March 5, 2011

Doug Hawley: Given a chance, female athletes run with opportunity


— While watching the powerful Dalton High girls basketball team in a recent state tournament game, the difference from decades ago struck several observers.

“Most of these girls who play today can’t believe hearing of the old days, when girls played half-court,” one man said. “It was accepted at that time.”

For the uninformed, each team had six players as opposed to the five today. That included three forwards who did all of the shooting and three guards to defend.

Players were not allowed to go past their respective half of the court. Our “fairer sex” supposedly did not have enough stamina to run the full court. This continued into the early 1970s in Georgia. Then came the rover system, where one girl from each side could play full-court.

After full-court girls basketball got clearance for all players, some of the old-timey coaches moaned, “Oh, the big girls can’t get up and down the court.” Once they got into shape, that myth quickly was destroyed.

My introduction to females running the full court actually came much earlier. During my South Georgia school days in the 1950s, the Arkansas Travelers brought their traveling basketball show to Cordele. These women, all about 6 feet tall, had no problems going the 94 feet.

The Travelers did not need to act like the Globetrotters did against their foil, the Generals. On their own merits, the Travelers nearly always beat local men’s teams.

Those young women, even that many years ago, reminded me of the type of athletes you now see gracing major college female basketball programs today such as Tennessee, UConn and Georgia.

Hazel Walker, the playing coach of the Travelers, might be the best free throw shooter I have ever observed. In a halftime exhibition, she netted nothing except nylon while sitting in a chair, sitting on the floor — and even connecting blindfolded from the gratis stripe 15 feet away.

Although the Northwest Invitational was postponed Saturday because of weather, meets like that one showcase today’s high school girls competing in lots of running events, including races of one and two miles. They also run cross country races in the fall, typically 3.1 miles.

During my generation, there was no girls’ track. Hey, too strenuous!

Even on the international scene until the 1980s, the summer Olympics had no foot races farther than 800 meters (half mile) for the females. At the Los Angeles games in 1984, the first female Olympic marathon occurred. Joan Benoit of the United States claimed the coveted gold medal in 2 hours, 24 minutes and 52 seconds. She averaged a robust 5:31 per mile for the 26.2-mile jaunt.

Females have continued to excel on the world marathon stage since that time.

In our section of the country, many females finished ahead of me at the recent Scenic City Half Marathon in Chattanooga — which once would have bothered me, but not now. That 13.1-mile race started and ended at Finley Stadium, where the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga plays football.

n Carpet Capital Running Club’s first Runner of the Year points event will be the St. Patty’s Day two-mile race on the day of the holiday, a Thursday this year. It starts and ends at First Presbyterian Church of Dalton.

Originally, the first of 14 points races was to be the Coulter Hampton Run to Remember in Fairmount, which was slated for March 14. However, this race is now being rescheduled.



Doug Hawley has been a competitive distance runner for more than 50 years. You can write to him at dhawley@optilink.us.