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"Hindsights"


Looking back at:

Female Athletes Confound Experts

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

If you've ever watched Serena Williams crush a tennis ball or Simone Biles defy gravity, you might be surprised to learn that there was a time when many experts in the fields of athletics and medicine believed females were not as tough as men and were too delicate to play sports. Those experts never met my mother-in-law.

Those beliefs about weak females were strong enough that the University Interscholastic League (UIL), the organization that has governed high school athletics in Texas since the early 20th century, was slow to accept girls athletics. (Tennis was an exception.) For sports like basketball, it was up to high school coaches and administrators to get the ball bouncing.

Fredericksburg High School organized its first girls basketball team in 1914. There was no organized league then. The girls played any high school team in driving distance.

In the first couple of years the team could count its wins on one hand with fingers left over. Then in 1916 the girls beat Kerrville twice and Harper twice. The thrill of victory was contagious.

The girls played close to home those first few years. The team added Boerne High School to the schedule in 1921 and Blanco in 1924.


Fredericksburg had no gym in those days. The girls played on an outdoor dirt court, weather permitting. If the weather was bad the team cleared the dance floor at Peter's Hall (the corner of Main and Orange where BBVA Compass Bank is today) and played there until the school district built a gym in the early 1930s.

For the first 14 years the team had no uniforms. "It takes money to buy uniforms," the local newspaper reported in 1928, "and money is hard to get. Perhaps Santa Claus will take pity on good children who are needy and leave at the school house door, sometime before long, a 'surprise box' for the basketball girls."

Sure enough on January 12, 1929 a large box arrived at the High School on Travis Street. Inside the box were red and white striped jerseys and red trucks.

Fredericksburg TX - FHS Girls Basketball Team Jacket
One of the jackets awarded to the 1947 girls basketball team. This jacket belongs to Madeleine "Mad" Oestreich.
Photo courtesy Michael Barr

Unlike boys, the girls had no opportunity to play for district and state championships in the 1920s and 30s. Then in 1938 a group of high school coaches and administrators who believed in girls athletics formed the High School Girls Basketball League of Texas. Fredericksburg High School joined that group in 1944.

The league assigned member schools to districts. At the end of the year the district champions met for a state tournament at Rena Marrs-McLean Gym in Waco or Dowdy Gym in Hillsboro.

In 1946 the FHS girls basketball team didn't lose a game in the regular season and beat San Marcos Academy 30-15 for the district championship. Mabel Henke - forward and Madeleine Land - guard (my mother-in-law) made the All-District Team. (Texas girls played "6 on 6" half-court basketball until the 1970s.)

In March the team represented Fredericksburg High School in the state tournament in Hillsboro.

With a group of talented underclassmen the team went back to the state tournament the next two years. In 1948 the girls won the consolation bracket beating West Columbia High School 30-22.

Fredericksburg TX - FHS Girls Basketball Team, 1947
The FHS girls basketball team. Image is from the 1947 yearbook (The Mesa). Click on image to enlarge

That year the school and the town sent the team on its way in style. There was a big pep rally for the girls broadcast by the local radio station.

The FHS Swing Band "The Korn Kobblers" accompanied the girls to the state tournament. The band made the trip in Bull Moellering's station wagon.

In those days the FHS girls basketball team was called the Billikens. In case you're wondering a Billiken is a mythical good luck figure that represents "things as they ought to be."

By 1950 girls basketball was a big success in Fredericksburg and all over Texas. That year the UIL, which had been sponsoring high school boys football and basketball since 1920, finally agreed to include girls basketball, as if it had a choice.

Turns out those experts who said females were too delicate to play sports were wrong. Probably the same bunch of guys who said women shouldn't vote, preach, run a company or be in politics.


Sources:
"Basketball Ball Sport," Fredericksburg Standard, March 11, 1916.
"Basketball In High School," Fredericksburg Standard, November 24, 1928.
"FHS Girls Left For State Meet This Morning," Fredericksburg Standard, March 6, 1946.
The Mesa, Fredericksburg High School Yearbook, 1946, 1947 and 1948.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" April 15, 2022 Column



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