Way We Were: Playing basketball like a girl | ParkRecord.com

Way We Were: Playing basketball like a girl

The PCHS 1920 girls’ “Champs” basketball team made up of girls from the sophomore class. The girls are June Jordan (forward), Gwen Smith (forward), Thelma Birkbeck (center), Mina Henderson (guard), and Mamie Lowe (guard).
Park City Historical Society & Museum, Kendall Webb Collection

Despite March Madness being canceled this year, we can still talk about basketball.

Basketball’s invention is credited to Canadian gym teacher James Naismith in 1891, when he was teaching in Springfield, Massachusetts. By 1906, Park City High School was fielding a boys’ team.

The earliest mention of girls’ basketball teams to play in the Park City area squared off on March 20, 1914. The Kamas girls’ high school team hosted the Park City Bloomer Girls. According to the Kamas Courant and Park Record newspapers, this was the first ever public game for the Kamas girls’ team. I did not find any mentions of the Park City Bloomer Girls playing a public game prior to this match, though the newspapers did not report that this was their first match.

The papers noted that “it was a very lively and enthusiastic game throughout, and everything was pleasant,” meaning the game was played well and clean. Kamas prevailed 14-12 and “cheers nearly lifted the roof” at the conclusion of the game. Park City only missed one basket in the game.

In 1920, yearbook staffer Mabel Smith reported that as part of their high school physical education curriculum, teacher Mr. Snow asked girls in each class to form a basketball squad for a tournament. The sophomores came out victorious.

Later in the year, the sophomore squad “challenged any team in High School to a game to be played before the public.” A team of girls from the three other classes responded, calling themselves “The Fair Five.” Student Body President William Ryan dubbed the sophomore team “The Champs,” setting them up as the team to beat. “The Champs” won the game 6-2, “living up to their reputation.”

In 1925, the Park City High School girls’ team faced the Town Girls team (a team of young women out of high school) in a matchup outside of gym class. They played on March 6; PCHS won 6-2. The Park Record called the game an “interesting struggle.” In another mention of the game, the Record said the girls “kept the spectators on tip-toes because of clever playing and exciting mix-ups.”

All other commentary about the game focused on both teams’ attire: while they considered it “unusual” to see the girls in athletic wear, the Park Record noted the uniforms “enabled the feminine contestants to show very good form.” Through 1925, the paper had never mentioned anything about boy’s or men’s teams’ attire or its impact on them.

Another match between the two teams was scheduled for March 25 and this time the Park Record hyped up the game. They claimed the teams now had a “strong rivalry” and this next game was set up “to settle for all time the superiority, class, etc.” of the two squads.

The game apparently lived up to some of the hype, as it went into two extra periods. After the second overtime, the game ended in a 4-4 tie. The Park Record noted that “the girls played wonderful ball, showing much improvement over the last game.”

Eventually, the high school girls would begin to play other area schools. The state of Utah did not begin keeping records of a girls’ high school state tournament until 1976 (the boys had had a tournament since 1908). The Park City girls have yet to win a state title, but have fielded some excellent teams over the years.

While the Park City Museum is closed, earn more about Park City sports by visiting the Park City Museum’s website: parkcityhistory.org/research-library/.

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