History in Focus: These girls be ballin’ | CraigDailyPress.com

History in Focus: These girls be ballin’

Can a picture really be worth a thousand words? In the case of the 1925 Craig High School girls basketball championship photo, I’d have to emphatically say, yes.

While turning the pages of a pictorial history of Craig, published by the Museum of Northwest Colorado in 1993, I stumbled across their photo. I was transfixed; it spoke about the 1920s and an era of girls athletics I did not know had even existed.

As the end of World War I dovetailed into the era of Prohibition, the rebellious decade of the 1920s picked up speed, and the girls team photo is full of hints about the Roarin’ 20s. Every player and the coach have a stylish and very short bobbed haircut, indicative of the era. The uniforms are all above the knees and sleeveless, a bit revealing for high school students in that era.  

The whole team shows a touch of the “flapper” style … minus the cigarette and bathtub gin, thankfully.  Most likely, this group of girls didn’t purposely set out to challenge gender roles or societal mores, but the photo clearly demonstrates the zeitgeist of the 20s had arrived in the Yampa Valley. 

Basketball was invented in 1891 by James Naismith at a YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts, and it didn’t take long for the sport to spread to the somewhat remote Yampa Valley.  

In late May of 1908, the Routt County Schools (including today’s Moffat until 1911) held a unique countywide competition in Craig. It was a triathlon of sorts consisting of a track meet, oratory competitions and, remarkably, a girls basketball game between Steamboat and Hayden. The Routt County Republican reported it was the area’s very first athletic contest between county schools, and girls basketball was there from the start (May 29, 1908).

By 1912, the Craig students wanted in on the fun. The Craig Empire observed the high school boys were clearing sagebrush in lots just south of the school (located in today’s Breeze Park) in order to build an outdoor basketball court. However, the paper observed, “the girls seem to be taking the most interest in the sport and will undoubtedly turn out a good team,” (October 1919). 

The three-peat Craig High School girls basketball championship team of 1925 sit on the front steps of the Craig NAtional Guard Armory. Front row, from left, are Kathryn Finley, Irene Deakins, Sylvia Eva Miller, Sylvia House and Erma DeLong, back row, Irwin, Eva Gulick, Coach Mrs. Roberts, Elva Deakins and Ruth Thorpe.
Museum of Northwest Colorado/Courtesy photo

Through the pre-WWI era, competitive girls basketball flourished throughout the valley. In October of 1914, Craig High School traveled to Hayden for an outdoor game, but controversy ensued when Hayden refused to follow the era’s norms of etiquette and use the visiting team’s ball, “on the score that it was not a Spaulding official ball for a basketball floor … ” (Moffat County Courier, Oct. 29, 1914).  After a tense standoff, our girls relented and went on to thoroughly crush Hayden for such a lack of decorum.    

Girls basketball kept growing throughout the 1920s. School challenges were offered and accepted, tournaments were held, and eventually an athletic league was established. With the construction of the Armory in 1922, Craig now had an indoor court, and the girls basketball program reached its zenith with a trifecta of league championships from 1923-25.  

In an editorial in the Craig Empire, W.P. Finley praised the girls while taking a swipe at the boys’ lackluster effort.

“With all due respect to our boys, it has been the girls that have consistently won honors for Craig High School. The girls have won the basketball championship … by consistent training and earnest effort,” (Feb. 25, 1925).

A week later, and perhaps a tad motivated by the girls teasing them at school, the boys broke through and won their first-ever basketball championship by finally defeating Steamboat in front of 400 “rabid rooters” packed into the Armory (Craig Empire, March 11, 1925).

In December of 1929, with the recent onset of the Great Depression, girls basketball came to a screeching halt in Colorado. The local newspapers are fuzzy about the reasons — just a few blurbs obliquely reporting the interscholastic league was eliminated. No definite reasons were provided. 

A wider search was also fairly inconclusive. Only a short history of Arvada High School cited the district superintendent had pushed for elimination of basketball out of concern for the health of girls involved in competitive athletics. Supposedly, the Colorado Medical Association agreed, and girls were forced to resort to cheer squads and pom-pom teams to stay active (ArvadaHS.JeffCoPublicSchools.org/Our_School/History).  

It wasn’t until 1975 that girls high school basketball became a statewide sanctioned varsity sport in Colorado. However, the 1920s girls teams of Craig High School were trailblazers of sport in our area, and thankfully one intriguing photo was snapped and published to memorialize their accomplishments for a future generation to learn about all over again. 

James Neton teaches history at Moffat County High School and can be reached at netonjim@yahoo.com.

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