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Fifty years before Title IX: Lilly High School had a girls basketball team



IDs: First row, Adele Conrad, Sal Decker, Blandina Krumenaker.

Second row, Marg Leap, faculty; Helen Brown, faculty.

Third row: Mary Dunn, unidentified, Coletta Bradley


… photo taken on a tragic night in history

Many followers of women’s basketball trace its roots back to the 1970s when colleges first started teams after Title IX was signed.


That is not the case. In fact, in Pennsylvania, high schools fielded teams in the 1920s. The game was much different in those years. Six players were on each team, and only three could play in each court. In short, those in the front court could not go back, and vice versa.


Then, girls sports fizzled out. When I graduated from high school in the mid-60s, girls sports did not exist, basketball or anything else. Experts can give no one reason that the sport, which actually started in some colleges in the 1890s, did not continue. Some people believed that it was unladylike to play basketball. Others than it was immoral, disgusting, a temptation to men. Seriously.


The truth is that women’s basketball did not become an Olympic sport until 1976 after many colleges in the U.S. started producing teams that would compete on a national level. So, the evolution of the game has been somewhat slow and tentative.


However, one school did have a team in the mid-1920s in my hometown of Lilly, though I was not born until decades later and cannot report on this first-hand. The Lilly High School girl’s team was formed in the 1920s, probably 1923, and it had its first team picture — reproduced below — on an infamous night in its town’s history. Here is that story as best I can tell it from bits and pieces I heard over the years.


Lilly High School Girl’s Basketball Team


On the team photo of the 1923-24 team, taken in Ebensburg, only six players are pictured. They may have had more, but only four made the trip. From what my dad, who was a senior in high school and played for the boy’s team, said, their top player was Sal Decker, who was very quick and an outstanding defensive player. She was a senior and is pictured holding the ball.


Other members of the team are Blandina Krumenaker, Mary Dunn, Collette Bradley, Adele Conrad, Agnes Carruthers, and another member who my aunt was not able to identify. The faculty members who are on the picture are one whom some may remember, Miss Marg Leap, and another, Miss Helen Brown, who eventually, I think, married one of the members of the boy’s team, “Spike” Smith.


Picture taken on April 5, 1924


One of the members is an aunt of mine, Adele Conrad, who was my dad’s sister. According to the youngest in the Conrad family, Helen, who was just nine-years-old that night, the team went to Ebensburg on Saturday night, April 5, 1924, to have a photographer take the team photo. That night was a horrific one for the Conrad family and for many others.


On that night, the Ku Klux Klan invaded Lilly by training, burning two crosses before returning to the train station about two and a half hours later. When they did, shooting broke out, and Phil Conrad, then 24, was killed in the cross-fire. The other two killed were Frank Miesko and Cloyd Paul.


One person cleared because of the photo


According to Aunt Helen, the man who drove the team to Ebensburg for the photo, or at least one who drove them, was Frank Decker, who was the older brother of Sal. The Deckers were Protestants, and after the KKK riot, which pitted Catholics against Protestants, Frank Decker was accused by some of being one of the KKK members. However, the members of the team attested to the fact that Frank brought the team back to town and watched the cross burnings from the Carruthers home on Jones Street, just below Piper’s Field, where the demonstration took place.


According to Helen, that cleared Frank since many Catholics were accusing every Protestant of being complicit in the KKK invasion.


The team


I do not know anything more about the team. They probably played by the rules that allowed six girls to play at one time, with only three in each court. I do not know the record. I do have a photo of the 1927 team that I will post later. In it are two others not on the 1924 picture, Verna Robine and Gladys Cooney-Leahey. Since my aunt was young at the time, she did not know everyone on those teams.


If anyone can name any of the others in the photos, please let me know either via Facebook, Twitter, or in the comments section of this blog.

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