Delving into some pleasantly surprising Chatham County athletic history

BY DON BEANE, News + Record Staff
Posted 5/3/19

Basketball certainly is in the rear view mirror and the spring season is in full swing. But I would be remiss not discussing what I thought was a nice discovery back during the start of the …

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Delving into some pleasantly surprising Chatham County athletic history

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Posted

Basketball certainly is in the rear view mirror and the spring season is in full swing. But I would be remiss not discussing what I thought was a nice discovery back during the start of the year.

Now, let me first state that some people in Chatham County surely know this, but many I’ve talked to haven’t heard, and its been a topic that has made for some interesting conversations.

It’s common knowledge women’s sports in the United States lagged behind greatly throughout history especially before Title IX was written and signed into law by Republican President Richard Nixon in 1972.

Since that time, sports in America for females has steadily increased into the success story that it is today.

Back in the winter I was researching a story on the Woods Charter girls basketball team, or lack thereof, and six girls having to make the decision to play with the boys team. Three did. The story never took off for various reasons which I respectfully accepted.

But in my research to find out if this was the first co-ed boys team ever in the county, I discovered it undoubtedly was.

Now keep in mind, I’ve heard Chatham County called many things from us being yahoos to this and that, especially on the west side. And that’s not easy for me to swallow because I love being an American, from the south, from North Carolina, from Chatham County, from West Chatham, and this area - period. I would not trade it for any place in the world. Simple as that when it comes to me.

So to say it made me proud to find out that girls in Chatham County were playing high school basketball before 1972 is an understatement. But it didn’t stop there as I continued to dig in The Chatham News/Record archives, and my research took me back to the 60’s, then the 50’s, then the 40’s.

All of a sudden I was seeing something flash before my very eyes that I never expected — girls basketball while World War II was going on.

My curiosity was piqued by this point, so I got on the phone to talk to one of the wisest historians of Chatham County athletics that I could think of: Hall-of-Famer Ronald Scott, who played and coached it all in the Chatham Central area.

I didn’t get Coach Scott right away, so I immediately called Coach Gerald Binkley to get his input, then Coach John Phillips.

The information I got from those two state champion coaches was fascinating, as is most conversations with them about sports in general.

Then in speaking with Coach Scott, the history of girl’s basketball in Chatham County was really brought to light. From finding out that some local high schools competed in a yearly state tournament down in the Sandhills area to basketball games being played on outside courts and in gym auditoriums, it really was a wonderfully informative conversation with a man who has forgotten more sports in Chatham County than I know.

In the end, I personally dated girls basketball games in The Chatham News/Record all the way back to the early 1920’s.

Coach Scott and I came up with a consensus belief that girl’s basketball likely start around 1915-1916.

To put this in perspective, World War I was just getting into full swing, the Titanic had sunk less than five years before, and the NCHSAA didn’t hold its first state championships for girls basketball, combined at that, until 56 years later in 1972.

Now, roughly 103 years removed, well over a decade, it’s exciting to me that this county was undoubtedly at the forefront in girl’s basketball in the state of North Carolina, and one would think, the nation as mainly collegiate teams were forming back in those years. In fact, the first public women’s basketball game in the South was played at a men’s only club, the Southern Athletic Club, in 1895, and things slowly developed at the college level in the next three decades.

So the next time someone is quick to put down Chatham County for this and that, be sure to point out we have a great deal of positives in our history, and things to be proud of in all areas, including athletics, and being one of the pioneer areas for women’s basketball at the high school level.

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