All American Red Heads 1936-1986

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Molly "Machine Gun" Bolin

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Ashley Harris modeling a 1953 Red Heads uniform

When it comes to the History of Women's Basketball, The All American Red Heads ARE The Great American Story

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Coach Wilbur Surface and the "first team" in 1936

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Circa 1953 when the Red Heads wore mid-rif skirted uniforms

New York Times article on Red Heads induction 9-10-2012

**Video on All American Red Heads - Click Here

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Sandy Mann, John Molina, Orwell Moore, Jolene Ammons

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This website is dedicated to 4 All American Red Heads that without their continuous support, none of this would have happened.  They are Coach Orwell Moore, Jolene Ammons, Sandy Mann and Barb Hostert

 

(Editors note:  There is discussion if the All American Red Heads are the definitive women's basketball team like in the Harlem Globetrotters.   The Red Heads and Trotters are both in Naismith.  No other professional women's basketball team is.  The Red Heads had up to 3 teams by the same name on the road at the same time.  No other team had more than 1.  The Red Heads lasted from 1936 to 1986.  Other teams came later, mimicking the success of the RH's, yet no team lasted later than the Red Heads.

The All American Red Heads were never the opening card for another professional basketball team, they were the main attraction.
 
(You draw your own conclusion) 
 


Copright Molina and Zeysing 2012 

 

The story of professional basketball for women dates back more than 75 years to a sleepy little town on the banks of the picturesque Roaring River in the Ozarks Mountains. The year was 1936. The town was Cassville, Missouri. The team was the All American Red Heads, now the first women’s team ever inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

The All American Red Heads set out on the first national tour in the fall of 1936. The Red Heads were the brainchild of a Cassville businessman who owned and operated several men’s barnstorming teams during the Roaring Twenties and the not-so-roaring Great Depression. C.M. “Ole” Olson organized his Terrible Swedes and Famous Giants in the early 1920s, turning what was a small basketball operation into big business by decade’s end. The Red Heads – the younger, prettier sisters of the Swedes and Giants – inherited the basketball blueprint of one-night stands played in one-horse towns in front of sellout crowds night after night. The earliest game on record was played on November 24, 1936, signaling the start of the basketball season in tiny Alpena, Arkansas.

Ole Olson was a dyed-in-the-wool basketball frontman with nearly twenty years of experience under his belt when he organized his first women’s ballclub. In the days when teams still passed the hat to make ends meet, Olson was booking his Viking crew for a guarantee and a percentage of the gate. He was the publicity man, booking agent, road manager, and player-coach. The Terrible Swedes stunned traditionalists with their fancy passing and trick shooting, but every night the fans filled the stands. Olson, armed with a sharp wit and a strong imagination, revolutionized the game with his famous “back-hand” passing. When the mood struck him, he bounced the ball off of his head on layups and launched shots from half court. He reveled in the spotlight, the basketball ringleader of a traveling road show that rivaled even the greatest vaudeville acts of the day.

The Terrible Swedes and Famous Giants enjoyed widespread approval during the golden age of barnstorming. But as professional basketball plunged headlong into the monolithic structure that ultimately defined the twentieth century, Olson’s men’s teams fell out of favor. Night was falling on the great barnstorming acts of the day just about the time the All American Red Heads were hitting their stride. The window of opportunity was wide open and soon Olson would turn all of his attention to running his all-female five.

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Peggy Lawson in 1930s

The All American Red Heads exploded onto basketball’s center stage that first season playing 133 games in nearly 30 states in six months. The girls with the fire-engine red hair – the perfect color to promote the Olson chain of beauty salons – played men’s teams by men’s rules taking the battle of the sexes to the basketball court. Olson scheduled at least seven games a week and showed no signs of slowing down or letting up just because his latest endeavor involved the “weaker sex.” Requests poured in from all over the country as word spread about the sharp-shooting, ball-spinning girls. The Red Heads proved an instant national attraction. They performed for the Hollywood set, strolled down Broadway in the most famous of cities, danced with the Eskimos in Alaska, and even sailed to the Philippines.

The All American Red Heads were ahead of their time beating the boys at their own game. Running up and down the floor, hitting shots from thirty feet out, working the ball around the perimeter in the wheel-ball offense, the Red Heads played basketball “like the boys.” The action was fast-paced and the skill level of the girls was top-notch.

 

Contact the Author and Honorary All American Red Head: John Molina

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1941-42 team just before invasion of Pearl Harbor

1940s video of the All American Red Heads

Olson’s strategy was simple.

Race out to an early lead.

Ease up on the throttle to put on a show.

Finish strong and celebrate another victory. 

The system worked. While the exact record of the Red Heads remains obscured by the passage of time, scorebooks and newspaper accounts reveal that the girls won close to seventy percent of their games in most years. Winning was important, but how they played the game was what mattered most. The Red Heads played straight basketball to prove that they were serious ballplayers. But there was always more to a Red Heads show than just basketball. Like the famed Harlem Globetrotters, the Red Heads needed a gimmick to keep audiences interested, and to make losing to “a bunch of girls” a little more palatable to a population not quite ready to welcome women into sports. To be a Red Head was to be a precise passer, an accurate shooter, and an outstanding ball-handler. But above all, being a Red Head meant being a gifted entertainer.

