It is not often that we here at the LCL venture outside of our coverage area in Linn County. But when a good story walks in the front door of the office, you just can’t say no. Such was what happened to me a couple of weeks ago when Mary Alice Carpenter stood at the counter, looking to tell me a story.
Mary Alice Carpenter is a Basketball Hall of Fame player, who played for the All-American Red Heads in 1967. In 2012, Carpenter, along with the Red Heads, were inducted to the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. The ring she wore on her finger that day spoke volumes of the accomplishments of not only her, but her team.
The All-American Red Heads, and yes Carpenter is a red head, were among the first professional women’s basketball teams in the United States. The Red Heads were formed in 1936, 36 years before the implementation of Title IX, and 60 years before the formation of the WNBA.
The Red Heads traveled around in what was called “barnstorming” games. The Red Heads would play men’s teams in exhibition games, with varying results.
“I had to have played hundreds of games,” said Carpenter. “It was a neat experience. Seeing a lot of territory where we went and playing against a variety of mens teams was a huge highlight for me. Some of the teams tried to win on their own, and some others would let the Red Heads do their thing, then they couldn’t catch up to us.”
In their day, sportswriters often referred to the Red Heads as the female Harlem Globetrotter’s. This comparison does not sit well with Carpenter.
“I don’t agree with the idea that we were a female version of the Harlem Globetrotters,” said Carpenter. “We didn’t take our own team to play against, like they did. At that time, up until they quit playing in the eighties, we could get the best players. Colleges weren’t offering women scholarships to play basketball.”
With nearly 200 games a year, the Red Heads had a number of teams on the road at any given time. They were viewed as a side show act, but often beat the men at their own game. The distinction of their accomplishments earned them a bid to the Hall of Fame in 2010.