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  Feature Article on girls basketball. Topic: SPORTS
Written by Rich Wallace in March, 1997


Pictured below is the 1904 Sidney High School girls team.
Team captain Stella Burkhardt, star of the championship game, is on the far right.
Other known starters on the team are Jessie Binkley (second from the left),
Jessie Fry (third from left) and Lenita Reddish (third from right).

basketballteamgirlssidneyhighschool.gif (87529 bytes)

As the remaining high school basketball teams continue their quest for a state championship and the nation's 64 best college teams compete in the NCAA's 'Big Show', sports junkies everywhere will become addicted with the disease. Local communities fortunate enough to have a high school or college team involved will never forget the thrill of competing for the big prize. The residents of Sidney experienced their own version of 'March Madness' long before pundits recently coined the term. This is the story of those exciting times.

The local Kenton, Ohio newspaper reporter captured the excitement of the moment: "Never in the days of old did the winner of the Roman chariot race receive a greater ovation than did the Sidney girls basket ball team from 1300 wildly gesticulating spectators last what proved to be the most exciting, nerve-racking enthusiastically cheered game ever played in this city." The scene was what many in Sidney at that time considered the state championship game for high school girls basketball. The year was 1904.

During those early years, girls' basketball was a far different game than the fast-paced, run and gun style to which we are accustomed today. The girls were always appropriately attired, which usually meant some form of bloomers or a dress. Because of the risks of physical exertion on such delicate frames, the rules for girls adopted in 1899 provided that the floor was divided into three sections. A player assigned to that section could not leave it. No player could dribble more than three times, and stealing the ball was prohibited. The halves were fifteen minutes each, with a ten minute 'rest' in between.

Teams could field anywhere from five to ten players. Sidney's team rosters for the 1902 and 1903 seasons reflect that the starting lineup was composed of seven players: a center, a right, left and center guard, and a right, left and center forward.

After the turn of the century, Sidney was one of the first towns to organize the sport for its high school girls. Sidney's first yearbook, the 1903 Reflector, records the history of the sport. The first team was assembled in 1902. The boys did not have a team, and basketball represented the only sport for the girls.

It was a seasoned group of players who took the floor for Sidney High in 1904. Senior Jessie Binkley, the daughter of the editor of the Sidney Journal, was a three year starter. Her participation assured interesting local newspaper coverage. She was joined by team captain Stella Burkhardt, a junior, and seniors Annie Albers and Dora Frey. Juniors Jessie Fry and Lenita Reddish rounded out the starters.

After an intramural game in early January, the team opened the season against Springfield High School in Sidney on January 15th. The final score was 9 to 0 in favor of Sidney. The Sidney Daily News account the next day was charitable, noting that "at times, their opponents put up a very scrappy game."

basketballgirlsdrawing.gif (42441 bytes)

The next game recorded by the Sidney papers occurred against Marysville on February 26, and was also played in Sidney. The reporter playfully noted that admission was 15 cents for those with skirts (who sat) and 25 cents for men (who stood). A large crowd was on hand, and the Sidney girls did not disappoint.

The game quickly got out of hand. In the report on the game that followed in the Journal, the reporter waxed eloquently about the home town five: "Anna Albers has a reach of ten feet, more or fewer...and when Jessie Binkley and Stella Burkhardt squared themselves to toss the ball into the basket the receptacle was sure of getting a mouthful...Lenita Reddish and Pearl Stockstill bounded hither and thither like corn in a popper."

Sidney won the game, scoring 15 points to 4 for Marysville. Then, as now, a goal from the field was worth two points, and a throw from the line after a foul counted for one. The Journal commented smugly that "The visitors seemed to be amazed at the agility (Sidney) displayed." The visitors were also good students, however, and would learn from this early season drubbing. More would be heard from Marysville.

Because of its success on the court, the girls team began to draw a following to its games. The heroic and poetic descriptions of the games and the girls who played them by the three local newspapers did not hurt. The Journal painted this picture after one Sidney victory: "The girls, in their short uniforms, with their cheeks aglow and their eyes sparkling with excitement, were a picture which entranced even spectacled vision."

The home games were played in the old armory building, which was located across from the Wagner Brewery on East Poplar Street. One game was held despite a leaky roof and the resultant puddles on the floor that made the game more challenging. A crowd of up to 125 could be accommodated. Sportsmanship was always emphasized. The visitors were entertained in style. After the Springfield game, the Daily News reported that "Punch was served, and music was furnished on the mandolin, flute, guitar and drum." Accommodations for the opposing team were usually provided at the Wagner House.

The girls next played the Kenton high school team on March 25. One of the substitutes, Pearl Stockstill, started in place of Lenita Reddish, but the outcome was the same. Sidney had the better ball club. One reporter noted: "...after the whistle of the onset it soon became apparent that the Kentonians were outclassed." A five to nothing half time lead was stretched to a final score of 9 to 3 at the conclusion of the contest. Sidney was undefeated, but its biggest challenge of the season was next.

