The task at the top of the Read Harder Challenge list is “Read a book about sports.” I was excited to take that one on, as I love good sports writing. I’ve written about the World Champion 1986 New York Mets, and my love for the team, on this blog.
(Yes, I prophesied in that post the Mets would win the World Series in 2016, which didn’t happen. There’s always next year! Baseball season starts again Sunday April 2.)
I planned to read a book about soccer for this particular task. Then I came across Dust Bowl Girls: The Inspiring Story of the Team that Barnstormed Its Way to Basketball Glory by Lydia Reeder. The jacket copy describes this book as “The Boys in the Boat meets A League of Their Own…”, one of my all-time favorite movies, and the soccer book fell out of favor.
Dust Bowl Girls: The Inspiring Story of the Team That Barnstormed Its Way to Basketball Glory, by Lydia Reeder
Dust Bowl Girls is about the Oklahoma Presbyterian College Cardinals girl’s basketball team and their Cinderella 1931-1932 season. The author of the book, Lydia Reeder, is the grandniece of the team’s coach, Sam Babb, and committed the team’s fascinating story to print using interviews with the surviving Cardinals or their descendants and friends, the athletes’ personal scrapbooks where they kept newspaper clippings and other souvenirs, and other sources.
Coach Babb recruited high school girls, many from farms in rural Oklahoma, to play for the OPC Cardinals basketball team with offers of full scholarships. These were amazing opportunities for the girls, as Oklahoma farmers were hit hard by the Great Depression and their families couldn’t afford to send them to college. It was also a tough choice for some of the girls, whose lives were centered around the farm and hadn’t spent much time away from their families.
The stories of the individual Cardinals were interesting to read. Lucille Thurman was 16 when she joined the team and often felt out of her league. Doll Harris was the team captain and a talented basketball player despite her five feet four inch stature. Lera and Vera Dunford were six feet tall, red-haired identical twins and always together. Juanita Park, who went by “Bo-Peep”, served the team as a guard and a driver–her father taught her to drive at age 11.
Dust Bowl Girls is enriched by the history of Oklahoma; depictions of life on a farm; the Great Depression and its impact on the state; and the Native American populations that live in Oklahoma. Durant, where the team was based, is the capital of the Choctaw nation.
I learned a lot about the evolution of basketball, which was a young game in 1931. The matchups were six-on-six, the ball could only be dribbled once and below the knees, and players were fixed to certain sections of the court. It was so different from how I learned to play basketball at the Bayonne PAL, and how basketball is played now.
The book documents the outrage about girls playing basketball, which was seen as a less feminine sport at the time. Some believed that a woman’s uterus would simply fall out of her body as a result of too much jumping. La Homa Lassiter, a member of the Cardinals, asked Coach Babb if playing basketball will make her less of a lady.
The chapters depicting the Cardinals at play are riveting to read, although it can be a little confusing to visualize the game play as the 1930s basketball rules are so different. Reeder captures the tension on the court when the Cardinals are down, and the joy when they win. The Cardinals faced a team that included Babe Didrickson, the most famous female athlete of that time, which were exciting games.
I enjoyed following the Cardinals season, its ups and downs, and learning about these amazing athletes. Seeing how basketball has evolved was fascinating, too. Baseball still has my heart, but I learned so much about basketball in this book.
This completes the second task of my Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. My post about he third task will be up soon.
What is your favorite book about sports? Let me know in the comments.
-Written by Kerry Weinstein, Reference Librarian