THERE WERE RED HEADS
Do you have red hair? You’re a girl? Can you shoot and score a free kick from the knees? How about being able to grab a basketball between your ankles, jump, and kick your legs back sending the ball into the air, over your head and through the hoop? If the answer is yes, then you could have been part of the FIRST professional women’s basketball team that reigned from 1936 to 1986.
Who are these basketball players? The All American Red Heads swept America by filling the gyms with awe and wonder. His prowess in basketball would make the men of the NBA proud. They spent nights in almost every corner of the United States and beyond. They entertained the masses for 50 years and are now on display in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tennessee.
History of women’s basketball
Girls’ basketball dates back to the beginning, when it was invented by James Naismith in 1891. Just a year later, Sendra Berenson, a women’s gymnastics teacher at Smith College, adapted the rules and taught the game to her students. Naturally a scream arose. Women weren’t supposed to throw balls. The women weren’t even legal citizens yet! Women were considered the weaker sex and needed protection, not exercise. After all, women needed to have children and playing sports was considered detrimental to a woman’s physiology. On top of that, women were raised to become wives and take care of the husband.
The All American Red Heads were started in 1935 by a man named CM “Ole” Olson, a player, coach, booking agent, and publicist. His wife Doyle owned a chain of hair salons in Cassville, Missouri. Women’s basketball was gaining popularity. Several young ladies who worked for Ms. Olson were extraordinary basketball players. They formed a basketball team and were moderately successful.
Two of his players were natural redheads. One night in 1935, as a joke, the rest of the team decided to dye their hair red. You can guess what happened next. Yes, the team became known as Red Heads. They were first known as the Cassville Red Heads, and later they took the name of the Missouri Red Heads. Outstanding players from the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) joined the team. Olson knew he was on to something big. He changed the team’s name to All American Red Heads and proceeded to take them on tour in 1936.
Playing basketball well and having fabulous ball handling skills was the first requirement for making the team. If any of the women did not have natural hair, they had to wear a wig or dye their hair red. After all, this was the team’s calling card. She also had to put on makeup, dress well, and project the image of a glamorous lady.
The Red Heads were “played” and became an instant attraction. The women constantly traveled with two teams and sometimes three. Their popularity skyrocketed in the mid-1940s. The Red Heads enchanted everyone with their skills and wizardry. His games raised thousands of dollars for many charities, from Veteran’s of Foreign Wars to Lions Clubs.
On the court, the Red Heads beat any basketball that no one had ever seen. When they weren’t playing comic roles, they played basketball in its prime. Armed with a variety of trick plays, the women could pass, handle the ball, and shoot. These women worked tirelessly to improve their game even with their natural talents and wonderful basketball skills. These women were special and they showed it.
Direct basketball was played in every game during at least the first quarter. Then the game became entertainment. Special basketball skills were shown at halftime to prepare the audience for a show. The Red Heads routinely fired and made free throws while on their knees. They often dribbled the ball while on their knees. Most of the shots were beyond description. Faye Mason held the ball between her ankles, jumped up, and kicked her legs back. The ball flew over his head and often went into the hoop. The Red Heads became the most innovative women’s basketball team in history. Only the Harlem Globetrotters were comparable.
The redheads played a superb ball. They competed against semi-professional teams and male amateurs and won 80 percent of the time. From 1936 to 1973 they never won less than 100 games a year. In 1953 they won 134 games. In 1972, several All American Red Heads teams won 558 games and lost 84 games, and all were against men’s teams. Lorene More scored 35,425 points while playing with the team for 11 years. As they went from town to town, word spread that they were not only good, but spectacular. The team would not have made it if he had played badly. Each city informed the next city about the incredible abilities of the team.
Where are you now?
They no longer wear red wigs or flirt with referees or opponents. But the contribution of the All American Red Heads is not forgotten. His reign ended in 1986, but his influence has made its way into basketball history. In June 1999, the All American Red Heads were honored with their own display in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.
Women’s basketball became an Olympic sport in 1976. In 1978 an attempt was made to establish a national professional league. But three seasons later he died. Another failed attempt was made in 1984. Call it a lack of sponsorship, a lack of publicity, who knows. But, today we have the WNBA. When you see today’s professional women play, remember the fight and support those teams. Remember that a team of redheaded women swept the country and kept women’s basketball alive in the 21st century.