Girls 6-on-6 Basketball Thrives in Iowa as Other State Discourage Women’s Participation in Sports

Why was girls' basketball so popular in Iowa during a time when most other states did not support girls’ high school athletics? This segment from Iowa PBS’s More Than a Game: 6-on-6 Basketball in Iowa documentary describes the contributions of E. Wayne Cooley and the Iowa Girls' High School Athletic Union.


Announcer: Record crowds packed into the fieldhouse.
Narrator: Few girls enjoying the game in Iowa's high schools were aware of the limitations placed on females in most other states. As an example, in 1945, the National Federation of State High School Athletic Associations, which managed boys' athletics in 39 states, discouraged girls' interscholastic basketball. The handbook declared: It is doubtful whether the skills or mental characteristics, which result from engaging in strenuous widely publicized contests, is conducive to the development of those characteristics which are associated with cultured womanhood. But as one looks through the yearbooks of the Iowa girls' high school athletic union, it becomes immediately apparent; these players were perfectly normal teenage girls. Photos show them as being as proud of their makeup and hair styles as they were of their jump shots and scrappy shot blocking. There even were advertisements in the yearbooks that taught the young female athletes how to manicure their fingernails, among other grooming tips. In Iowa, few people questioned the ability of girls to play basketball while retaining their femininity.

So what made Iowa different? Why was girls' basketball so popular here when most other states turned their backs on it? One reason was E. Wayne Cooley. When Cooley became Executive Secretary of the Iowa Girls' High School Athletic Union in 1954, he turned what was already a solid one-of-a-kind organization into a national leader.
Robert D. Ray, Iowa Governor 1969 - 1983: Wayne Cooley was the best, and this state has every reason to be very proud of him and his accomplishments. He really put this together and merchandised it, sold it, and people loved it and he deserves tremendous credit.
Jan Jensen Elk Horn-Kimballton H.S., 1983 - 1987: He succeeded in really instilling a sense of sentimental value with being a wholesome Iowa girl in that time frame. In that era when it was in its heyday, we weren't as politically correct in concerning ourselves with girl means you're not as good as a boy and so forth. It was simply a trademark. The girls who played it were proud of it, and they aspired to be the very best iowa girl they could be.
E. Wayne Cooley, Executive Secretary, IGHSAU 1954 - 2002: I thoroughly believed whatever sport it was, if you surrounded the Iowa girl with respect and prestige, she will in turn give to the viewing audience the very best and finest performance her ability will allow. I believed that and I saw it happen repeatedly year after year after year. I'm very fond of that love affair I had with the Iowa girl. She didn't realize it. She doesn't know it. But I knew it and it meant so very much to me.

© 2008 Iowa PBS


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