Enterprise Dispatch, Jan. 2, 2006
Girls basketball, 1904: Cokato vs. Dassel
By Kristen Miller
Cokato girls basketball used to be a thing of the past. Before the Dassel-Cokato Chargers, there were the Cokato Cardinals and the Dassel Vikings.
The first game for the Cokato Cardinals was played in 1904 against Dassel. It soon came to a halt in 1931 and wasn’t played for another 40 years.
Dan Conrad has ties to the Stockholm community with his grandfather, Rev. Swan Johnson of Stockholm. While writing a biography of his ancestors, he learned that his two aunts, Ruby and Ruth Johnson played Cokato basketball in 1918 and 1925.
He began reading about the history of girls basketball including the book, “Daughters of the Game,” co-authored by Marian Johnson and Dorothy McIntyre. The book explores the era of Minnesota girls high school and college basketball from 1892 to 1942.
Conrad was curious as to why the authors didn’t explore the Cokato basketball team since they had some high-scoring games, so he took it upon himself to learn about it.
Conrad is currently writing an essay for the Cokato Museum titled, “Why Did They Take That Game Away From Us?” It’s an article about Cokato High School girls basketball between its start in 1904 to the end of its era in 1931.
The name of the article was an actual comment made by Lorraine Lee who played for the Cokato Cardinals but the game ended before she got to play varsity. She now has Alzheimer’s and couldn’t remember much about the time, but she did remember her feelings, Conrad said. When he asked her about Cokato basketball, all she said was, “Why did they take that game away from us?”
At first, Conrad didn’t even know that girls’ basketball existed that early on, he said, and after reading several Cokato Enterprise newspapers he saw that Mildred Olsen (see photo) of Cokato had scored 40 of the 49 points of a game played against Montrose in the 1923 and 1924 season. Such a high scoring game was unlikely at the time, he said, considering how it was played.
Another Cokato player he interviewed was Adalyn Wright.
She is still living in Cokato and remembers when she played basketball beginning in seventh grade until she graduated in 1926.
The captain of her team at the time was Ruby Johnson, Conrad’s aunt. They would practice every night at 7 p.m. and have games on Fridays at the town hall “which was crude” she said. But later on, they were able to play in the new gym at school.
She remembers taking the train for games played in Atwater, she said and playing at the old town hall in Howard Lake.
The girls were responsible for buying their own bloomers and shoes, but the school would provide the jerseys, she said.
“I liked everything about basketball, it was a lot of work, but it was good exercise,” Wright said.
During that period of time, it was unwomanly to play competitive sports, Conrad explained. But the women took it upon themselves to begin the first interscholastic sport of basketball.
Girls basketball was more of a social event back then. Conrad said. After the games there would be a party with games either at the school or at someone’s house. It had been a good way to meet boys, he explained.
Girls basketball was played differently from boys and from how it’s played today.
The game was played six-on-six instead of five-on-five like the boys now. They were not allowed to run the full length of the court, that was too “unwomanly,” according to Cokato Museum Director Mike Worcester.
The similarity between girls and boys basketball at that time was that they would jump the ball after every score. This was part of the reason the games were low scoring.
The invention of basketball
The game was invented by Canadian James Naismith in 1891 while he was in Springfield, Mass.
Naismith was working at the YMCA Training School and wanted a game that relied more on skill than strength. He also wanted a game that could be played indoors during the winter months.
The game was to be played with a ball similar to a soccer ball. Players could not run with the ball, they had to throw it from where they caught it.
In 1892, Senda Berenson Abbott introduced the game to the women of Smith College in Northampton, Mass.
Since it was thought that the game “could be too physically damaging to women,” Abbott made some changes to the game.
For example, the court was divided in three sections and a player had an assigned area. Players were could not snatch or batt the ball from another player’s hands.
Also, players could not hold the ball more than three seconds nor dribble more than three times.