Yes, the ball was round, and the goal back then was to shoot it through the hoop. But, according to Mary Croydon Lee, playing girls’ basketball at West Philadelphia Catholic Girls’ High School during the 1960s was much different than today.
Lee, who graduated in 1968, played hoops when there were six girls on a team -- three forwards on offense and three guards on defense -- and only the forwards were permitted to shoot the ball.
“You could dribble three times. Then you had to pass it," Lee, 68, of Glenolden, said recently. "Oh, the game moves so much faster nowadays.”
The girls’ basketball team at West Catholic Preparatory High School, as it’s called now, held its annual alumni night on Jan. 27, and Lee showed up for the second year in a row to meet the new players and recall her playing days. About 40 female graduates were honored at that game, a handful of whom played for the team when they were students. The Burrs beat Central Bucks West that night, 63-58.
“In my day, the basketball uniforms were basically like jumpers,” said Lee, who went on to coach grade-school basketball players and work for the federal government in South Philadelphia. “It was like a little dress, and you wore bloomers underneath it. My class at West Catholic was the first to get uniforms that weren’t plain. We played in plaid jumpers.”
West Catholic alumni are active at the school, and some graduates, such as Lee, return each year for a gathering away from the school. Lee said about 90 former students, men and women, attended this year’s reunion. The school formally honors graduates who are celebrating their 50th anniversaries each year, and the girls’ basketball team acknowledges its former players and other graduates at a home game each season.
The Burrs ended their season with a loss in the Catholic League playoff quarterfinals.
“We want to show today’s students that older people, the graduates, still care about West Catholic,” said Hannah Campbell, 68, of Havertown, a 1969 graduate. “The West Catholic years were the best of my life. I sold tickets to the games. I went to the games after school. Sports is part of the connection we all had with the school.”
As for more differences between today’s players and those from Lee’s era, she said it was hard for her generation to juggle more than one after-school activity.
“Back then, you could only do one thing,” Lee said. “We were there from 3 to 5 p.m. practicing after school, and then I’d take a bus, a trolley, and walk home. Today, kids can do various things. They can squeeze it in. We couldn’t do that. We had to be totally committed to one thing.”
Another difference is the school’s size. There were about 3,000 students in the all-girls’ school in 1968. Today’s West Catholic is co-ed, and there are about 400 students, according to Campbell.
At last month’s basketball reunion, Lee reminisced about the impact her coach, Dolores Purcell, had on her.
“She was the best ever.” Lee said. “She taught more than just basketball. She taught you responsibility. She taught you to be fair. She taught you to be honest. She was incredible.”
However, Lee recalled, her first encounters with Purcell were rocky. The coach cut Lee from the team during her sophomore year.
“I came home, and I was so upset. So my father suggested that I go back and talk to her,” Lee said. “I went to her and explained why I thought she didn’t give me a fair shot. So I tried out again, and I made the team.”
It was this brush with rejection, Lee said, that showed her the qualities that Purcell espoused as a coach.
“I think this is really important,” Lee said. “If you want to do something, you really have to try and stick it out.”