Monday, October 20, 2014

Basketball before Co-Education

October is North Carolina Archives Month, an annual observance of the agencies and people responsible for maintaining and making available the archival and historical records of our nation, state, communities and people. The 2014 NC Archives Month theme is "North Carolina at Play: Health and Leisure in Our State.” All of our Spartan Stories in October will focus on this theme.
 
From its founding in 1891, the State Normal and Industrial School (now UNCG) emphasized physical activity and personal health. Curriculum in the first year of the school’s existence (1892-1893) included the Department of Physiology and Heath, which had two objectives: instruction in hygiene and an individualized program of exercise. A course in Physical Culture was actually required of all students. The work included gymnastics, calisthenics, and other exercises that were meant to promote the student’s general health and strength.

1909 State Normal senior class basketball team
Around the same time, basketball for women was beginning to gain popularity across the nation. Basketball rules for women were first introduced in 1892 at Smith College. These rules were modified specifically for the women’s game, as it was feared that the women could not physically or mentally handle the strain of the men’s rules. The court was divided into three areas with three players from each time in each area (nine total players per team). The ball moved from section to section by passing or dribbling. Players were limited to three dribbles and could hold the ball for three seconds. No snatching or batting the ball away from a player was allowed.

Students at State Normal gravitated towards the game and actively sought opportunities for athletic competition. In 1900, the campus Athletic Association was formally established (15 years before the student government was founded). In a space that is now the site of the Petty Science Building, the women of the Athletic Association cleared and prepared playing grounds, marked the fields, and installed nets on four tennis courts and basketball goals. A primary goal of the Athletic Association was to support competitions between the classes (freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors). They held their first basketball tournament in 1900, and in 1902, they adopted their official motto: “Athletics and active college work go hand in hand.”

Intramural basketball game in Rosenthal Gym, 1942
Competition continued to be solely among State Normal students until 1928, when the school (at the time, known as the North Carolina College for Women) hosted the first annual intercollegiate Play Day in North Carolina. Students from seven schools from around the state came to play a variety of sports (including basketball), but they were not competing for their particular schools. Instead, teams mixed students from the different institutions in order to discourage over-competitiveness.

Permanent facilities were also constructed to allow space for basketball and other competitions. In 1922, a 50 x 90 foot outdoor gymnasium was constructed, and it hosted many of the Athletic Association competitions. The structure consisted of little more than a floor and a roof supported by posts. Rosenthal Gymnasium was completed in 1925. Boasting a swimming pool, basketball court, and other amenities, it was praised as one of the best facilities of its kind in the country. In spite of the upgrade to the facilities, the competitions continued to be intramural only.

Intercollegiate basketball competition, 1963
In the 1940s, Woman’s College began experimenting with a few low-key intercollegiate matches at Play Day. In March 1944, the Carolinian student newspaper was happy to report victories by the WC basketball teams over Guilford and Greensboro Colleges at the recent Winter Sports Play Day in Rosenthal Gym. This experiment, however, only lasted a few years. Intercollegiate competition didn’t resume with any frequency until 1963.

In 1963, the final year before WC became UNCG and admitted male students, the school began its first full schedule of intercollegiate women’s basketball competition. The 1963 team was coached by Ellen Griffin, a 1940 graduate of Woman’s College, an instructor in the physical education department, and a nationally renowned golfer. The team won three of its four games against nearby colleges and paved the way for the current Spartans women's basketball team.

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