Barnstorming America, Stories from the Pioneers of Women's Basketball

The Red Heads
The Red Heads


C.M. (Ole) Olson had a men's traveling (barnstorming) called the Terrible Swedes traversing the country since the 1920s. Ole was a terrific basketball player and one of the first men to use a behind the back pass on a regular basis.  He was also a top notch business man.

The Swedes were out of Cassville Mo. This also happened to be a hot bed for women's basketball with many of the nations top AAU teams in the 
surrounding states.

His wife, Doyle, owned several beauty salons in the Missouri and Arkansas areas.  Ole came up with the idea of creating a women's barnstorming team that would have a special gimick. 


They would only play men and by mens rules.  The women's game had just gone from a 3-zone court game to half court game in 1934.  Ole would have the women play a full court game.

To top it off (literally), he would have all of the players have red hair.  It would be an instant eye catcher and serve as a 24/7 promotion wherever they went.

One must think back to that time in American society to where women were socially.  Few women would go onto college  and not many even had basketball in school. Women would work on the farm, maybe become a stenographer or work at a local factory. 

To get paid to play basketball and travel the country at the same time?  This was as far out there as thinking an actor named Ronald Regan would become president more than 40 years later

When the Red Heads set out on the road, they weren't just playing basketball.  They were pioneers in helping break down all of these stereotypes....and didn't even know it at the time.  They were just women that had a great passion to play basketball.




Along with social concerns, there were also physical concerns. There was still much concern at the time, that women shouldn't play the game like a man because they weren't as physical and could hurt their chances to have children.

They were an instant success, yet a bit of irony could be seen at the same time.  It was men that mostly filled the stands in the gymnasiums. While many may have been initially intrigued by women playing against men in a male dominated sport, dressed those in attendance quickly witnessed that women could not only play the game of basketball by mens rules, they could beat men at their own game.



They were so popular, that Ole simply could not fill all of the requests that were flooding his mailbox. So, the next season, he would create a second team.  They were called the Ozark Hillbillies.  They were a 'farm' team for the Red Heads.  They would also travel across the country, with many of the players eventually leaving on to play for the main team.

Across small town America, gyms would overflow with fans hoping to catch a glimpse of some of the greatest players in the world on the same team.  Attendances of over 1,000 was not uncommon.

The All American Red Heads would appear in some of the countries greatest magazines of the day.  Life, Look, Colliers among others published the travels of these special women.





In 1940, the team traveled to the Philippines to play for several months.  
When the team was down there, the US military issued a invasion 
warning that Japan would be attacking the islands.  Sensing an immediate threat, the team had to quickly escape by cattle boats that were lead by a mine sweeper. It was a scary time for the players and not every one that traveled to the islands even got off at the same time.




The team was on the road the day Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese, and still went out to play that night.



Due to rationing of gas, tires, etc., the All American Red Heads came 
off the road during WWII.  Some of the players would go work for 
companies such as Boeing and would continue playing basketball at night 
for them.

As servicemen and women came back home after the war to end all wars, the Red Heads picked up where they left off.  Some of the same players returned and new ones were added.

In 1948, Olson offered a coaching job to an english teacher (and high school coach), Owell Moore.  Moore was a High School English teacher and was married to Lorene "Butch" Moore to one of his students. Butch loved the Red Heads.  Orwell said he would only take the job, if his wife could play on the team.  

Once again, Olson would put 2 teams on the road.  The All American Red Heads and the Famous Red Heads. 


Coach Moore started with the Famous Red Heads.  7 time All-American, Hazel Walker was player/coach of the All American Red Heads. Hazel would take on any man to a free throw contest at half-time and only in a blue moon, would she not come out on top.

During her third season, it was found out that Hazel was booking dates for the following year for a team she would be putting on the road. When Olson found this out he immediately sent Orwell and his team to replace Hazel and that team.  Orwell would move over to the main team with his wife and other players like Red Mason and Johnny Farley.

Olson was getting older.  He had been involved in the game of basketball since 1919.  In 1955, Olson would sell the Red Heads to the Moore's and retire to a life on a farm of fishing and one of his favorite pastimes, golf.

During these years, Lorene would go on to score 35, 246 points in 9+ seasons.  At halftime, she would get on her knees and shoot foul shots, sometimes making 50 in a row. 


The ever thinking Moore knew he needed more to keep the fans coming in, and more importantly, the money at the gate.   He loved basketball with all of his heart and soul, yet he was a business man through and through.


It was during these halftimes that the Red Heads started putting on an extra show, while the mens team was catching their breathe for the second half.

Fancy ball handling, trick shots and more were performed to the crowds delight.  Owell Moore was years ahead of his time.

Not only did the Red Heads play against more physical men, Coach Moore created special halftime shows to entertain the crowds.  He realized the importance that he had to not only put a quality product on the court, but also entertain the crowd.

