When the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced at the Final Four in April that The All-American Red Heads would be inducted in 2012, a lot of people in New Orleans said, "Who?"
In Woodford County, the reaction of Marcia Adams ran toward "woo hoo!"
For two years in the 1970s, Adams, now 55, played for the Red Heads, a women's basketball team that barnstormed the country, Harlem Globetrotters style, for 50 years (1936-86) and played against men.
"Traveling around the country playing basketball," said Adams, "I guess you'd say I was just living my dream."
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At the time it announced its 2012 induction class, the Basketball Hall of Fame explained the inclusion of The All-American Red Heads with a statement: "Over six decades, the team broke social barriers and stereotypes playing in small towns and rural hamlets as well as Madison Square Garden and Chicago Stadium," it said in part.
By the time Adams — who moved to Kentucky in 2007 and now works for the state Finance and Administration Cabinet in Frankfort — joined the Red Heads only months after graduating in 1975 from a Maine high school, the Red Heads' patterns were long established.
For one, if any players weren't natural redheads, they had to dye their hair. "We used 33 S Flame from Miss Clairol," Adams said.
The road to the Basketball Hall of Fame for Adams was fueled by red hair dye, was traveled over many back roads in a limousine and began when, by chance, she heard a radio advertisement in February 1975 seeking professional basketball players.
Who were women.
Promoting beauty salons
The bread and butter of The All-American Red Heads was taking the curiosity of a women's basketball team into Small Town USA to play against men.
"The majority of people (we were playing against), were just coaches at the local high school or Jaycee people or the Lions Club," she said.
In 1936, The All-American Red Heads began as a means to help promote a chain of beauty salons. In the '30s, Connie Mack "Ole" Olson had a men's touring team called The Terrible Swedes based out of Cassville, Mo. Olson's wife owned beauty shops, so he decided to add a women's barnstorming team to help advertise his spouse's businesses.
In 1948, Orwell Moore was hired to coach the Red Heads. Seven years later, Moore and his wife, standout player Lorene "Butch" Moore, bought the team from Olson and moved its base of operations to Caraway, Ark.
Across the decades, the Red Heads toured far and wide, including the Philippines (1940) and Alaska (1957). At least once, a star Red Heads player appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Yet, growing up in Maine, Adams had never heard of the team.
The second youngest of Janet and David Adams' four children, Marcia did something unexpected for a girl growing up in the late 1960s and early 1970s: She fell in love with playing sports.
"There was another girl in my neighborhood, but the rest were all boys, so I grew up with the boys," Adams said. "I played basketball in the yard. I played football with them. I played baseball with the boys."
She was attending Cony High School in Augusta, Maine, just as the federal government enacted Title IX, so she got to play basketball, field hockey and softball.
"I did OK in school," she says, "but I lived for sports."
A plane ticket to Memphis
In February of her senior year, Adams happened to hear a radio commercial seeking women's hoops players for a possible pro league. Intrigued, she called the radio station to get more information.
The station gave her a phone number, she got back on the telephone and found herself talking with Orwell Moore, owner of The All-American Red Heads.
As a means of applying to play in the women's pro league, Moore told Adams to send newspaper clippings from her high school playing career. "So that's what I did," she says.
She never heard a word until October.
"I had decided I wasn't ready to go to college, so I was still at home," Adams said. "One day, I was at home by myself and I got this call."
It was Moore.
"He just said, 'I need another ballplayer,'" Adams said. "He said, 'The women's pro league isn't happening now, and I'm not sure it's ever going to happen, but I need a girl to play on this team I have.'"
The next night, Moore called back and David Adams peppered him with the kind of questions one would expect of a father.
How much money would Marcia make? What would her responsibilities be? Would she have to dye her hair? When would she get to come home? Would she miss Christmas?
Says Marcia Adams: "It all sounded legitimate. Mr. Moore sent me a check to buy a plane ticket. I flew to Memphis, Tenn., where somebody picked me up and drove me to a camp (Moore) ran in Mississippi."
Seeing the country
Adams played two years with The Red Heads before a balky knee caused her to quit. During that time, she played in 45 states. Because of the Red Heads, she saw the Statue of Liberty and Secretariat, traveled to Disneyland and Graceland.
For the paying public, The Red Heads provided more than just basketball. The team had one player designated as its "comedian," who would fill a Meadowlark Lemon-type role of telling jokes and interacting with fans. At halftimes of games, the Red Heads "put on a show" that involved tricks shots, fancy dribbling etc.
"One of my tricks, I'd bounce the ball off the top of my head into the basket," Adams said. "Another one I did, I did the splits — I still can't believe I did that — and tossed the ball up there."
As a Red Head, Adams earned $300 a month and got $6 a day in meal money.
She went from town-to-town with her teammates in a red and white Pontiac limousine with "The All-American Red Heads" in red and blue lettering down the sides.
"We changed flat tires ourselves," Adams said.
Coming to Lexington
In the two years that Adams played with The Red Heads, her squads had records of 129-30 (1975-76) and 139-32 (1976-77) against teams of men.
On Valentine's Day, 1976, The All-American Red Heads played a team of Bryan Station High School staff members (with a few ringers added) in Lexington. It was sufficiently a big deal that the Sunday Herald-Leader covered the game.
The box score says Red Heads 75, Bryan Station Men 62. It says Adams had two points. "I really wasn't a big scorer," she said.
Adams kept meticulous records of her two years with the Red Heads, including where they played, the final scores of the games and how she fared individually.
She can tell you that, in addition to Lexington, she played in Versailles (her future home), Bowling Green, Pikeville, Hyden, Cynthiana, Brownsville and Cadiz. Or that she once scored 25 points in a game in Turin, N.Y.
"Just one of those nights where I couldn't miss," she says.
The Hall of Fame
On Sept. 7, such basketball luminaries as Reggie Miller, Don Nelson and Ralph Sampson are among those slated to go into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame.
Thanks largely to the efforts of women's basketball enthusiast/historian John Molina, The All-American Red Heads will be inducted, too.
Along with her 14-year-old daughter London and other family members, Marcia Adams will be there. She expects as many as 100 other women who were once All-American Red Heads to be in Springfield, Mass., too, to see the team they played for given basketball's highest honor.
"Some of the women are going to dye their hair (red) for the ceremony," Adams said. "I'm not going to be one of them."
Though she says she never thought about it while playing, Adams says she now thinks The All-American Red Heads did much to make the idea of women playing basketball more accepted.
"I still can't believe that something I was a part of is going into the Basketball Hall of Fame," Adams said. "I had no idea we were making history. I just loved playing basketball."