The Only Dance in Iowa: A History of Six-Player Girls’ Basketball

ISBN: 0803282990
ISBN 13: 9780803282995
By: David (Max) McElwain David (Max) McElwain

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Iowa six-player girls’ basketball was the most successful sporting activity for girls in American history, at its zenith involving more than 70 percent of the girls in the state. The state tournament was so popular—regularly drawing fifteen thousand fans, more than the boys’ tourney—that officials declined a lucrative broadcasting offer from ABC’s Wide World of Sports rather than forfeit the Iowa Girls’ High School Athletic Union’s control of the game. The Only Dance in Iowa chronicles the one-hundred-year history of this Iowa tradition, long a symbol of the state’s independence and the people’s rural pride. Max McElwain shows how, well before the passage of Title IX in 1972, Iowa six-player girls’ basketball was, as Sports Illustrated gushed, “a utopia for girls’ athletics.” He also demonstrates how, ironically enough, the fallout from Title IX in many ways led to six-girl basketball’s demise. Through interviews, careful ethnography, and detailed historical analysis, McElwain exposes the intricate political, sociological, and historical dynamics of this cultural phenomenon. His book reveals how six-girl basketball, flourishing with the passionate support of Iowa’s small towns, school districts, and media, came to represent the state’s strong traditional beliefs and the public school system’s determination to maintain its identity in the face of national educational trends. The Only Dance in Iowa is as much a study of this disappearing culture as of the game it claimed as its own.

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