Women Who Made Basketball History

On Sunday, October 29 at 2 p.m. three women from Independence County will tell their stories in Old Independence Regional Museum. They were part of the legendary women’s traveling professional basketball team known as the “Red Heads.” Mickey Gay is from Pleasant Plains, Sandra Mann lives in Locust Grove, and Glenda Ledbetter is from Floral.

Sandy Mann remembers, “I was in the seventh grade when the All American Red Heads came to our school in Desha and played. I went home from the game and told my parents that if they would put up a basketball goal in the backyard and get me a basketball, I was going to play with the Red Heads. They did, and I did.”

During several years in the 1960s Mann, Gay, and Ledbetter were part of the Red Heads, one of the nation’s first professional women’s basketball teams, barnstorming small towns across the U.S. and into Canada and Alaska. They traveled in inexpensive vehicles, planes and ships, were up half the night hand-washing their clothes, doing their dyed red hair.

Glenda Ledbetter said that playing basketball was only part of the job. “We were there to entertain, so we had dribbling, ball handling routines, and trick shots such as the Spin Shot, Knee Shot, Head Shot, Flip Shot and a Piggy Back Shot.  At halftime, I would do the Dipsy Doodle. Holding the basketball with both hands, I would bend over, throw the ball back through my legs up into the basket.”

The Red Heads played exclusively against men’s local teams, using the men’s rules, and routinely beat them. Once they won 96 games in 96 days, with three days off and three doubleheaders. Under Coach Orwell Moore the team played 2,116 games, winning 1,813 and losing 303.

In 2012, a great day arrived for the many Red Heads. The New York Times covered the story when the All American Red Heads, which had started in 1936 and disbanded in 1986, were officially inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Massachusetts.   
Museum Curator Twyla Gill Wright said, “We hope to have a good crowd out for the program so people can enjoy hearing these women tell about their days on the court, and to show our pride in these local athletes from days gone by.” The work they did as barnstorming women helped break new ground for their gender and pave the way for the thriving industry that is women’s basketball today.  

A book has just been published about the Red Heads, including sections featuring these three women, and many others. Barnstorming America, Stories from the Pioneers of Women’s Basketball by John Molina is now available on line.

The program will be free and open to the public.  Normal museum hours are: Tuesday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Admission is $3.00 for adults, $2.00 for seniors and $1.00 for children.  The museum is located at 380 South 9th street, between Boswell and Vine Streets in Batesville.  

Old Independence is a regional museum serving a 12-county area: Baxter, Cleburne, Fulton, Independence, Izard, Jackson, Marion, Poinsett, Sharp, Stone, White, and Woodruff.  Parts of these present-day counties comprised the original Independence County in 1820’s Arkansas territory.
Twyla Wright – Curator of Exhibits

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