'You can't back out now' Profile: Dorothy McIntyre has advocated and advanced girls' high-school athletics for decades
Dorothy McIntyre is holding a girls' basketball trophy from 1925. Behind her is a basketball uniform. Photo by Sarah Whiting.
"Two Rings: A Legacy of Hope," released in May 2012, follows Dorothy McIntyre's first book, "Daughters of the Game" published in 2005.
"Two Rings" is the story of Sarah, a high school senior who finds her great-grandmother's diary, in which she writes of playing on a high-school basketball championship team in 1925.
The book "is also a call to action for Sarah's generation as she comes to see that discrimination and unfair practices still exist, and her generation will need to step up and 'get into the game,'" McIntyre said. FFI: www.daughtersofthegame.com
by Anne Hamre
In Minnesota, girls were playing basketball before boys. The sport was invented in 1891, and in 1893, Carleton College in Northfield became one of the first schools with a women's team. Each year, more and more schools added basketball to their sports offerings for girls.
And then it all went away.
By the time an Iowa-bred physical education and social studies teacher arrived at Eden Prairie High School in 1959, the only "sport" for girls was cheerleading for the boys. Gradually, the girls began asking: Why can't we do more?
Dorothy McIntyre took the ball and ran with it. After a decades-long intermission, Minnesota girls were getting back in the game.
For her own good
Girls' teams flourished across Minnesota in the early 1900s. But the backlash was building.
In the 1920s, the Women's Division of the National Amateur Athletic Federation adopted the position that girls should play for fun-not competitively. Schools were advised to replace girls' teams with "recreation" programs. Girls began returning to school in the fall to find their teams gone. Remaining teams soon found they had no one to compete with.
Girls were told, "It's too hard on you" and "You might not be able to have babies later," according to McIntyre. In other words: "It's for your own good."
By 1943, Minnesota's girls' basketball teams were gone.
In the early '60s, McIntyre and like-minded educational and athletic colleagues began with gymnastics. "Girls came by the hundreds" to gymnastics clinics McIntyre organized and conducted. Organizers taught themselves to judge the sport, began to plan meets and turned their thoughts to volleyball and track. Eventually, McIntyre and her colleagues got the attention of the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL).
The MSHSL set up a committee, on which McIntyre served, to write bylaws for girls' sports. In 1969-three years before Title IX legislation was enacted-the League said yes to girls' sports, and began searching for someone to get things up and running.
McIntyre was urged to apply, but hesitated. She loved teaching and felt she lacked administrative experience.
But she gathered key friends together, and the verdict was unanimous: You're taking that job. "You got us into all this; you can't back out now," they told her.
"All of a sudden I was more afraid of saying no to my friends than I was of the job," McIntyre said, smiling. Her friends vowed they'd have her back-and they did.
When McIntyre started, there were few organized girls' teams, and some still thought girls shouldn't play team sports.
"Somehow [the resistance] never bothered me," McIntyre said. "We had a purpose. We kept to it." She stayed at the MSHSL for 32 years.
Among her fondest memories: the first girls' state tournament-in track and field-in 1972. Over 600 girls participated, and each winner became a state record-holder-at least until 1973.
Soon, more girls' tournaments were added-tennis, volleyball, gymnastics. But basketball took until 1976, after a contentious struggle over whether girl hoopsters would play in the fall or winter. Many powers-that-be argued that if girls played in winter, like boys, the boys' practice time would suffer. "Dorothy, be reasonable," they said.
"It's a phrase I would hear a lot," she noted.
McIntyre retired from the MSHSL in 2002. It wasn't long before she was drawn into a project her friend Marian Bemis Johnson had under way: a history of the first era of Minnesota girls' basketball, 1891-1942. McIntyre traveled the state, talking with women who had played in the early 1900s.
"I started thinking, 'Why didn't we already know about this?'" McIntyre said. "These women were all over Minnesota, hiding in plain sight. They'd put their old uniforms in hope chests and no one had asked them about this part of their lives."
Johnson's interest had been stoked when, as a girl, she found a photo of her mother playing on a Faribault team in the 1920s. She wondered why there were no teams for her, in the 1940s.
"Daughters of the Game" came out in 2005-a 396-page, self-published labor of love for Johnson and McIntyre.
"When you write women's history down, it validates it," McIntyre said. "That's why we did it. Seeing women light up when they pulled out their old photos and uniforms was wonderful. "Almost all of these women are gone now, but the great part is we preserved their stories."
A second book by McIntyre and Johnson, "Two Rings: A Legacy of Hope," this time fiction, was released in May 2012.
It was perhaps an unlikely path for a farm girl who didn't grow up playing sports. "'Red Rover' was my sport," McIntyre said with a chuckle. By ninth grade, though, she was playing softball.
"I was the catcher," she recalled, "because I liked to be in on every play."
What challenges does the future hold for girls' sports?
"The greatest danger to anything women have worked to change is apathy-complacency," McIntyre said. "Once you say, 'OK, that's done'-there are those who are waiting for us to let down our guard."
The profile appears in every issue of the Minnesota Women's Press. It reflects our founding principle and guiding philosophy that every woman has a story. Readers are welcome to submit suggestions for profile subjects. Email your ideas to email@example.com