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 1920’s, 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.
Unfortunately, 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 1400 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 tournament.
Please note: In the 1920’s, 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; 3 forwards (shooters) on one half of the court and 3 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 teammate. There was only 1 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 1950’s, 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 2 dribbles instead of one. And then three! The biggest change came in the late 1960’s when unlimited dribbling was allowed and 2 of the players were designated “rovers” and could play both halves of the court. It was a whole different game!
In 1973 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 5 players and playing “boys” rules during the 1974-1975 season.
Delphos girls have been well-represented at the state level. The first state tournament was in 1976, forth-five years after it had been eliminated. The following year St. Johns won the Class A tournament. All in all they have made appearances at the state tournament 10 times, winning it 5 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?
Printed in the Delphos Herald, March 11, 2017