Girls’ basketball player for Olds High School in the 1930s and current Sunnybrook Assisted Living resident Vicky Bergstrom attended the Iowa girls’ state basketball tournament for their 100th anniversary on Saturday, March 2, as one of the oldest living women to have played high school basketball in Iowa.
The Iowa girls’ state basketball tournament is the oldest girls’ high school state tournament in the U.S., according to the Iowa Girls’ High School Athletic Union (IGHSAU). The first tournament was held in 1920 when Correctionville defeated Nevada 11-4. The IGHSAU recognized the oldest living women to have played Iowa girls’ basketball during halftime of the first championship game at the tournament at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines on Saturday.
“It brought back memories,” Bergstrom said. “I’ve always had an interest in going back.”
Bergstrom grew up in Swedesburg and attended Olds High School. She began playing basketball in 1935 as an eighth-grader, mostly because she was the tallest in her class, she said. Bergstron said she hated taking class pictures, because at 5-feet-7-inches she always had to stand in the middle.
“It bothered me being taller than the boys,” Bergstrom said.
Bergstrom’s height did offer her some advantages. It helped her block shots, and she even got to choose and model the new uniforms for Olds High School girls’ basketball team one year.
“I tried on a lot of them,” she said.
Being on the girls basketball team meant a lot to Bergstrom. She got to travel for games to bigger towns like Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. They often stopped for hamburgers, she said.
Bergstrom said games always had good attendance. “That’s what people went to. There wasn’t other things to go to,” she said.
Bergstrom likes to say that she “never made a point” in her five-year basketball career. As a defensive player in the 1930s, she wasn’t allowed to cross the centerline. The two-court system was adopted in 1934 to make the game more appealing for fans, according to the IGHSAU. It put three forwards and three guards in each half of the court.
Basketball became a family tradition for Bergstrom’s daughters and granddaughters.
Bergstrom encouraged her daughters to pursue whatever activities in high school they were interested in. For her daughter Ann Sindlinger, of Cedar Rapids, that happened to be basketball too. She played for WACO High School.
“We’re a really athletic family,” Sindlinger said. “It was natural. We had a basketball hoop at the farm, and I just wanted to play.”
Bergstrom’s granddaughter went on to play college basketball at the Florida Institute of Technology.
100 Years of History
In March 1920, 27 teams were invited to play in what became the first girls state basketball tournament at Drake University. Correctionville played against Nevada in the championship game on March 13, 1920, with Correctionville winning 11-4 to become the first state champion in girls basketball.
From there, Iowa girls basketball only grew. In 1924, Iowa Falls was coached by a woman, Gladys Western, at a time when almost all coaching and administrative posts were held by men, according to the IGHSAU.
Only a year later, school administrators wanted to vote to discontinue sponsorship of girls’ basketball amid concerns of that high school basketball was unhealthy and inappropriate for girls, according to the IGHSAU.
“Gentlemen, if you attempt to do away with girls basketball in Iowa, you’ll be standing at the center of the track when the train runs over you,” said John Agans, superintendent of Mystic in 1925.
Ultimately, 25 mostly small rural school districts voted to form a separate girls’ interscholastic organization, resulting in the formation of the IGHSAU.
From 1936 to 1937, more than 400 schools had girls basketball teams.