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


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  This is the earliest known picture of a Sidney High School girls team, taken from the 1903 issue of The Reflector, an annual published by the class at Sidney High School. The photo is of the 1902 team and members include Faye Carey, Marguerite Goode, Jessie Binkley, Jessie Fisher, Elsie Piper, Katherine Schulz and Lenita Reddish, with substitutes listed as Grace Ferree, Anna Albers and Mable Stockstill.

December in the 1990s always represents a period of transition for the sports aficionados. Football seasons wind down, and the long trail to March Madness and the dreams of a basketball championship begin. Locally, the Sidney High School girls basketball team has been fortunate to experience more than its share of success. Under the tutelage of current coach Maggie Williams alone, the Lady Jackets have posted 290 wins against only 98 losses. The program is notable not only for its success but for its storied tradition as well. Thursday, December 4th marked a very special day in the history of sports at the high school and the girls basketball program in particular. It was 100 years ago on that date that the sport was first introduced to Sidney by the girls at Sidney High. This is the story of that first year and the beginning of a tradition of excellence.

Since no one on that first squad of girls had ever played a game of competitive of basketball, it was with a great degree of trepidation that the newly assembled team faced arch rival Piqua on that day in early December, 1897. Piqua had played a number of games that year, and had apparently fielded a team for some years. Still, the upcoming game generated quite a bit of excitement in the town. The Sidney Daily News reported on November 29th that "Much interest is being shown in the basketball game to be played at the armory between the ladies of Sidney High School and Piqua High School."

This photo (below) of the basketball squad is also from the 1903 issue of The Reflector. Listed as regulars are Faye Carey, Marguerite Goode, Jessie Binkley, Jessie Fisher, Elsie Piper, Katherine Schulz and Lenita Reddish, with substitutes listed as Anna Albers, Stella Burkhart, Grace Ferree, Christina Fisher, Fannie Herzstam, Georgia Kah, Amy Michael, Helen Michael, Zula Shaw, Edith Silver, Mable Stocktill, Nellie Van Riper.

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The armory building was located on East Court Street, and served as the gymnasium for indoor high school sports. According to accounts of the game, hundreds crowded in to watch. Playing the first of two twenty minute halves as if they had invented the game, the Sidney girls scored six baskets from the field to one for Piqua to lead 12 to 4. Sidney scored two more baskets in the second half to none for their rival to make the final score 16 to 4. The Daily News reporter summed up the feelings of the Sidney players in the locker room afterwards: "The Sidney girls feel proud of their victory in as much as it was their first game, while the Piqua girls have played a great many games."

In the early days of the sport, there was concern that the stress of physical activity would be hard on the delicate constitutions of the female players. Rules were enacted to protect them. Each player was assigned to a zone consisting of one third of the floor, and could not leave that area. The players could dribble the ball no more than three times before passing it off. As today, a goal was worth two points, and a foul shot one.

The positions consisted of left field, left support, left guard, center, and right field, right support and right guard. The basket was in fact just that - a basket into which the players attempted to pitch the ball. Each of the seven players were appropriately attired in a uniform which included a skirt.

The second contest of the year was against the girls from the Dayton View Gymnasium team on January 21, 1898. Before the game began, the crowd was brought to a fever pitch by a demonstration of fancy dumb bell exercises and Indian club swinging courtesy of Miss Nella Fogelsong, followed by a brief address on "Physical Culture For Girls" given by Dr. E. S. Cox. Assessing the size of the teams prior to the tip off, the reporter of the Shelby County Democrat, who covered the game, would later observe "The Dayton girls were much larger...Almost everybody was of the opinion that the Sidney girls would not be 'in it' " Quickness counted as much then as now, however, and by the end of the game the Sidney players had hung a 10 to 0 whitewash on their opponents. Olive Ailes and Amelia Davies did most of the scoring for Sidney.

Next up for the lady hoopsters on February 11 was Lima High School, or so the players thought. Due to a scheduling snafu between the athletic directors for the two schools, no team from Lima showed up. However, the disappointed crowd was treated to the pre-game entertainment that was previously scheduled. In what the Sidney Journal reporter later described as a "very exciting contest", Walter Pfefferle of Sidney won the running high jump title with a record leap of 4 feet, 3 inches (about half of the current world record). Arthur Knauer demonstrated club swinging, and the high school girls performed a wand drill.

It was back to basketball eleven days later as the confident and undefeated Sidney girls traveled to Dayton for a rematch with the team from Dayton View they had crushed earlier in the season. Overconfidence killed, then as well as now. In front of their home crowd, the Dayton girls battled Sidney to a 2 to 2 tie. The Democrat reporter who covered the game complained that one of the free throws made by a Dayton player should not have counted "...but the umpire and referee being Dayton residents they declared the point to Dayton's favor."

Although they had still not lost, the Sidney players were determined to 'make a statement' in their next game. On March 19, 1898, the Springfield High School team arrived in Sidney for a game. Taking nothing for chance this time, Sidney rocketed to a 12 to 0 half time lead, then coasted to a 16 to 0 victory. The Democrat reporter mockingly noted in his account of the game that "Two goals were pitched by the Springfield girls by mistake into their own basket." After the game, the Sidney ladies hosted their opponents to an evening of dancing with music provided by the Regal Mandolin Club.

One more game stood in the way of an undefeated season for the young Sidney team. They had to travel to Springfield on April 14 to play the girls they had just crushed at home. Bad dreams of the near upset in Dayton must have been fresh in their minds. It almost happened again. After a hard fought, scoreless first half, Amelia Davies sunk a free throw for a point (one of the 'many fouls' the Springfield girls committed, the Journal reporter noted). A subsequent field goal made the final score 3 to 0 for Sidney. Sidney's first basketball season was history. It was an auspicious beginning. Sidney had outscored its opponents 47 to 6 and posted three shutouts. Many successful seasons followed over the next 100 years. Notable moments included what most regard as a state championship in 1904, and a 1906 game against Ohio Northern University, then the best college women's team in the state (which Sidney lost, 50 to 4). The game is much different now, but the legacy of success begun a century ago continues today with Maggie Williams.


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