Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Women's basketball tradition at UK

University of Kentucky's (then Kentucky State College) first women's basketball team, 1903. University of Kentucky general photograph collection, 2001ua025.

University of Kentucky women's basketball team with trophy, circa 1920s. Louis Edward Nollau photographic print collection, 1998ua002.

The University of Kentucky women's basketball program was established in 1902 - one year earlier than the men's basketball team. The first women's game was played on February 21, 1903. For the first few years of its existence on UK's campus, the women's basketball team mostly played interclass scrimmages, only playing one or two intercollegiate games per season. All games were carefully monitored by Florence Offutt Stout, the women's physical education director and first Dean of Women, and no spectators were allowed. Stout was a proponent of "medical gymnastics," a more gentle form of physical exercise targeted at promoting physical health and eliminating obesity, and considered competitive sports at odds with this program.
In 1909, the women's basketball team complained via a petition to the faculty senate stating that Stout did not support the development of the sport and asked that the athletic association take over the management of the team. This started a power struggle which stretched over almost two decades between Stout, women students in favor of the sport, and the athletic association. In 1924, bolstered by the support of Sarah Blanding -- the new Dean of Women -- Stout finally convinced the University Senate and UK President Frank McVey that basketball was "too strenuous for girls." McVey cited this "strenuousity" and the claim that road trips for the team were prohibitively expensive due to "the necessity of proper chaperonage" as reasons for banning women's basketball. This was in spite of the fact that the 1923-1924 women's team had won the Southern Intercollegiate Championship after an undefeated 10-0 season. All women's intercollegiate varsity sports were discontinued on November 13, 1924. Ironically, the 1924-1925 season marked the first season of men's basketball play in Alumni Gym and a rise of popularity in the game on campus.
In the next decades, women's basketball continued to be played in physical education classes, and later as an intramural sport, but organizing campus dances became the primary focus of the Women's Athletic Association. It was not until 1974 that women's basketball was reinstated as a varsity sport, with Sue Feamster serving as the first coach of a varsity team in fifty years.
Gregory Kent Stanley has written a fuller account of the early years of women's basketball and the campus politics affecting it in his book Before Big Blue. UK Athletics offers a historic timeline of women's basketball achievements on its website under "History and records."

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