Former Lady 'Jacket to be inducted into basketball hall of fame along with the All American Red Heads“This wasn’t a big outfit. This was a mom-and-pop outfit,” said former Red Heads player Diane Martinson, a 1975 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Superior who currently lives in Lonsdale, Minn.
By: By Bob Sansevere, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Superior Telegram
Ever hear of the All American Red Heads? If you have, you know a bit more basketball history than most. The Red Heads were the first professional women’s basketball team. Known as the female version of the Harlem Globetrotters, the Red Heads barnstormed across America for 50 years (1936-1986). They would be buried deep in history if not for the April 2 announcement: The Red Heads will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
“This wasn’t a big outfit. This was a mom-and-pop outfit,” said former Red Heads player Diane Martinson, a 1975 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Superior who currently lives in Lonsdale, Minn. “Ole Olson started it in 1936 and had it for 10 years. It was called the Red Heads because his wife had a beauty parlor and they were promoting the beauty parlor and the team. Back then, it was all marketing. We always wore makeup, always wore dress clothes. If you went on a date, it always was a double date.”
The team will be inducted into the Hall of Fame tonight, Sept. 7.
“With friends and family, they expect about 500 of us for the induction ceremony,” said Martinson, who was with the Red Heads for the 1975-76 season and played in 44 states over a seven-month period.
I talked to Martinson about her experiences with the Red Heads.
BS: How did you feel when you heard the Red Heads were being inducted into the Hall of Fame?
DM: It was amazing. We’ve been on a mission the last couple of weeks. I went to the Big East championships for women. We were there promoting ourselves and making people aware the team was established in 1936 and went to 1986. It’s amazing how many people didn’t realize this team even existed. When you have 15,000 basketball fans looking at your exhibit, you get known.
BS: You played for the Red Heads during the 1975-76 season. Why not longer?
DM: That was a time of the Minnesota Fillies, too. I left the Red Heads, and the opportunity arose to sign with the Fillies (of the Women’s Professional Basketball League, or WBL). I tried out for the Fillies and made it and ended up breaking three toes.
BS: Was that the end of your professional career?
DM: Yes. I did some substitute teaching at Farmington, hoping to slide in there. But it never panned out. I ended up at the Ford plant for a couple of years. I started on the line and ended in quality control.
BS: Girls and women’s basketball wasn’t as popular when you played as it is now, was it?
DM: When I was growing up, a lot of kids didn’t know much about basketball. I learned from watching men play on TV and seeing a few moves. I grew up playing six on a side in high school.
BS: I came across some information on the Red Heads website saying they won about 80 percent of their games against men’s teams. What type of teams?
DM: They were ex-ballplayers, ex-coaches. When we traveled, it was a moneymaker, kind of like the Globetrotters. We’d split the gate. We’d rather play people who knew what they were doing. If they didn’t, it got a little rough and crazy.
BS: Were the Red Heads sort of a basketball version of the women’s baseball teams in “A League of Their Own”?
DM: I would consider us pioneers. We played men’s rules only and showed women could compete at a high level and be successful. It opened the doors for colleges and the WNBA.
BS: What is the reaction when you say you played for the All American Red Heads? Do you get quizzical looks?
DM: It’s still on the back burner. You’re still struggling for a little recognition for what you’ve done.
BS: Were players expected to dye their hair red?
DM: It was an issue. If you were going to play, you had to have red hair. That was probably the foremost thing.
BS: What was the true color of your hair?
DM: Red. I had to add a little color, but I had the freckles to go with it. I was one of the few originals.
BS: There was no WNBA in the 1970s. If you wanted to play basketball, how many options were there for women in the ‘70s?
DM: The WBL only lasted two years. After college, there was nothing unless you were going to make the Olympic team or national team, and you had to be really, really good.
BS: What are you doing nowadays?
DM: I’ve worked in the Northfield school system for 30 years. I’ve worked with the basketball program. I’ve coached and played softball for 18 to 20 years. Right now, I’m working at McQuay International in Faribault. We make commercial heating and air.
Bob Sansevere can be reached at email@example.com.
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