The Growth Of Girls Sports In Chatham-Kent

Girls’ sports have ‘come a long way baby’ to use the Virginia Slims cigarette slogan of 1968. Today girls’ sports are on an equal footing with boys’ sports. This was not always the case. For example in the early years (1890s) of local high school track and field, girls could only watch.

At the Field Days of Sport at CCI from 1900 to 1909 girls could play basketball and do calisthenics. At the 1911 CCI Field Day girls played tennis, threw a Basket Ball for distance, kicked a soccer ball for distance, had a sack race and a three-legged race and had a 50 yd. run while boys did traditional track events such as 220 yd run, pole vault, triple jump, high jump, hurdles, and shot put. It was not until the 1940s that girls were permitted to run even 75 yds.

For decades the boys had the best coaches, the best gyms, better gym times and more funding. Women coached all girls’ teams until the 1970s a period of 50 years.

By the 1920s and 1930s high school girls were playing soccer, track and basketball. In fact, locally, girls played basketball before boys. In the 1940s girls in high schools at Merlin, Comber, Tilbury and Wheatley played in a league that featured outdoor games. This should not be a total shock since men’s basketball in the 1936 Olympics was played outdoors.

Girls’ sports were slow to develop for two reasons: The belief that sports competition could cause adverse physical and psychological effects on girls because it was too robust and too unladylike. As a result girls played 6 vs. 6 in basketball and no player could move from one end of the floor to the other.

This style of basketball lasted from the 1920s until the mid-1960s. In addition it was not until recent years that girls were permitted to run longer distances in track and field. The second reason came from the women coaches themselves who believed more in intramural sports than in extracurricular ones.

They wanted all girls to participate rather than have only a few take part in order to achieve excellence.

Girls’ sports followed boys’ sports at the OFSAA level by sometimes decades again because the women coaches did not believe strongly in OFSAA participation. For example boys first played OFSAA basketball in 1948-49 while 1974-75 was the first year for girls. Boys’ had OFSAA track in 1953-54 while it was not until 1971-72 when girls could go to OFSAA track. Girls’ events in track came years after those of boys.

Boys ran the two-mile run at OFSAA in 1953-54 but girls did not run this far at OFSAA until 1975-76. Boys first did pole vault at OFSAA in 1953-54, girls in 1995-96.

In recent years many girls have proven their sporting prowess by earning U.S. scholarships in volleyball. If one were to list the top all-around high school female athletes in the last fifty years four who would certainly make the list would be: Cheryl Tooshkenig (WDSS), Elaine Hinnegan (CCI), Kim Braithwaite (CKSS), Jill Finlin (MDHS) and Amanda Anderson (CKSS). Had she had more opportunities in the 1940s, Beryl Nurse (CCI) would also be deserving of mention.

The above selections is an excerpt from local sports historian Larry Lahey’s book, ‘The History of Kent County High School Sports’, which is available at two locations in Chatham, Lenover Quality Meats on Park Ave. East, and the Instant Print Shoppe on Richmond Street.

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