LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 21, 2012) — In celebration of the University of Kentucky's upcoming sesquicentennial in 2015, the 24th of 150 weekly installments on the university looks at the history of UK women's basketball.
Women’s basketball was established on the UK campus in 1902. The 1902-03 women’s basketball team was the first of either sex at the then called State College, Lexington, Kentucky, to play a full intercollegiate schedule.
At State College, there was no place to play basketball until Barker Hall was built. Even then, basketball was not a spectator sport for the simple reason that the gym could not accommodate more than those who could stand around the floor of the balcony, which was also the running track. From 1903 on, the men shared the gym with the women.
Women’s basketball was taken quite seriously by the women themselves, but not, it seems, by the male students. According to "Hail Kentucky" by Helen Deiss Irvin, "A Kentuckian of 1904 reports a game as one vast tide of straight hair, stray hair, curls and ribbons reversed and cries of 'Here Rebekah,' and 'Oh, Gemima, how could you?'" That same year one Herman Scholtz disguised himself as a girl and went to Georgetown with the coeds, obviously with their connivance. There he watched a spirited contest forbidden to male spectators. He had to be punished, but the faculty was at a loss. Although there were more than 180 specific rules, nobody had ever thought to include one against dressing up as a girl. Scholtz got a general reprimand.
For the first few years of its existence on UK's campus, the women's basketball team mostly played inter-class 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 among Stout, women students in favor of the sport, and the athletic association.
In 1924, bolstered by the support of newly appointed Dean of Women Sarah Blanding, Stout finally convinced the University Senate and UK President Frank L. 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 Nov. 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 50 years.
Today, the university's women's basketball team is coached by Matthew Mitchell. UK Hoops, the 2012 SEC (Southeastern Conference) regular season champions, made it to the Elite Eight in the 2012 NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) tournament.
A fuller account of the early years of women's basketball and the campus politics affecting it can be found in Gregory Kent Stanley's book "Before Big Blue." In addition, UK Athletics offers a historic timeline of women's basketball achievements on its website under "History and records."
This story on UK's history is presented by UK Special Collections. Special Collections is home to UK Libraries' collection of rare books, Kentuckiana, the Archives, the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, the King Library Press and the Wendell H. Ford Public Policy Research Center. The mission of Special Collections is to locate and preserve materials documenting the social, cultural, economic and political history of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
MEDIA CONTACT: Whitney Hale, (859) 257-8716 or firstname.lastname@example.org