As I mentioned in a previous column, we can trace high school girls’ basketball in Kansas back to the year 1908. Those early games used rules far different from the game we know today.
In those days, girls in the Sunflower State played a six-on-six game. Only the forwards were allowed to shoot and unlimited dribbling was not permitted. Certain players could only play on the offensive side of the court while their teammates played only in the defensive end. Across Kansas, these rules were sometimes modified even more, depending on the locality.
Even with the unique rules, a girls’ state basketball tournament was held from 1908 to 1921. After the 1921 season, the girls’ state tournaments were discontinued, but not because the girls no longer wanted to play the game.
Girls’ basketball was discouraged for many reasons, but one of the most often-quoted reasons came from the medical profession who feared the “intense” competition was not healthy and could seriously impact the girls’ ability to later bear children.
For the next 50 years, some schools continued to allow the girls to play, but the games were not sanctioned nor recognized by the state. That all changed in June 1972 with the signing into law of Title IX, which mandated equal opportunity (including sports) based upon gender.
With pen to paper, state sanctioned girls’ basketball began to emerge in Kansas. The first state tournament was in spring 1973. Buhler (Class 5A to 3A), Medicine Lodge (2A) and Pratt-Skyline (1A) snared the first titles.
Some schools did not (or could not) begin playing immediately. One such example was the tiny town of Quenemo. Three years after the signing of Title IX, Quenemo fielded its first girls’ team in 1976. Coached by Cindy Day, the team struggled to a winless record. In 1977, Quenemo proceeded to lose its first nine games. Finally, the team nipped Linwood, 27-26, to gain the school’s first victory.
“It has been an interesting season,” Coach Day said at the time. “I do get discouraged sometimes, but the girls keep me up and going. They set other goals besides winning, like not getting shut out or making a last-minute basket. It keeps their spirits up.”
Not getting shut out? It was not a casually made goal! Early in the 1977 season, Quenemo battled Leroy High School. The outcome of the game drew national attention. Sports Illustrated reported: “There was bedlam in the gymnasium in Quenemo as Dee Dee Neil stepped to the foul line with less than one minute to play. She made one free throw and became an instant heroine. Even the referee shook her hand. No, Dee Dee’s free throw did not win the game but it did reduce LeRoy’s margin of victory from 83-0 to 83-1.”
Not only was Quenemo relieved to avert the shut out, but so was LeRoy High, who, with three minutes to play, began to foul Quenemo in order to give them every possible chance of avoiding the humiliating defeat.
Over the years, there have been other high school games (boys and girls) in which a team has failed to score. None, however, received as much ink as that unforgettable game played between Quenemo and LeRoy High School in 1977. Rest assured: When Sports Illustrated covers a story, you can’t get much more ink than that! It is another remarkable story from the basketball courts of Kansas Hoopla.
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