Monday, February 6, 2012
Basketball Belles, written by Sue Macy and illustrated Matt Collins. Holiday House, Thomas Allen. 2011. $19.95 ages 8 and up
My, how things have changed! When Stanford and Berkley played the first-ever women's college basketball game there were five hundred fans in the audience...all women. The men in the building numbered two:
"Out they come, the only men in the building, The assistant stares at us so intently, he almost knocks the janitor off the ladder! When the basket is secured, the two men make a hasty exit."
In 1896, when this first game was played, many people felt that basketball was not meant to be played by women. Adaptations had been made a few years earlier and these young women were determined to bring the sport to a new audience:
"Women's basketball continued to grow in the twentieth century, though early on, intercollegiate play was limited by physical educators who worried that female athletes would push themselves too hard in the quest for victory."
Agnes Morley was sent to Stanford to enhance her 'lady' skills, something that her mother hoped would be a result of a college education for her tomboy, ranch hand daughter. It wasn't long until she discovered a passion for basketball. She was a member of that historic Stanford team, a skilled athlete and a power passer. Always in motion, and rarely worrying about the ladylike way of doing things, Agnes is the narrator for this short scene from a life well-lived. This first person narrative makes it emotional and immediate for the reader. It is a piece of women's history and might just encourage some readers (or listeners) to forge further in learning about the the role of women in history.
Matt Collins adds to the motion and emotion of the story with details that enrich the telling. His knowledge of the era is evident in the tunics and bloomers worn by the women, in the gym where the game is played and in glimpses of the women in attendance as spectators. The way he changes perspectives brings readers straight into the action....the cover is first, showing a player sending the ball skyward while another attempts to block it. From pounding feet making their way down the wooden floor to the in-the-stands perspective of watching from above, to the evident joy on every team member's face when the game is finally won, he brings the game to us and adds wonder to the tale.
The back matter is brilliant...with an extensive author's note about Agnes and other team members, a timeline of women's basketball from the invention of the game to the establishment of the WNBA, a list for further reading, two places worthy of a visit if you are in the neighborhoods of Springfield, MA or Knoxville, TN and finally, a team photo from the Stanford archives.