Before Schimmel: The Indian Women Who Became Basketball Champions
Tip-off to basketball season is right around the corner. Shoni and Jude Schimmel are back at the University of Louisville, poised for another run at the national championships. Two years ago, Tahnee Robinson became the first Native American woman to be drafted by the WNBA and last spring, Angel Goodrich became the second. Indian girls are playing at many schools across the country and basketball reigns supreme throughout Indian country. But Indian women and basketball are not as new as many think. In 1904 the women’s basketball team at Fort Shaw Indian Boarding School in Montana were world champions.
…The young women on the Fort Shaw team came from seven tribes throughout Montana and Idaho. Some of the girls had played shinny or double ball, but had likely never played this new sport. Their first game was against a high school boy’s team in Great Falls. The young ladies rode 40 miles in horse drawn wagons to play that game, winning and actually doubling the score of the boy’s team. That was just the beginning. They beat the men’s teams at the University of Montana and Montana State by scores of 25-1 and 22-0. At halftime they entertained with songs on the mandolin and violin, recited poetry, sang and did Native dances. Teams didn’t want to play them.
The 1904 World’s Fair was held in St. Louis, Missouri. Fort Shaw Indian School Superintendent Fred C. Campbell arranged for the team and other Fort Shaw students to attend and live in tipis at the Indian Exhibit. They performed dozens of times showing their basketball talent as well as musical talents to raise money for the trip.
Missouri had put together an all-star team—their coach studied Fort Shaw and spent the summer preparing for them. They thought they were ready. It was a best of three series. The score in the first game was 24-2 in favor of Fort Shaw. Missouri requested a several week delay before the second game—the final score of which was 17-6, again in favor of Fort Shaw. They were declared world champions.