Wednesday, February 21, 2007

You Go, Pre-Title IX Girls

Stephen Mally for The New York Times

Marlene Carver, 57, leading the pregame warm-ups for the Robins Late Bloomers last Wednesday.

NYTimes: Grannies Are Flexing Their Muscles, Gently

I don't have any nostalgia for six-a-side basketball or being forced to play in zones on the court. When I was in grade school we played that crazy game & I was always a defender, never a shooter, so I hated it; I never got to handle the ball! I love this article about the Granny Basketball League for that picture of those happy athletes finally getting their shot. If I had been born in 1953 instead of 1957, I would never have gotten to play high school sports. (Title IX became law in 1972.) If my sister had been born in 1957 rather than 1961, she wouldn't have gone to college on a basketball scholarship or played professionally. (Scholarships for women were first awarded by the AIAW in 1977.) I'm glad these women finally got a chance to play.
To the theme music from “The Sting,” members of the Cedar Rapids Sizzlers and the Robins Late Bloomers — two of the eight teams in the Granny Basketball League in Iowa, for women 50 and older — took the court. Dressed in white blouses, black bloomers and horizontally striped socks, the women lined up as they would have if their game had been played here in the 1920s.


The games involve teams of six players. Two players from each side must remain in each of the three distinct sections of the court. Running and tight guarding are forbidden, and players can dribble only twice per possession.

Six-on-six basketball was an Iowa staple for girls for most of the 20th century, and it remained a source of pride long after the rest of the nation had adopted the five-on-five game.

Only the Granny Basketball League’s oldest participants saw or played the three-court game. Iowa switched to two courts in 1935, according to Troy Dannen, executive director of the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union. Six-on-six games were played exclusively from the late 1800s through 1984, when the style was challenged in court by three girls who argued that it damaged their chances for college scholarships.

To settle the suit, the state agreed to sanction five-on-five and six-on-six competition, with schools choosing which to play. The athletic union’s board voted in 1993 to end six-player teams. At the time, Dannen said, roughly 140 of the state’s 396 schools were still playing it.

But many in Iowa remain nostalgic for the old style and for the dynamic scorers it produced, like Denise Long and Molly Bolin. Long was the first woman drafted by an N.B.A. team; the San Francisco Warriors selected her in 1969, but the selection was disallowed because high school players could not be drafted. Bolin, who was nicknamed Machine Gun, starred in the Women’s Professional Basketball League, which existed from 1978 to 1981.

The state tournament at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines was the ultimate event for Iowa schoolgirls, and the championship game frequently sold out. Those memories play into the Granny Basketball League’s popularity.

“I’m 63,” said Linda Toerper, McPherson’s sister, who plays for the Sizzlers. “But I’m really 16.”


The game also offers a second chance to women who never played in high school. Irene Reinking, a 69-year-old from Cedar Rapids who has 14 grandchildren, stopped playing after eighth grade. “My dad didn’t think practicing basketball was the most important thing in the world,” she said. “So I stayed on the farm.”

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