Dust Bowl Girls: The Inspiring Story of the Team That Barnstormed Its Way to Basketball Glory
“This is a book you can’t put down,” said Sandra Dallas in The Denver Post. Its protagonists, the young women who played basketball for tiny Oklahoma Presbyterian College in the early 1930s, are classic underdogs. Most were farmers’ daughters who’d grown up without running water or electricity, and few had expected to attend college. But in the middle of the Dust Bowl era, they were recruited to the church-funded school by an ambitious coach who held practice at 4 in the morning and insisted each player shoot 100 free throws a day. Between 1931 and 1934, the Lady Cardinals piled up 89 consecutive victories and won two national championships against teams stocked with more-seasoned players.
Coach Sam Babb was fighting long odds himself, said Maureen McCarthy in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The son of a volatile preacher, he had lost a leg as a teenager after he stepped in to protect his younger brothers from a beating with a chain. At OPC, where he taught psychology, he ran his team on a shoestring and depended on guard Juanita “Bo Peep” Park to drive the ramshackle team bus. Author Lydia Reeder is Babb’s great-niece, and she vaguely indicates that Babb was disliked, but we never learn why. Still, Dust Bowl Girls packs in enough detail to make the team’s challenges palpable. At the time, first lady Lou Henry Hoover was leading a national campaign to ban competitive women’s sports because such activities were considered unfeminine.
The school’s hometown was far more supportive, said Ed Godfrey in the Oklahoma City Oklahoman. Reeder describes how a group gathered at the town drugstore in 1932 to hear phoned-in reports from the Cardinals’ championship game in Shreveport, La. Their opponents were the defending champs, a corporate-sponsored Dallas team led by Babe Didrikson, the future winner of two Olympic gold medals. The Cardinals trailed in the fourth quarter, but when the phone rang one last time, the drugstore’s customers fell quiet, then jumped out of their seats when they heard the final score. “I can’t wait for the movie.”