Historically speaking

Girl’s basketball had humble roots

This is the 1974 girls team from Negaunee. (Photo courtesy of the Negaunee Historical Society)

NEGAUNEE — Girl’s basketball got the attention of sports fans this past season from Caitlin Clark to Ella Mason of the Negaunee Miners and Jenna Maki from the Ishpeming Hematites.

Ella Mason was named by the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan as “best of the best” in the state of Michigan. She was also the top free throw shooter in the state of Michigan this past season.

She holds the record for the most points scored in a high school career for both boys and girls at Negaunee High School. This is one person’s achievement, but I also give credit to the other four girls who are on the court at any time, those who sit on the bench ready to go in the game at a moment’s notice, and the coaches who prepare these girls for the game of basketball.

Let’s take a look back at the humble beginnings of girl’s basketball. You may be surprised to know that it started in 1908. The 1908 Negauneesian, the school year book states that in the fall of 1907 the first announcement of basketball for girls was heard in the English room of the High School.

A meeting was held for anyone interested in organizing a Girls’ Basketball Association. Several years prior, one had existed and it was well accepted but the spirit for the sport took a rest. But it was awakened when some of the girls thought that athletics were essential for girls as well as boys.

There was a delay of several months because they could not find a suitable place to practice. Mr. Schurtz, through the kindness of Mr. Wilson, the manager of the Adelphi Roller Rink, secured a place for practice on Monday and Friday afternoons. At first the girls were very timid.

They played gently, begged for pardon every time they bumped into one another. They treated the ball with respect and fear.

But soon this wore off and they felt they knew the tactics of the game and were ready for a public contest. They relied on the public to excuse their blunders because of insufficient practice. Two teams were formed based on their strength.

The team that had two seniors on it chose orange for their color and the team with several juniors, chose white. The rivalry between the two teams was great, but the orange team was stronger. At last all was ready and on April 3rd 1908 at eight o’clock the big game occurred.

The first half was very slow but in the second half the excitement ran high. First one side was ahead and then the other. It was anybody’s game until time was called.

The whites won by a narrow margin, 20-17. The game was a great success. The large crowd which turned out to watch enjoyed it immensely. The yearbook states, “It is sincerely hoped that the basketball spirit which has been awakened this school year will continue to thrive in years to come.”

In 1909, the girls were wondering if the game would be played and when the principal announced a meeting, 30 girls showed up.

Basketball practice was on Saturday afternoon. They began playing by the so-called “boys rules” and the girls thought it to be much more strenuous but also more exciting. As soon as the coach thought they were ready a game was arranged between the seniors and juniors.

The juniors won, 39-15. A large crowd assembled at the McDonald Opera House to watch the game. After Christmas a challenge was received from the Normal School in Marquette.

But the game had to be put off until Feb. 5 until they could secure a place to practice. A team was picked to play against the Marquette girls. The girls boarded the train at two p.m and were met at the station by the Marquette girls and led to the Normal gymnasium.

The game was called at 4:15. They realized that they were no match for the Marquette people. They played rough and taking into consideration that they had limited practice they were not surprised when they were beaten by a score of 22-5. They were treated to a dance and the kindness of the Marquette girls lifted their spirits.

They left for home on the 11:30 train. Because they were beaten in their first outside game, they started practicing with more enthusiasm. Since they would be playing in a new gym the following year they hoped that the basketball spirit would continue.

In 1916, the season opened on Jan. 28 against L’Anse, defeating them 29-12. On Feb. 5, they played Marquette. They had confidence, they knew they were in good condition and after a few minutes of play they knew they were the better team.

They played a better style of basketball than their visitors and won, 17-6. In February, they played Michigamme and lost which was their only loss for the year, 19-13. But they bIamed it on the referees.

Their excellent record of beating such good teams as Marquette, L’Anse, Munising and Michigamme entitled them the honor of “The Upper Peninsula Girls Basketball Champions for 1916.”

In 1919, the boys were having a hard time but the girls were able to schedule some games. They defeated Marquette, Gwinn, and Champion. Inasmuch as they did not lose any of the few games they played they had a claim on the Upper Peninsula championship.

In the words of Coach Carroll, “Remember the reputation you have made for your school and who you are and go out and do your best work.”

The yearbooks for the 1930s all record girl’s basketball but the fact that we do not have any yearbooks for the 1940’s which were not printed during war time, there is no record. I’m assuming that the sport took a break at that time and in the 1955-56 school year The Girl’s Athletic Association, a new organization was formed for the benefit of girls sports enthusiasts.

But at that time there were no basketball teams. The first yearbook that pictures a girl’s basketball team was 1974.

And just like the words spoken in 1908, “We hope the basketball spirit that has been awakened will continue for years to come.”

The Negaunee Historical Society is grateful to the coaches and the teams who have added to the history of keeping the sport alive for many years.

Congratulations to the Negaunee Miners girls basketball team and Coach O’Donnell on a successful year from the Negaunee Historical Society.


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