In early December 1891, physical education teacher James Naismith invented a new game to entertain the school’s athletes during the winter season. With an ordinary soccer ball, Naismith assembled his class of 18 young men, appointed captains of two nine-player teams, and introduced them to the game of Basket Ball (then two words). Naismith, who had outlined 13 original rules, dispatched the school janitor to find two boxes to be fastened to the balcony railing at opposite sides of the gymnasium, where they would serve as goals. The school janitor, however, only found two half-bushel peach baskets, and the game was played with these. The peach basket was later replaced with a metal rim and a net hanging below, and in 1906 people began opening the netting to let the ball fall through.
In 1892 Lithuanian-born physical education teacher Senda Berenson Abbott introduced basketball to women, at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. Because it was believed that Naismith’s version of the game could be too physically demanding for women, Berenson Abbott made the following changes to the game: The court was divided into three equal sections, with players required to stay in an assigned area; players were prohibited from snatching or batting the ball from the hands of another player; and players were prohibited from holding the ball for longer than three seconds and from dribbling the ball more than three times. In 1938 the three-court game was changed to a two-court game, with six players on a team (three on offense and three on defense). Players were still prohibited from straying from their assigned areas.
Dramatic changes in women’s basketball occurred in the late 1960s. In 1966 unlimited dribbling became legal, and in 1969 the first five-player full-court game was played. The five-player form became the official game in women’s basketball and in 1971 the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) was founded, offering a national college basketball tournament for women.
The women’s game gained strength in the late 1970s after a law called Title IX was increasingly enforced, helping strengthen women’s basketball programs. The law, passed as part of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender in educational institutions receiving federal aid, meaning that women’s athletic programs had to be treated as equal to men’s programs.
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