As the legend of a Red Heads grew, so did their traveling.  In 1957 the team would take its first trip of 4 to Alaska. 


Imagine the sight of Native Eskimo children watching a team of red haired women playing basketball against their local men, most who hunted by the day.  They became celebrities.  Being asked to dance with the senior elders in the evenings to being chased on top of desks and furniture by the children who wanted to touch their uniforms.  In later years a player would remark "We felt like we were the Beatles". 


The 1950s also brought the Red Heads to national television for the first time.  America would gather around their television after dinner on a Sunday night, as they watched the Red Heads perform on the famous "Ed Sullivan Show".  This would end up just being the first of several national tv appearances.

It was during the years, up to the 60s when women's basketball was popular at the AAU level that the Red Heads would traverse the countryside in various forms of station wagons from a Desoto and buick to a Kaiser.  A very tight fit for 7 women, their basketballs, game clothes and street clothes to fit in.

It was then when Moore went out and purchased his first limousine.  For the towns they traveled to, it became an instant conversation for town folk as the logo painted car pulled in.  For the players, it was like living at the Ritz on wheels.

While the names of the players would continue change as the years went on, the game remained the same. These women played basketball by men's rules while other women continued to play basketball in a 6 on 6 format.  In fact the winning percentage was approaching the 80% mark by the mid to late 60s.

National tv continued with player Sandy Mann appearing on "What's my Line", Jolene Ammons going on the camera and teaching Art Linkletter ball handling skills on "Toast of the town" as well as "To Tell the Truth".

It should be noted that other women's basketball barnstorming teams also existed during this time. Hazel Walker's Arkansas Travelers were still on the road.  Other teams like the Shooting Stars, Arkansas Lassies and Texas Cow Girls also hit the road.  Yet for a woman named Jolene Ammons, she turned down a contract to play for Hazel and would later wear the red white pinstriped Red Heads uniform for 12 years, scoring over 25,000 oints and also coaching 2 years. 


The All American Red Heads machine was in full swing.  In the early 70s Orwell Moore had 3 teams onthe road at the same time.  Each team playing more than 200 basketball games.  Some of the teams were approaching the 90% winning mark.  


During the 1971-72 season, the Red Heads would win 96 games in a row, in just 96 days and would go 206-14 during that season for a 93.6% winning percentage.  

In 1969 the Moore's bought an old boys camp in Mississippi.  They created "Camp Courage", a camp designed with heavy emphasis on basketball and for girls (although a few boys also attended).

Once again, Owell Moore was ahead of his time. Other than Cathy Rush of Immacullata fame, there was nowhere that girls could go to camp to learn the skills needed to play the game at the highest level.

Orwell would hire his players to become coaches at Camp Courage.  This provided the All American Red Heads to earn a living almost year round in basketball.  The campers would get to learn from their own hero's.  The camp became known nationwide with requests from as far away as Alaska and players attending from over 30 states.

Some of these kids became so good, they would get drafted as an All American Red Head when they finished high school.  Barb Hostert was one of those special campers that worked so hard as a high school kid, she went on to play for the All American Red Heads for 8 years and even played for the Milwaukee Does of the WBL in 1978-9 before  returning to the Red Heads to finish her career. Gwen Reed was another example of a Camp Courage camper going to the Red Heads and WBL.

In 1973, a law went into effect which is commonly known as Title IX.  It gave girls (actually everyone) the right to equal opportunities as everyone else.  It was a milestone for girls and women in sports both in school and college.  If there was a boys basketball team, then their had to be an opportunity for a girls basketball team.  Women could play basketball while they attended college in hopes to graduate with a degree.

The landscape began to change.  Colleges that only had men's basketball teams now were required to field a women's team.  It was a great step for women.


Yet, as great as it was for women, it would serve to become the beginning stages of the end of the barnstorming teams, including the Red Heads.  Women could now go to college and continue to play basketball, while before Title IX,  there were fewer colleges offering that possibility.

In high schools, where the Red Heads played their games, the gymnasiums became harder to book as it was being filled with more sports for girls.

Yet, national tv shows like Mike Douglas featured Jolene Ammons showing actress Betty White how spin a basketball on 1 finger and Good Morning America brought on player/coach Charlotte Adams to talk about her team.

Sports Illustrated featured a multi-page color pictured article on the team while on the road in 1974.


By the mid 1970s, the Red Heads were back down to 1 team on the road.  

It was during this time, they also featured a team that had all gone to college first.  A complete reversal from earlier days when women went to play for the Red Heads before going to college.

Still, they would continue to attract and dazzle crowds up until their final year of 1986.

It was that year that Orwell and Lorene's son, Burnie would take over the coaching duties and win over 90% of their games before hanging up their sneakers for the last time.

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