ConVal Hoop Heritage: When hardly anybody noticed

The 1963-1964 Peterborough High girls’ basketball team.

The 1963-1964 Peterborough High girls’ basketball team. COURTESY PHOTO

Published: 01-25-2024 5:00 AM

Modified: 01-25-2024 9:00 AM


The following is reprinted with permission from the ConVal Hoop Heritage blog, at cvhoopheritage.blogspot.com.

In the 1963-64 season, the Peterborough High girls basketball team quietly compiled its second straight 7-2 season. A remarkable achievement that was so quiet, unlike today, hardly anyone noticed.

Coach Barbara Rowe felt her team was “entitled to at least an athletic energy” for the performance. Yet, as the Peterborough Transcript reported, “the girls play to minuscule audiences, and have none of the fanfare, publicity or public attention that go to other sports and activities. There are no dramatic reverberations when the team takes off quietly for the away games, or when it is playing at home.”

What happened?

Unlike today, girls’ basketball up until 1970 hardly resembled the fast-paced five-on-five style exhibited by the boys. The girls’ game was six-on-six, with three forwards who could score on one half of the court while three defensive guards stayed on their own half of the court until the opposition crossed it. One player for each team was considered a rover and could travel to both sides of the court. But only two dribbles were allowed, and then the player had to pass or shoot. Wow!

The website ball603.com reports that in a game with Northwood (now Coe-Brown), Alton (now Prospect Mountain) won by the final of 6-5 “and all the points were scored from the foul line.” (For more on a New Hampshire high school powerhouse, read “The Aura Of Alton.” ) In Peterborough’s case, the girls bucked trends and scored consistently in the 30s and 40s, losing only close contests to Wilton and Appleton (now Mascenic).

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But while the six-on-six format lacked the spark of the boys’ high-paced game, it was better than when girls’ basketball first started. James Naismith invented the game for men and boys in a Springfield, Mass., YMCA in 1891, and the girls were right behind in 1892. But cultural conditions at the time feared that the girls would get too “unladylike” playing a physical game and so Sendra Benson, a physical education teacher at nearby Smith College in Northampton, organized a less physical game with three zones on the court featuring nine players per side.

According to youthhoops101.com, Benson divided the basketball court into three sections, and players were confined to their assigned section. Players in the third of the court closest to the basket were the shooters. The players in the middle third were the passers who would help move the ball from one end of the basketball court to the other. Those in the section farthest from the goal were the defensive players and rebounders.

■ Stealing the ball from an opponent was illegal because such behavior was entirely too “masculine.”

■ Every scored basket was followed by a jump ball at center court.

■ There was a three-dribble limit, and a player could only hold the ball for three seconds. (This was an attempt to speed up a very slow-moving game.)

■ Since organized games between teams from different schools created too much competitiveness for girls, intramural contests were set up between teams of students from the same school. And to guard against rivalry of any kind, the team rosters were constantly changed.

Like the boys’ game, girls’ basketball began in New England and quickly spread across the nation. In 1896, Stanford and UCal-Berkeley played the first collegiate game on the West Coast, with Stanford winning before a crowd of 700 women, 2-1!

Despite social and cultural concerns at the time, the girls loved shooting balls into peach baskets. It’s a spirit that carried into the 1963-’64 season when it was noted of the Peterborough High girls: “As much as any group in school, the girls apparently play simply because they like to play, and because their team spirit is so so strong that they can manage without cheering stands or public accolades.”

That spirit continues in 2024, but hard to believe high school girls’ basketball has come so far!