Sunday, September 28, 2014

A ball and a basket

Her colors were purple and gold. She wore a short skirt and short-sleeved, V-neck shirt. Her knee socks hugged her legs and her shoes had so many holes for the laces that I lost count. My mother was a basketball player when Franklin Monroe was just Franklin. 

Women's basketball in the high schools was fairly new when Mom came onto the scene. Organized basketball for high school girls came to be in early 1920 (from what I can find in the online history of the sport). For young women modestly dressed, this was quite a change. Instead of sitting on the sidelines, these athletic youth would be running down the floor twisting, turning, sometimes landing on the floor. It was a new age for young women. Would it be too dangerous for them to be in such a rough sport? Would it compromise their modesty? Without researching this topic of women in sports, I know for a fact that farm women are made of pretty sturdy stock. They learn to do hard work at a young age. When it came time to play, they played with equal gusto.

According to Wikipedia, the game of basketball began when Dr. James Naismith (in 1891) placed fruit baskets nailed to a low rail of the gym balcony where his players could toss their basketball. Whenever a point was scored, the game stopped so the janitor could bring out a ladder and retrieve the ball. Somewhere along the way, someone (I am thinking it was probably the janitor) suggested that they might like to cut the bottom of the basket out so the ball would fall through. Needless to say, the game picked up speed.

Well, all farm kids have tossed everything from corn to potatoes into a basket as far back as we can remember. Eggs in a basket, tomatoes in a basket, tobacco plants in a basket, on and on it goes. No wonder most farms had a basketball hoop on the end of the barn. Ours certainly did. When the farm hands took a break from field work, they tossed a ball into the hoop. Basketball players, both male and female, were raised as readily on the farm as were the stalks of corn.

According to Timothy Hudak of Sports Heritage Specialty Publication, in 1939 a referendum was submitted to Ohio schools to decide if basketball would be continued as a girls' sport. The voting schools opted to discontinue interscholastic basketball and other sports for girls as of 1940.  Twenty-five years later interscholastic athletics for girls would begin again. My great grandnieces who live in Indiana were both on state champion teams when in high school. Even as recent as last year, they were coaching the same sport.

Mom never got any basketball players out of her three daughters.  We all seemed to head more to the artsy side of the family. But basketball gave my mother a place to learn what it was to be part of a team, a place to excel, a time in her life when women were moving into their own. Her successes inspired her daughters.

My cousin Gene Johnson played basketball when he was in high school. After he returned from the service, he kept stats for the FM basketball games. Something he would continue to do for many, many years.  I would like to think that perhaps he and his Aunt Ruth tossed a few balls through a hoop when he was a boy. Perhaps Mom's stories of her days dribbling that ball influenced her nephew. Perhaps it was nothing more than farm kids who learned to toss things at an early age.

The bucket hung on the back door handle. My two-year-old son lifted the little ball above his head and toss it. I required no ladder to assist me in emptying the bucket. Some things just come naturally.

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