Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Pioneering Women of Greensburg Girls' Sports

By Lori Osting

The first photo we shared on Decatur County History was of an early girls' basketball team at Greensburg High School. Curiosity about this photo prompted me to do a little research on the history of girls' sports in Decatur County.

GHS yearbooks, which began in 1924, shed some light on an important milestone - the formation of the Girls Athletic Association (GAA). They also indicate that the variety and quality of early girls' athletic offerings at GHS was highly dependent on faculty leadership within the athletic program.

Goldie Howard, 1924

Goldie Howard led the program in the early 1920's. The following information from the 1924 GHS yearbook summarizes Goldie's influence:
"Since the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, a noticeable difference has been apparent among the members of the fair sex. Girls have come to the front in athletics, and have vied for honors with the boys in the world of sport. In Greensburg High School, the girls have adopted athletics and promise to make real athletes. Miss Goldie Howard, the efficient director of physical culture in Greensburg schools, has succeeded in developing an interest in the department heretofore unknown. Although the work is compulsory, the girls have not yet rebelled (as they often do), but have taken an insatiable interest in physical culture work. Class competition has led to the formation of class basketball teams. Series of games were played during the season with the result-scores all close. Several volley ball teams were organized during the latter part of the year and created much rivalry. Calisthenic drills revealed the fact that the girls are proficient in this branch of gymnasium work. Miss Howard is to be complimented on the efficiency of this department and the fine exhibition of the work given last year, and we hope that the same has been repeated this year."
By 1925 GHS girls were being awarded athletic letters. After Goldie left GHS, the program faltered for a few years. By 1932, there was no mention of girls' athletics in the yearbook at all.

The program was re-vitalized in 1933 when Ball State graduate Catherine Cloud took over as the Physical Education Director and organized a new Girls' Athletic Association (GAA). The 1936 Tower Tree gives this short bio of Catherine -
"A small, cute, and clever physical ed teacher - sponsors GAA and has charge of school library - hobbies, writing poetry and planning trips to Europe - secret desire, to take a trip to Europe."
Catherine Cloud, 1933

The first year, 32 girls participated in 5 GAA sports offerings: basketball, baseball, ring tennis, volleyball, and apparatus. In 1934, the program expanded to include track, tumbling, folk dancing, tap dancing, and swimming.

In 1938, Geneva Risk, a graduate of Hanover College, took over as the physical education instructor and GAA sponsor.

Geneva Risk, 1938

Geneva's bio from the 1938 Tower Tree yearbook:

Geneva reorganized the GAA, dividing the year into three sports seasons. She also organized numerous social events for the GAA, including a "hobo hike," Halloween party, formal initiation party, Christmas party, gypsy party, Valentine pie auction, barn dance, and a dinner dance honoring the seniors. In 1940, girls from all over the county participated in a "Play Day" and formed a County Council.

Geneva Risk continued to lead girls' athletics at GHS until 1951. She died at the age of 92 on 3 September 2002. Her obituary indicates that, in addition to her service at GHS, she was also chosen as the first director of the Greensburg Youth Center, known to most as "The Galley."

Women's History Month is a wonderful opportunity for us to remember Goldie, Catherine, Geneva, and all the other pioneers in girls' athletics and to thank them for the contributions they made to Decatur County history.

Schwomeyer, Herb. Hoosier Hersteria, Mitchell-Fleming Printing: Indianapolis, 1985.
Tower Tree, Greensburg High School Yearbooks, 1924-1946.

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