Martinson, All-American Red Heads inducted into Basketball Hall of FameFormer Yellowjacket played for Red Heads during 1976-77 season
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
From her home in Lonsdale, Minn. on Monday, Diane Martinson reminisced about playing basketball in the years before Title IX. She was a student at the University of Wisconsin-Superior when the legislation was passed in 1972.
“I have a lot of fond memories of Superior,” said Martinson, who graduated from UWS in 1975. “It was a good place — a small school and not intimidating.”
But, as was typical for the time, women’s sports at UWS were still developing.
Martinson remembers traveling to volleyball matches in a station wagon. The athletes wore hot polyester uniforms for their matches; and when the season ended, they washed the uniforms and handed them over to the women’s basketball team.
Most of the time, a player just kept her uniform and suited up for the next season.
“The same 15 girls went from sport to sport,” Martinson said, laughing.
Martinson learned to play 5-on-5 basketball with the Yellowjackets (she’d played by 6-man ball growing up in Indiana) and honed her skills as an inside player. When she graduated in 1975, she decided to keep playing the sport she loved.
The All-American Red Heads offered Martinson the opportunity to keep playing, and she spent the 1976-77 season traveling the country with the team.
Friday in Springfield, Mass., Martinson was one of 65 former Read Heads to attend this year’s induction ceremony at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. The All-American Red Heads played from 1936-1986 and were trailblazers in women’s basketball. They changed perceptions as the women traveled the country and faced off against men’s teams, playing by men’s rules.
More than two dozen women have earned a place in the Basketball Hall of Fame — beginning with coach Margaret Wade, Senda Berenson Abbott and Bertha Teague in 1985 — but the All-American Red Heads are the first women’s team to gain inclusion.
The Red Heads were also inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011.
“This is for all of the women who have helped in the journey,” Martinson said. “There’s more to this than going into the Hall of Fame; it’s historic.”
Also among the 2012 Basketball Hall of Fame inductees were five-time NBA All-Star Reggie Miller, seven-time All-Star Chet Walker and Don Nelson — the winningest coach in NBA history.
The Red Heads stood side by side with the NBA greats during the Hall of Fame festivities, and Martison called the experience humbling. When it came time for the Red Heads to accept their honor, she made a point to stand near the back of the group.
“I came in last because if it wasn’t for those ladies before me, I couldn’t have played,” Martinson said. “For me it’s the history; it’s about the journey.”
At the Hall of Fame ceremony, Martinson shared stories with other former players. They laughed about their old uniforms — a red, white and blue ensemble with short shorts — and mused about how the sport has changed in just a few decades.
Martinson enjoyed hearing from the women who had played before her.
Red Heads from the 1950s told of their games played in cramped gymnasiums. Instead of sidelines, walls served as court boundaries. Spectators watched from a balcony above. Chewing tobacco was still popular then, so the Red Heads had to dodge spittle from the balcony as they played.
“I never met some of these people, and we’re like sisters,” Martinson said. “We’re cut from the same cloth.”
Women’s basketball was still a novel idea when Martinson joined the All-American Red Heads in 1976, and men and women played by different rules. The Red Heads faced men on their terms. The only stipulation was that both teams had to play man-to-man defense.
The Red Heads worked hard to win their games, but their job entailed more than just playing basketball; they were also expected to entertain.
Showmanship was part of the business Martinson said, and she likened the Red Heads to the Harlem Globetrotters.
The women put on halftime shows and showed off their dribbling skills during games. They’d throw up trick shots to amuse the crowds, and sometimes the Red Heads planned stunts with opponents before a game.
“For the most part, I think they were impressed we played the game so well,” Martinson said.
The Red Heads won about 80 percent of their games, Martinson said, and most men seemed to enjoy the fun. Some of them, however, were determined not to be beaten by women . . . and they weren’t afraid to play rough.
During her time with the Red Heads, Martinson saw numerous injuries. One teammate had her nose broken during play, and Martinson suffered two broken ribs at a game in Oklahoma.
But injuries didn’t keep the players off the court.
“There was no time out or ice patches,” Martinson said. “You played.”
When Martinson traveled with the Red Heads in the 1976-77 season, the team played in 44 states over seven months.
“It wasn’t easy touring like that on the road,” Martinson said. “We played one game a day, sometimes two.”
Martinson earned $300 a month and received a daily stipend to pay for meals and lodging. Players did their laundry — which included washing their own uniforms — whenever they could find time. If their vehicle needed repairs, they did that too.
The team didn’t stay in the best motels, and sometimes the women would become homesick during their long road trips; but the journey remained enjoyable thanks to the camaraderie of the women.
At the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, that connection between players remained, and Martinson hopes it will extend into the future as women’s basketball continues to move forward.
“We’re still fighting the fight, but we’re opening the door,” Martinson said. “This is for all of the women.”