The tradition of Women’s Basketball runs deep, and tells an uplifting story of women in a sport that was thought to be too dangerous for the gentler sex. Too rowdy. Too hard. But women entered the sport only one year after its creation and powerfully played a “man’s game,” growing to gain the respect of the nation. Women’s basketball has come a long way since the days of corsets and petticoats.
On Monday, we watched the Huskies stridently rally for an exciting victory, earning the University of Connecticut the kings of March Madness, and the 2014 NCAA Men’s Champions. But the winning streak wasn’t over for UConn. The very next day, the women of the court defeated a tough Notre Dame team 79-58 to claim the Women’s NCAA Basketball Championship. It’s been a long journey for Women’s Basketball, and popularity for the sport on both a college and professional level only continues to rise. Rich in tradition, it is one of the few female sports that was cultivated alongside its male counterpart, dating back to a late 19th century winter in Massachusetts.
Only one year after the invention of the game, the sport was introduced to women in 1892 at Smith College in Massachusetts, with humble beginnings and watered-down rules. Sandra Berenson, also referred to as the Mother of Women’s Basketball, was an instructor at Smith College and a progressive woman for her time. The Russian-born instructor pioneered female presence in the sport. She knew the rules would require a few changes from the male version, but believed in the mental and physical development of her gender. In the early years, female players took the court in the typical breathlessly tight corset of the era, with only their fingers, necks and heads exposed. How did they move on the court in such confining garments? That’s easy — they didn’t do much moving at all.
Nine women took the court, sectioned off into three sectors. Each woman was assigned an area and not allowed to leave it, and was only allotted 3 dribbles and 3 seconds for possession of the ball. Tripping over hems and getting tangled in skirts was the norm for the first few years of the sport, until a blessing came their way in 1896: the introduction of bloomers to the wardrobe.
Because of the ideals of the time, there was an initial outcry at the dawn of the sport that it was mudding the sanctity of womanhood. The notion of women running, screaming, competing and even calling each other by nicknames was not how a proper lady should carry herself. But the fight for the sport persevered, and players knew they were on the brink of a changing world.