Women's Hoops Blog

Inane commentary on a game that deserves far better

Friday, October 12, 2007

I'm a women's basketball history nut, and if anyone has a hunk of money to sponsor a couple of years of research, I've got a great idea for a book. Suffice it to say, the stories of women like Bertha "Bert" Nolan, who recently died at the age of 82, would be included.

Born in New Jersey in 1925, she was prominent athlete in her youth and became an All American and Olympic Alternate in Field Hockey. Nolan went on to become a high school teacher and coach at Gloucester Catholic High School in Gloucester City, NJ

As coach at Gloucester in the 60's, she helped girl's basketball move in to the "modern" era as the sport transitioned from 6-0n-6 to 5-on-5. Nolan's 1973 Gloucester Catholic team won the "first" state title in girls' basketball in New Jersey. Says the Courier-Post, "Her powerful Gloucester Catholic teams helped establish the sport's legitimacy."

As a self-proclaimed history nut, I have to point out that more than likely, it wasn't the "first state title." In 1925 over 35 states held school varsity basketball and/or state tournaments, so it's quite possible some school in New Jersey was being crowned champion.

Unfortunately, 1925 was also the year Lou Hoover (yes, Mrs. Herbert) and the Women’s Division of the National Amateur Athletic federation (WDNAAF) all but succeeded in wiping out competitive women's basketball. They passed a resolution outlawing extramural competition, opposing gate receipts at women’s games, all travel for women’s games, and all publicity of women’s sports.

The resolution gained strength and legitimacy when it earned the approval of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. High school sports associations came under intense pressure to disband tournaments and most did, especially in Eastern states and large city schools (NOT, though, most famously, in Iowa).

By the late 30's, just when Bertha Norton would have been entering high school, in most states competitive basketball at the elementary, high school and college level had all but disappeared. And yet... and yet, there she was, 30 years later, ushering in the new era of women's basketball.

The history of the game is full of stubborn women and men keeping the flame alive.