Kane County History: Held Back, But Never Quitting -- Batavia's Female Athletes Fought To Play The Games They Love

Kane County History: Held Back, But Never Quitting — Batavia’s Female Athletes Fought To Play The Games They Love

Batavia High School girls in 1914. Of course, there were no high school sports for girls at this time.

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was written and submitted by Batavia Depot Museum Director Kate Garrett.

Folks following the NCAA tournaments this year may be familiar with the recent spotlight on equitable training facilities and support for female and male athletes. Illinois’ support for girls athletics has a complex history, full of changing social mores, legal battles and the struggle for equitable treatment.

Batavia High School girls in 1960. There were still no girls sports at the high school at this time.

The history of Batavia’s high school athletic programs show not only the resistance to competitive girls’ play, but also the persistence of young female athletes fighting to play the games they love.

Batavia, divided by the Fox River, had always had two high schools: East and West. But by 1900, a rapid population boom had stretched those facilities to their max, and change was afoot. A new building was in order, and the Batavia School District contracted the services of architect F. R. Schock to construct a modern, efficient school.

The 1915 building boasted amenities for the development of the whole student, including a state-of-the-art hardwood convertible auditorium/gymnasium and booster gallery. This gymnasium served as the foundation of a thriving athletic program that continues today, but for the first 57 years, only for the boys.

Batavia High School takes great pride in a number of graduates known for their athletic careers post-high school. Kane County residents may recognize Denver Nuggets star Dan Issel and Cincinnati Bengals icon Ken Anderson.

Batavia boys basketball players had some of the finest amenities available, including a state-of-the-art hardwood convertible auditorium/gymnasium and booster gallery. 

While Issel and Anderson were developing their skills on Batavia courts and fields and testing their talents against athletes from Geneva, St. Charles, and Aurora, their female classmates were restricted to cheering them on from the sidelines.

Beginning in 1908, a statewide ban prohibited girls from competitive sports at the high school level under regulation from the Illinois High School Athletic Association. The same year the organization celebrated and advocated the trendy young sport of basketball with their first statewide boys tournament, they also enacted a complete ban on girls interscholastic athletic competition.

The concern was not that girls were unable to safely play sports (basketball was invented specifically as a low-contact competition and marketed to girls and boys equally), but that competition between girls was damaging to their moral development.

Not to be completely sidelined, young female athletes in Batavia formed the Girl’s Athletic Association, a strictly intramural club, to encourage health and good sportsmanship.

Batavia’s Sharron Moran Broke Glass Ceilings

Among the standout athletes of the GAA era we find golf star Sharron Moran.

Batavia’s Sharron Moran was a pro golfer and television sports personality who broke barriers. But her book also promoted the game because it “keeps the figure trim and helps develop grace and poise.”

Moran was on the board of the GAA and competed in golf outside of school in private country clubs. At 14, Moran achieved the highlight of her amateur golf career winning the Aurora Beacon News ladies championship. After graduation in 1960, she won the Illinois State medal play tournament in Peoria at 18 and went on to play on the University of Arizona’s Women’s golf team for four years.

While she originally planned to become a teacher, her plans changed when the PGA/Victor Company approached her about representing the organization on the LPGA ladies tour. Soon after, she was invited to be on the Lincoln Mercury sports panel, which included athletes such as Arnold Palmer, Bryan Nelson, and Jesse Owens.

She earned the Rookie of the Year award in 1967 and played professional golf for the next eight years. Moran’s professional career highlights include pairing ninth place in the LGPA tour.

Knowing that appearance was vital to acceptance of women’s sports, Sharron wrote “Golf is a Woman’s Game” in 1971, a book encouraging women to play golf, offering basic instruction, and assuring them of the sport’s social acceptability.

“Golf is very much a game for women. In addition to the pleasure of the sport there are many dividends for the lady golfer. Since playing the game keeps the figure trim and helps develop grace and poise.”

Visitors to the Batavia Depot Museum will find a copy of Moran’s 1971 book on display until August 1st in our current Summer exhibit Heart and Hustle: Batavia Sports Legends.

In 1972, Title IX mandated equal services and funding for girls and boys in high school, including athletics and other extracurriculars. Full compliance would not be realized until 1978, though Batavia implemented the policy as early as 1974.

Today, our girl athletes are given the same support as the boys. And when they’re not, as in the recent case of the NCAA, we all have something to say about it.

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