The All-American Red Heads

It was the roaring 20s in America. Traveling entertainment was popular in the days before technology made available the variety of entertainment we have today. While larger metropolitan areas had entertainment clubs, rural America relied upon vagabond entertainers who came to their towns for one-night shows.

C.M. Olsen, a former player and basketball coach saw an opportunity to arrange a basketball team to cross the country to compete against local teams. The games were a huge hit, attracting nearly the entire town to see how well their boys/men could compete against the traveling team.

Olsen’s wife expanded on her husband’s idea by putting together a women’s team. Doyle Olson was a beautician. Since two of the seven players they recruited were redheads, Doyle and C.M. came up with the idea of having an all-red-headed team. The All-American Red Heads came into existence.

At the time, few women played basketball so the Red Heads competed against men with the male version of the game. In the women’s game, defensive players stayed on one half of the court and offensive players stayed on the other half.

The women were more than competitive. They played rough and were generally better at shooting. They used many of the same gimmicks that are generally associated with the Harlem Globetrotters. They were fancy dribblers. They used trick shots, and they were flirts with the other team, the referees, and even those in the stands.

They won more than 70% of their games. Their routines were a big draw, but what the Red Heads did was to reestablish women’s interest in basketball.  Unlike most sports, basketball began as both a male and female sport. But the sport had not caught on in much of America. The Red Heads made the game fun and by playing with the men’s rules, the game was more enjoyable.

The Red Heads had a 50-year history, making it one of the longest-running sports franchises in history. The fact that they continued in existence from the Depression Years, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War makes their longevity even more impressive.

With Title IX and women’s equality in sports, the Red Heads faded in importance and ended their run in 1986. They were largely forgotten until a grandson of one of the Red Heads found a photograph of his grandmother with her teammates. That led to documentation of the Red Heads and their importance in establishing women’s basketball as the sport we know today.

In 2012, 65 of the surviving Red Heads had a reunion at the Naismith Hall of Fame as their team was inducted into the hall.

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“I don’t wear a crown, I wear a head band.

I don’t wear heels, I wear sneakers.

I don’t dance on a dance floor, I run on a basketball court.

I’m not a princess, I’m a basketball beast.” – Unknown

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