Learning to Win: Sports, Education, and Social Change in Twentieth-Century North Carolina

By Pamela Grundy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
It Was Our Whole Lives
The Growth of Women's
Basketball, 1920–1953

In the spring of 1949, the twelve members of the Highland High School Ramlette basketball team packed themselves into an assortment of supporters' vehicles and embarked on the long and bumpy journey from Gastonia east to Durham. The Ramlettes had played a stellar season, had won the district tournament held in neighboring Bessemer City, and thus had gained the right to compete for the state championship, 150 miles away at North Carolina College. Before they left, the students from the close-knit school had packed the gym to cheer them on. “Go Thompson!” they had yelled. “Go Davis!” “Go Adams!” “We were pumped up,” recalled Gladys Thompson, the Ramlettes’ tallest player and top scorer. “We were going to win this.” 1

The Ramlettes met those expectations, bringing home the North Carolina Athletic Conference crown. Gladys Thompson found the victory particularly sweet. She had been a tall, clumsy girl, often called “Stringbean” or “Pole,” who lacked the grace of a natural athlete. “When I started playing, I was afraid and awkward,” she recounted. “They would tell me, ‘You're awkward,’ and I wanted to give it up.” But she loved basketball, and she worked hard on her skills, challenging the equally determined players who starred for schools across the region. When the Ramlettes took the court in Durham, she was ready, scoring twenty-three points in the championship game and winning most-valuableplayer honors. “I always think about that,” she explained. “Because I scored the twenty-three points, more points than any girl on the team had ever scored…. And they wrote an article about me in the paper. I think that would highlight everything. There were good times and bad times, but this one sticks in my mind more than any of them. When we won that championship. And then the article written about me—and that came back to the school; it was on the bulletin boards and everything. I felt pretty proud of myself.” 2

With her performance Gladys Thompson reached a goal dreamed of by

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