[As told to Team Fenom and contextualized by Team Fenom Writer/Editor Danielle Wright]
Dr. Brenda Pitts is one of the pioneers of the Title IX era in women’s sports. After just one year at the University of Alabama (UA), Title IX legislation passed and Pitts was one of the first group of female basketball players to receive an athletic scholarship at UA. For Pitts, Title IX meant more than just playing, it meant she could be a decision-maker for women’s athletics.
In the last part of a two-part series, Dr. Pitts tells us about her experience playing and blazing trails for women’s basketball….
“I played in the first women’s professional basketball league, the Women’s Basketball League (WBL) in 1978,” Pitts said.
The 40-year anniversary of Title IX also brought out a fun fact: why is there a women’s sized basketball? In 1984, Pitts did a study, which was used by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) and the decision was made to switch to the women’s sized basketball. In the first women’s professional league, a smaller and lighter basketball was used as a promotional gimmick. The players fell in love with the ball because they could handle it much better.
“When I quit playing and went for my doctoral degree my dissertation study was on the ball,” Pitts stated. “I focused on the effects of the size of the ball on player skills. I included high school and college basketball players and tested them using basic skills (i.e. how many layups can you make in 30 seconds). We used the regular ball first and then left them dozens of WBL balls to play with for four weeks. We then tested them on the same skills as before using the WBL ball and, guess what? The results were positive for the WBL ball on every one of the eight tests! I practically had to fight the girls to get my basketballs back!”
It wasn’t until later that Pitts was told her study was one of two used by the WBCA to make their decision.
Pitts continued with the history of the women’s ball…
“The idea for the smaller and lighter ball came from Karen Logan, a very famous basketball player, who played Jerry West (yes, that Jerry West) in a game of “HORSE” on national TV (sometime in 1975 around the time Billie Jean King played Bobby Riggs in tennis in 1973) and beat him! She wrote a proposal, which I still have, saying that nearly all sports have equipment that is different sizes and weights for different size/strength of individuals, so why not basketball? The WBL took that proposal and decided to use the smaller ball as a promotional gimmick for the league (Start of Women’s Basketball).
On December 9, 1978, the WBL had its very first game and Pitts was a player for the Milwaukee Does. Despite not getting into the game, Pitts was enthralled to be on the team! Visit Fun While It Lasted for more information about the first game in the history of the Women’s Professional Basketball League.
“I kept a lot of items from that game – photos, programs, flags – I wonder what it’s all worth today?!” Pitts exclaimed. “I also have about a dozen of the original basketballs, as well as some with the WBL logo.”
Who would have known Dr. Brenda Pitts was such in integral part of women’s sports history?
“How’s that for some history?!” proclaimed Dr. Pitts.
Dr. Brenda Pitts is currently a professor of kinesiology and health at Georgia State University. Read her first “In Her Own Words” account here.
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