NIOBRARA COUNTY – Girls basketball was contested at the high school level in the 20s and 30s at Lusk and Manville high schools. There was even a “state” tournament —it was not sanctioned by the state activities association—held every year in Lingle, an all-comers event that teams, mostly from nearby schools, could attend. [Lusk had a runner-up finish there in 1928, meaning more research down the road for the Rat.] Any team could enter, they just had to show up and were usually housed by the good folks from Goshen County.
Girls’ rules meant a different sort of game than players today would recognize. A team had six players, three who played on the offensive end and three who played on the defensive end. Essentially it was three on three at each end of the court. Players would wait at midcourt for a turnover and for their defensive teammates to bring the ball upcourt, passing to the offensive players and then stopping at midcourt while the offensive trio tried to score. Scoring was distributed among the three offensive players and the three defensive ones never scored a point; their time was spent keeping the other team’s threesome of shooters from scoring.
From the chart you can see the Rat had trouble finding names for the Manville coaches, even first names for two of them. Basketball coaches for the girls were generally female although the Rat has found a few examples of men who coached the girls, usually someone who coached both the boys and girls teams. Female teachers of this era were almost always single and married female teachers wouldn’t become commonplace until after the beginnings of WWII, when a shortage of teachers (because of enlistments and draftees) opened the door for them. Mid-year in the 30s was often a time for the hiring of new teachers, as often the single female teachers were married at Christmas break and therefore out of a job, a violation of their contract. Schools of the time had no qualms about hiring married males, by the way, the double standard in real time. [Manville was also sporadic about sending their news to the Herald or the Lusk Free Lance, unlike other areas of the county.]
Compared to the number of games the boys played, the girls competed in fewer.
Part of the reason was that the biggest schools in the East Central and SE areas—Casper Natrona, Douglas, Cheyenne, Laramie and Wheatland—didn’t field girls’ teams. This meant teams often played more than twice in a season. Lusk and Manville played four times in the ’31-’32 season and three times five years later. [Manville held their own against Lusk with the Tigers holding an 8-5 edge, most of which were tight games.]
The Van Tassell, er, Damsels?
The girls at Van Tassell high school also played basketball during the ’35-’36 season, playing Manville twice and Lusk once. In fact, Van Tassell holds a 1-0 mark against Lusk (in perpetuity) as Lusk lost a two-point squeaker to the visitors from the east, 24-22.
The reader might notice that Manville played two ties during the this time span. A tie, in hoops? Yep, no overtimes were allowed for the girls, it was part of the rules. Four quarters of hoops was plenty, it made no sense to overtax young females. And there was a growing portion of the country—both male and female—that believed that young women should not be allowed to compete in athletics. A landslide of opposition was beginning to build and it was just a matter of time when it would all end. The handwriting was on the wall.
This date was deemed the end of girls’ athletics in the state by the activities association, as it “put too great a strain on the more delicate constitutions of girls” and “such activity is more injurious than beneficial.” Class A schools like Lusk were encouraged to not compete at all for the ‘37-’38 season and Lusk complied. Class B schools—schools with 99 students or fewer, like Manville—were allowed to finish the ’37-’38 season. The Panthers [probably Pantherettes, the Rat’s not sure, Lusk was the Tigerettes, -ette being a popular suffix for girls’ teams back then] played in the final state tourney in Lingle, dropping games to Glendo and Hawk Springs. Manville’s perfect 4-0 season the following year was an outlier, mainly the result of Manville and Shawnee playing a foursome of games, probably part of a physical education unit between the two schools. [Emma Eddy of Manville scored 24 and 20 points in two of those games—a relation to the Eddys out east to this day?] And girl’s hoops took almost a 40 year hiatus until Title IX corrected things in the mid-1970s.
And so ends the Rat’s peek into 1930s prep basketball. Maybe down the road he’ll write about the 1940s and ballplayers with strange names like Sturman and Penfield. Wait, you mean they’re still in school? Maybe the coaches should check the ages of Sadie Sturman and Alec Penfield…they should be in their 80s, maybe early 90s! Happy New Year.