All American Red Heads 1936-1986

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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

 
 
 
Coming in the fall of 2014.  The official book on the All American Red Heads.  The first women's basketball team ever inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketballl Hall of Fame

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

**Video on All American Red Heads - Click Here

Copyright 2014 John A. Molina.   All rights reserved Warning!

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The owner of the contents herein will pursue all legal remedies available for those not obtaining proper authorization.

In the event that a copy of any of the contents of this website is desired, or you wish to obtain a copy of any of the photographs depicted herein, permission may be obtained by emailing the link below.

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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.

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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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