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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Pauline Williams, part of women's basketball history

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Pauline (Moore) Williams is pictured here in a 1942 photograph with Coach Jennings (standing right) and her basketball teammates. Williams is the fourth from the left standing up. She is the tallest one among them, standing at 5-foot-9.
Not everyone knows that women have been playing basketball just as long as men. Only a year after Dr. James Naismith invented the game in 1891, a women's team was started by Senda Berenson at Smith College in Massachusetts as a physical fitness program for women.

Uniforms for women in those days, as one can imagine, were not at all like what women players wear today. Women players still had to wear tight corsets and long skirts. It wasn't until 1896 that bloomers were introduced for women's uniforms. In that time, it was considered inappropriate for women's ankles to be seen.

Even though women had strict social guidelines to adhere to (remember, women weren't allowed to vote until 1919), the women players at Smith College still managed to play their first game in 1893. The doors were locked and barred to boys, though.

In the early days, basketball for women became taboo. In the 1900s parents thought basketball was a bad influence on their young girls. Many states tried to work towards banning girls from playing even though women's basketball was an exhibition sport at the 1924 Olympics. In 1929, there was a high school superintendent in Colorado who banned girls from playing basketball because he believed the game would damage girls' health. The Colorado Medical Association agreed with him.

The first basketballs were really soccer balls passed through peach baskets, and before the rules were perfected, the ball was thrown in instead of there being a jump start to begin the game. It wasn't until 1930 that a standard ball was created. Women, for the most part, only played half court until 1971. (Information from www.womensbasketball online.com.) Before the game was extended to full court, there were girls in this part of the country playing like the boys.

Pauline Williams, 83, of Salem fell in love with basketball when she attended Viola High School in the 1940s. "It felt good," she said. "It felt great."

The 5-foot-9 Williams said she started playing for the Viola Longhorns' women's basketball team at 13. "At school that's what we played at physical education class, and I liked it," she said.

Though Williams has suffered two strokes in the past couple of years, one can tell from the gleam in her eyes and strong talkative spirit that she still remembers the fun she had while playing basketball and many other joyous occasions.

Williams remembered, while sitting in her wheelchair, her first coach, Mr. Deshazo, and then Coach Svellman Jennings. "I started as a sub," Williams said.

She also remembers the style of the uniforms she and her teammates wore. "They were black with orange lettering, satin. And the pants were bloomers. We wore regular street shoes. There were no Nike's or anything like that," Williams said.

The time during which Williams played basketball was also a time of war. With the bombing of Pearl Harbor, U.S. men entered the war with Germany, leaving the women at home.

Factories and other work places saw a sharp decrease in employment and was a desperate need for workers, so they turned to women. Women not only had to take the place of men in the work force but also in sports. Women's baseball teams began to spring up as did basketball teams. Williams said, "Usually, there was a slew of people at games."

During war time, Williams was privileged to play full court basketball with three forwards and three guards, unlike the women before her time who were only able to play half court. "Everyone played full court," Williams said.

She recalls one war-related incident when she played for the team. "We had a chance to go to state one year, but we didn't get to. Because it was war years we couldn't get gas for the bus. Gas was high and tires (were, too)," Williams said.

Like almost every other girl Williams' age who was enthusiastic about playing basketball, she met some opposition from her parents, her mother especially. "Mom didn't go for the shorts and showing legs off," Williams said.

She said she didn't remember much negativity from▀ the men about women playing basketball. Williams said, "They liked it. They could see legs."

When asked if this type of male enthusiasm was how she met her now deceased husband Rexal Williams, she said, "If it had been, I wouldn't have wanted him."

Williams and her future husband met at church. She said she asked him to come to her games, but he never did. "He thought he wasn't dressed well enough," Williams said.

The highlight of playing basketball for Williams was "getting to go, getting the ball to me and just putting the ball in," Williams said.

She said one night someone came up to her and told her she made 22 points. Williams said she wasn't even keeping track.

Then, all of a sudden, at the end of World War II, Williams said the women's game went from full to half court. Men were coming back home from war and getting their jobs back from the women who had substituted for them. Williams said, "When I finished school it wasn't full court."

The worn and tarnished trophies still garnish a wall in the Viola High School Gymnasium. Nearly all of the early women's basketball trophies are so faded that the dates have been rubbed off. Williams said she helped win one of the trophies in an Arkansas tournament against Oxford.

Though some women players around the nation might have felt resentment about going back to half court, Williams said, "It was a game and it was sportsmanship all the way."

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Thanks for the great story, Emily! (And I'm honored that you not only used, but cited, my wbball timeline. SO pleased it was useful.)

-- Posted by NYWNBAfan on Thu, Aug 21, 2008, at 5:44 PM

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