The Red Caboose Page
Woman's Basketball Jersey "Retired"
83 Years After the WIAA Said Girls Couldn't Play
Posted: 10:27 PM Apr 2, 2009
Reporter: Mary Rinzel WEAU 13
As they celebrated their season, one girl's basketball team also celebrated the simple fact that
they get to play ball with a little history of the "girls" game.
In 1926 girls varsity basketball was only in its fourth year in Altoona. That's when the Wisconsin
Interscholastic Athletics Association, or WIAA, refused to sponsor women's athletics for more
than four decades until the early 70's. Thursday night, the Lady Rails received a very special gift
from a very varsity lady.
White jerseys streak up and down the hardwood, ponytails flying behind them, shooting and
scoring on their minds. But, once upon a time in Altoona the game wasn't so simple; back when
the jerseys were yellow. "Grace Sorenson Eick was a student at Altoona High School and
played varsity girls basketball, it was called interscholastic, in 1925 and 1926," Nancy Clark
Scobie tells us. Grace only got to play one season before girls were sent to the sidelines for the
next 40 years. "With just that one year of participation in the sport, Grace decided to and made
the effort to save her jersey which she saved for over 80 years," Clark Scobie says.
Clark Scobie never got to meet the woman she speaks so kindly of. Grace was 99 years old
when she died last year. She also never got to play basketball outside of gym class and weekly
scrimmages with the other girls in her school.
"There are as many important stories out there as there are people," says John Thurston.
Thurston has been chronicling the stories of Altoona students for years. He knew Grace's was
special and he knew just where her jersey belonged. So, Thursday, with the younger versions of
herself looking on, Grace's jersey was handed over to her adopted team—a team with a new
found gratitude for the game.
"Knowing someone didn't get the chance to play makes you be very grateful and appreciate
what you have and what we can do nowadays with basketball," says Brittany Gregorich who
played basketball all four years at Altoona. "It kind of makes me sad that just because she's a
girl, she couldn't play,” adds her teammate, Bethany Reyzer. “With how things were back then,
I’m very fortunate to be living now."
"I'm just hoping they can walk for a little while in her tennis shoes,” Clark Scobie says. "She
saved this jersey not only for herself because it was something she wanted to cherish, but she
saved it as it turns out for all of us.”
We called the WIAA to find out exactly why girls sports were banned for all those years. A
spokesman says it's hard to say—just that it was a different time back then. But, he says we're
all fortunate that decision was reversed and everyone is now able to play.