The Red Heads dribbled, juggled, danced, and laughed their way into the hearts of audiences. The girls competed hard against the opposite sex but knew the crowd needed more than just good basketball. Playing it straight rarely satisfied the thirst for entertainment. While the Red Heads challenged the notion that women were the weaker sex, there was an appreciation for the delicate psyche of the American public. Women against men only worked when laughter and wonder filled the air. The Red Heads made sure of that every night. The comic routines and trick plays were given names like the Old Piggy Back Play, the Famous La Conga Line, and the Referee Chase Gag. The center of attention in all this action was the comedienne who flirted with the referees and distracted the opponents.

Every night the basketball court became a Broadway stage.

Off stage, the girls followed the highest standards for ladies. No smoking in uniform. No foul language. No drinking. The rules were simple but necessary as the All American Red Heads influenced, and were influenced by, the image of the girl next door. At a time when opportunity for women was mostly confined to being a homemaker, nurse, teacher, or hairdresser, the Red Heads shattered stereotypes about the fairer sex and began to break down social barriers that had existed for hundreds of years. Rosie the Riveter had nothing on Rosie Red as she redefined the new woman.

 

In the fall of 1948, Olson made what turned out to be the most significant move in Red Heads history when he hired a hotshot young coach named Orwell Moore as road manager. Moore was cutting his teeth at several small high schools around Arkansas when he first met Olson. The All American Red Heads had become so popular that there were no open dates on the calendar. Olson figured the time was right to put a second team on the road again. The Famous Red Heads – a farm team to the first unit – hit the ground running with seven new faces in 1948. The first coach was not working out so Olson was looking for a replacement to coach his second unit.

 

Orwell Moore and C.M. Olson were cut from the same cloth. Bold. Fearless. Loyal. Moore was a country boy through and through. He saw his future in teaching and coaching, and maybe a little farming on the side. His new bride, Lorene, played basketball for him in high school. Years later, Orwell recalled how excited Lorene was when he received the offer from Olson to coach the Famous Red Heads. Her approval was all he needed to make the life-changing decision. Orwell coached and managed one Red Heads team or another for the next seven seasons. Lorene played several seasons scoring more than 35,000 points for her career.

 

Olson always was a good judge of character. He handpicked his rosters locating talent in the most remote places. Still, there was no way Olson could have known the impact his latest find would have on the All American Red Heads the day he called to steal the young coach away from his post at Caraway High School. Olson trusted Moore. In 1954, when Olson finally retired from the game, he handed the reins over to the only person he felt would carry the torch of his beloved Red Heads. Basketball was losing one of its greatest minds but gaining one of its greatest characters. Orwell Moore loved the Red Heads dearly. For the next thirty years, he would pour his heart and soul into keeping the All American Red Heads on top of the basketball world.

 

The All American Red Heads continued to log more and more miles each passing year under the direction of Orwell Moore. He understood the importance of introducing his traveling road show to new audiences. He was unflappable in his desire to make the Red Heads the most popular attraction in basketball. He entertained the idea of touring Europe, Asia, Australia, and Hawaii. In any given season, Moore scheduled upwards of 200 games in at least forty states in six months. His basketball nomads played “anyone, anytime, anywhere” carrying on the tradition that lasted nearly fifty seasons. The schedule was always demanding and each passing year new towns and new teams were added to the slate. Moore’s Top of the World tours in Alaska – five in all – aptly described the general feeling around the Red Heads family.

 

Coach Moore spent most of his professional life advocating for equality in sports. The All American Red Heads broke down barriers, challenged the social and cultural traditions of an entire nation, and generally opened doors to women that were previously closed in the world of sports. In the summer of 1972, the United States Congress passed into law Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Commonly referred to as Title IX, this seemingly innocent piece of legislation has been at the heart of the debate over men’s and women’s athletics ever since. Title IX signaled a new era in women’s sports as equal access to scholarships, sports facilities, and athletic equipment was mandated in public education. The effect was almost immediate and the gains tremendous. Sports programs for women increased at all levels as Title IX legislation elevated the quality of the athletic experience.

 

The All American Red Heads were pioneers in the crusade for equality, setting the table but unable to eat with those who followed. The first 36 years of operation served notice that women were part and parcel to the world of sports. Ironically, the revolution that Orwell Moore, C.M. Olson before him, and all of the Red Heads over the years worked so hard for eventually led to the demise of the very agent of that change. The Red Heads continued to play basketball until 1986, but the years following the passage of Title IX failed to capture the magic of those first four decades. Under a separate set of circumstances and for different reasons, the All American Red Heads ultimately suffered the same fate as the Terrible Swedes fifty years prior when Orwell Moore ended the reign of the longest-running women’s professional sports team in history.

 

The All American Red Heads played basketball for the better part of six decades. Only the Harlem Globetrotters compare favorably in terms of games and miles and years. The Red Heads appeared in magazines such as Life,LookColliers, and Sports Illustrated. They shared the stage with Ed Sullivan and Art Linkletter and played before Hollywood A-listers like Marlene Dietrick, Bing Crosby, and the incomparable Fred Astaire. In a span of 50 years, presidents came and went including FDR, JFK, and LBJ. Elvis Presley and the Beatles made young girls twist and shout. Neil Armstrong made one giant leap for mankind. Women like Betty Friedan and Billie Jean King fought for equal rights. The All American Red Heads, pioneers in the same crusade, played basketball for a greater cause.

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1940s team after WWII

Page 2 of the Story - click here

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                       Regarding John Molina's work...

"It is one of the finest collections on women's basketball," said Michael Brooslin, museum curator at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield (Hartford Courant May 20, 2002).

 

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