On March 22, 1893, the first women’s college basketball game is played at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. With each made basket counting as one point and the game lasting two 15-minute halves, a sophomore class team prevails over a freshmen team, 5-4. Men are not permitted inside the gym at the all-women college, but a crowd of fascinated women cheer on their fellow classmates from the running track of the campus gymnasium. The winning team earns a gold and white banner.
"The running track of the gymnasium was crowded with spectators, and gay with the colors of the two classes," according to a newspaper account. "One side was occupied by sophomores and seniors, the other by juniors and freshmen, and a lively rivalry between the two parties was maintained throughout the contest."
This first women’s college basketball game was organized by the college's gymnastics instructor, Lithuanian immigrant Senda Berenson, less than two years after the invention of the game in late 1891 by Dr. James Naismith. Berenson’s rules were adapted from Naismith’s rules for men, making basketball one of the rare sports that developed the male and female versions on a parallel timeline.
It was truly a game of "basket ball" in those early years: The object of the game was to land a soccer ball into peach baskets suspended at opposite ends of a court.
Despite playing with rules intended to limit physical contact, a player on the freshmen team dislocated her shoulder at the beginning of the game, leaving her team a player down for the rest of the game.
Versions of Berenson’s game quickly spread to other women’s colleges throughout the country. The first women's intercollegiate game, between Stanford and Cal, was played in 1896.
Berenson, who died in 1954, was enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor in 1985. She was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999.
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