Ada College (now Ohio Northern University) brought its undefeated juggernaught to town on April 5. The largest crowd of the season packed the armory to witness the clash. The papers subsequently reported little of the game, but much about the controversy that followed. The captain of the Ada team complained about the officiating the entire game. When time ran out, the official score keeper announced a tie at 6 to 6. As the Daily News reporter recorded the next day: "The Ada Captain at once declared this incorrect, declaring that Ada won, but whether by a score of 6 to 5 or 7 to 6, she could not recall."

The referee gave Ada two minutes to decide whether or not to play off the tie, or forfeit the game to Sidney by a score of 2 to 0. Ada walked off the floor. However, the war of words was only beginning.

The University Herald paper in Ada blasted Sidney in its next edition. The headline blared" SIDNEY! SINFUL SIDNEY!" It lamented the "gross injustice and shameful treatment accorded (our players) by the officials and the larger part of the audience at Sidney....The game had scarcely begun when it became evident that Sidney determined to win the game at any cost." Under the rules, Sidney's umpire called the fouls on the Ada College players, and the Ada umpire had the opposite responsibility.

The editor stormed that forty fouls were called on Ada, and only fifteen on Sidney. When Ada's captain inquired about the nature of the fouls, she "was repeatedly told to shut up as he was the umpire." With one last parting shot, the editor commented that "Ada retired feeling humiliated...but knowing that they had won the game fairly against such odds."

Sidney's papers returned the broadsides in kind. Both the Democrat and the Daily News opined that "It is regretted that the Ada team came here to play, but the charge of unfair decisions or unfair treatment is emphatically denied." Complaints by the Ada captain were branded "ridiculous and childish." The best shots were taken by Jessie Binkley's father, William, the editor of the Sidney Journal.

Citing Ada as the "metropolis of the hog marsh," Binkley described how the swamp gradually produced a "low order of the human species...rather dwarfish in physique, especially the female contingents." With the smell of onions in the town, "even the Dagoes feel more at home there than in any other hamlet." Binkley was just getting warmed up.

More basketball remained to be played, however. Next up was Marysville, the team Sidney had trounced earlier in the season. The girls had left on April 1 by train for the game in Marysville, but they were stranded in Bellefontaine for seven hours due to high water on the tracks. Returning the next week, Sidney lost in an upset. None of the Sidney papers carried the score. The Democrat reporter related bitterly that "Marysville's girls are for the most part outsiders-and are women old enough to be full grown...Their captain was the referee, and helped win the game by physical force - add to that their coach as umpire - and you have a combination hard to beat."

Marysville supporters immediately called for a rubber match at a neutral site. Sidney, crushed by the recent loss, declined. The Marysville Evening Tribune hooted: "Sidney had reason to fear the outcome of the proposed game in Kenton...Sidney was the first to suggest (the game) at Kenton, and now they have gone and wiggled out of it. Too bad, isn't it?" The members of the Sidney team immediately reconsidered, and the clash was scheduled for April 29 at Kenton. With the game being billed as the state championship, and such hard feelings remaining after the controversial loss at Marysville, excitement coursed through the town in the week before the big game.

Marysville supporters traveled to Kenton by a special train. The war of words escalated. The teams agreed to play by the boys rules, which meant that any girl could run and dribble the length of the floor. The confident Marysville team members offered the Sidney team $5 for each time a Sidney player made a basket from the field.

Over 1,300 screaming fans crammed into the Kenton armory for the game. The reporter from the local paper recalled that they all "strained every vocal cord in trying to lend encouragement to the contestants." The game remained close during the first half, with Marysville leading 2 to 1 at the break

The teams fought tooth and nail in the second half. Sidney remained behind by a point as the clock wound down. Suddenly Stella Burkhardt dribbled down the floor and pumped in a basket, followed quickly by another. A 2 to 1 deficit was now a 5 to 2 Sidney lead. The Kenton reporter described the scene: "Pandemonium reigned in the wildest sense for many minutes and the crowd seemed unable to recover from the paroxym into which it had been thrown."

The game ended soon thereafter, with the victors giving vent to their feelings "in true girlish style, the shedding of copious tears." The Democrat headline announced: "State Championship Won By Sidney Girls." The Journal reported that it was a championship "for this part of the state." The Sidney newspapers of course crowed about the victory. To its credit, the Marysville paper was candid in its appraisal of the game: "The Sidney Japs (an interesting reference in light of the city's commercial development) led our girls into a trap and then defeated them...and returned home with the victory and with plenty of cash." Yes, the Marysville team paid Sidney $10 for its two baskets.

Existing records do not answer the question of whether or not Sidney won the state championship. It did not seem to matter to the Sidney girls. Their come from behind victory capped an exciting season and was one of the most memorable sports triumphs in the school's history.


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