Girls' Six-Player Basketball: "The Essence of Small-Town Life in Iowa"

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I grew up playing five-player basketball in Iowa City, attending coach C. Vivian Stringer's basketball camp nearly every summer with misguided dreams of one day suiting up for the Hawkeyes. It was there, amid the sweat-soaked T-shirts, calloused fingertips, and the sound of rubber shoes squeaking against the court, that I first encountered that strange sub-set of athletes whose game did not permit them to cross the half-court line. I felt sorry for these girls, there to develop a "total game" while their regular-season coaches insisted upon honing either their offensive or defensive skills, accentuating one set to the detriment of the other. My view of six-player basketball was from the outside; it afforded me very little understanding of the game's deep roots, the merits of its style, and its importance to notions of community and identity. To think of six-on-six only in terms of its limitations, I have since learned, is a big mistake.

—Jamie Schultz

My six-player basketball career began in second grade as a member of a biddy basketball team in Long Grove, a small town in eastern Iowa, and ended when I graduated from New London High School in 1985. My senior year was the first year that high school girls in Iowa were given the option to compete under the five-player rules. Eleven years later, as a graduate student in sport history, I discovered that Iowa occupied a unique place in the history of women in sport. Until that time, I had no idea that the game I grew up playing was different than what girls in other states, even just an hour away, were playing. My position in that classroom was as an "insider" who felt the need to balance my critique of six-on-six as a game whose imposed constraints on female physicality were based on sexist assumptions, with my lived experience as a player who very much identified as a "real" basketball player and who witnessed firsthand the culture of six-on-six that celebrated, among other things, female strength and the power of community.

—Shelley Lucas

Throughout the twentieth century, more than a million Iowa high school girls played the half-court, two-dribble version of basketball colloquially known as "six-on-six." Originally conceived to accommodate girls and women's perceived physical limitations, six-player basketball often lent itself to fast-paced, high-scoring, crowd-rallying competitions. By the 1970s and 1980s, high schools across the nation, as well as those in larger Iowa cities, adopted five-player or "boys' rules." Yet the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union (IGHSAU) continued to sponsor six-player basketball in the smaller rural communities until 1993, at which time, 275 of the state's 409 schools with girls' basketball programs still offered six-on-six.

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