In 1947, many Greenbrier Valley residents may have seen the first women’s professional basketball team at the Ronceverte Armory. Olson’s Great American Red Heads played the local American Legion men’s team by men’s rules. Tickets cost $1.12. While there doesn’t seem to be a record of the score, it is quite likely the men were beaten.
Connie Mack (“Ole”) Olson started the Red Heads in 1936 in Cassville, Missouri. As a gimmick to promote his wife’s five hair salons, he recruited players who were naturally red headed or women willing to dye their hair bright red. They wore shinny satin uniforms and traveled all over the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the Philippines for six decades. They played about 200 games a season and won 70% of them. At one point, there were three teams, one of which was an African-American team named the Harlem Chics (later changed to the Harlem Queens). The first half of their games were played seriously, but the second half was full of antics and fancy ball handling, making the Red Heads comparable to the Harlem Globe Trotters.
A stand-out player was Lorene Moore who scored 35,426 points in over 2,000 games.
Beginning at a time when women’s competitive sports were barely recognized, the Red Heads showed the country that women were equally capable as men to play basketball. In tribute to their contribution to basketball, the Red Heads were inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012. The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) was founded in 1997, sixty-one years after the Red Heads played their first game.
Photo: Courtesy of the Barry County (Missouri) Museum.
Sources: Barry County Museum, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, The Greenbrier Independent