wasn’t lady-like.” In the spring of 1930, a bulletin from
the Ohio Department of Education was sent to 1,400 Ohio high schools
condemning interscholastic sports for girls and by the end of that year,
the Ohio High School Athletic Association voted to eliminate the state
Please note: In the 1920s, gyms were much smaller than they are today. Add to that the
fact that girls rules were different from boys. They had six on a team;
three forwards (shooters) on one half of the court and three guards (to
guard the others teams shooters) on the other half. No one could cross
the center line. When the forwards on one team made a basket, the ball
was given to one of the forwards of the other team in the center circle
and she would pass it to a teammate. There was only one dribble allowed
and there was no such thing as a jump ball. You could not take the ball
away from the girl you were guarding. If you touched her or the ball, it
was a foul.
Different schools reacted in different ways. Many
schools, like Delphos, went to an intramural program, usually played at
noon between classes, but some schools continued playing even though
there was no state tournament. Allen and Putnam counties held county
tournaments until 1940, when this too was eliminated by the OHSAA after a
vote by all the member schools.
Beginning in the late 1950s, a
few schools, through their Girls Athletic Associations, began playing a
few “friendly” after–school games with other schools. Spectators were
not allowed. Slowly the rules began to loosen. Jump balls were called.
Girls could take two dribbles instead of one. And then three! The
biggest change came in the late 1960s when unlimited dribbling was
allowed and two of the players were designated “rovers” and could play
both halves of the court. It was a whole different game!
the landmark federal civil right law that prohibited sex discrimination
in education was enacted. Title IX, as it was called, was not just about
sports but it had a very big impact for girls sports, especially
basketball. If a school had a boys team, they had to have a girls team
as well. In Delphos, both high schools quickly formed varsity and junior
varsity basketball teams made up of five players and playing by “boys”
rules during the 1974-75 season.
Delphos girls have been
well-represented at the state level. The first state tournament was in
1976, 45 years after it had been eliminated. The following year, St.
John’s won the Class A tournament. All in all they have made appearances
at the state tournament 10 times, winning it five of those times.
Jefferson played in the state tournament in 2011.
What would the 1920’s health officials and educators think if they saw a girls game today?