St. Tim's-Bryn Mawr: no equal in tradition

Until last week, Alice Humphrey never thought much about the history of the girls basketball rivalry between her St. Timothy's team and Bryn Mawr.

As tonight's 100th anniversary game approached, however, the St. Timothy's senior began to realize what a unique place this rivalry holds in the history of girls interscholastic basketball.


"It's always been just another game," said Humphrey, "but last week, when we were out on [Thanksgiving] vacation, I was thinking about how cool it really is. I was telling my family that I get to play in this game that's the oldest rivalry in the country in girls basketball. It's really cool to represent those women. That first game was a groundbreaking thing."

The tradition continues tonight when St. Timothy's travels to Bryn Mawr for the centennial commemoration of that historic tipoff on Nov. 25, 1901.


That game, played outdoors on the Garrett estate at Montebello, began what is believed to be the longest continuous girls high school basketball series in the nation.

A sense of history echoes in the voices of all of those who have played over the years - from Humphrey back to Rosalie Hammond Oster, 93, a 1926 Bryn Mawr graduate who played all four years.

"There was a lot of spirit about the game and we always wanted to win it," said Oster, who went on to play intramural basketball at Smith College. "There was a certain amount of prestige attached to basketball in those days. If you were on the team, you'd done something good."

While the historic significance was not apparent in Oster's day, it had fully emerged by the 49th year of the rivalry, when Jean Harvey Baker played for St. Timothy's.

"These are schools that are deeply imbedded in history and intense history in women's education so I do remember that it was absolutely our most important game," said Baker, a 1951 graduate. "It was a rivalry sort of like the Army-Navy game - lose the Bryn Mawr game and you lose the season."

By then, the game had evolved from a nine-vs.-nine game to six players on each side, with three confined to each half of the court.

Baker's 1950-51 team, known as the "goal-a-minute team," turned in perhaps the most impressive performance in the history of the rivalry, defeating Bryn Mawr, 64-18.

"We considered ourselves the Sheryl Swoopeses of our time," said Baker, a history professor at Goucher College. "We were just tall and we had this terrific coach. We were all over 5-8 or 6 feet, which made us giants, and we had a lot of good plays. Coaches weren't paying a lot of attention to strategy, but our coach prepared us."


The game has its own traveling trophy, which Bryn Mawr claimed the first year, 8-7. There were no backboards on the hoops then.

In recording the inaugural victory, Bryn Mawr's archive, The Bryn Mawrtyr, noted: "The fact that we have won the first game we have ever played against outsiders, on their own field, too, and entirely as the result of good playing, is not only something to be proud of but also gives great promise for the athletics of our future."

While winning still matters - St. Timothy's won last year, but Bryn Mawr leads the series, 53-43, with three ties - the game itself has almost become secondary to the commemoration of its place in history.

"Of course we want to win. We want that cup," said Bryn Mawr sophomore Katy Meacham, "and I think St. Tim's feels the same way, but we all realize this is much bigger than the game, win or lose."

Tonight's contest pits Bryn Mawr's junior varsity team against St. Timothy's varsity, an adjustment made in the past few years to keep the contest competitive.

Festivities tip off at Bryn Mawr with a pep rally at 3:30 this afternoon. An alumnae reception begins at 5:45 p.m., with a nine-a-side exhibition game at 6:30 followed by the main event at 7.


The nine-on-nine exhibition provides a look at the original game. Not only did nine girls play on each side, but the court was divided into three sections. Three players on each team were confined to each of the portions of the courts.

Uniforms consisted of heavy skirts that fell within four inches of the floor, heavy blouses with high collars, black stockings and white shoes.

At St. Timothy's, the nine-on-nine tradition is kept alive through the annual Brownie-Spider Game, an intraschool contest that began on Thanksgiving Day 1896 and is now played on the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

"Brownie-Spider in a way can be seen as a re-enactment of turn of the century basketball," said St. Timothy's varsity coach John Bonn. "It really has not been just the rules of the game but so much of the pageantry that goes with it."

Steeped in tradition, the game, which pits one half of the school (the Brownies) against the other half (the Spiders), gives most St. Timothy's players their strongest connection with the history of their school and basketball's place in it.

"Focusing on Brownie-Spider, I'm more aware of the past and of tradition and I hold that dear," said Humphrey, a boarding student from Dallas. "After coming to St. Tim's, I'm more inclined to look to the past and to seek that out."


When archivists at St. Timothy's and Bryn Mawr began preparing this centennial celebration, they had hoped the 1901 game would turn out to be the first girls interscholastic basketball game ever played in the United States. They discovered that a league in Illinois predated them by six years.

The Illinois league, however, has not endured.

"That league became widely popular and spread to over 300 schools in Illinois," said Katy Dallam, interim head of school at Bryn Mawr. "Of course, that engendered an awful lot of controversy about how girls sports should be played. Unfortunately ... the league was quashed and died in 1907."

The St. Timothy's-Bryn Mawr tradition thrives on the commitment of each school.

"One hundred years of having the same worthy competitor is cause for us to celebrate," said Dallam. "For these two girls schools, this tradition ... stood for something really much broader about their opinion about girls and the possibility of women and women's achievements."