The first thing people say to us oldsters is, "You must have seen a lot of changes in your lifetime." When it comes to athletics and physical education, I have plenty to say about the old gym suits we wore: Horrible! Bulky! Hot! Impractical! Heavy! They hampered free movement. Some of today’s uniforms match that description.
I first wore the dark-blue serge, all wool bloomers with deep pleats around the waist. That fullness hid the shape of the female buttocks, but it got in our way as we ran and jumped in gym class. That excess yardage was divided and gathered into two bands that fastened, one around each leg, below the knee. We pulled the legs up over the knee for mobility. The shirt had long sleeves, a "middy blouse" of washable white cotton with a large sailor’s collar complete with stars at the corner. The dark wool serge was almost never laundered; it could survive only in cold water or dry cleaning.
My swimming teacher, Miss Ruby Cline, played basketball in the first-floor lobby of Jesse Hall in those wool bloomer days. Imagine today’s Tigers team playing on that tile floor with several huge pillars to dodge around!
I played basketball and other sports in the Mary McKee Gymnasium on Hitt Street and swam in that pool from 1927 until 1936 as a Lab School and University of Missouri-Columbia student. From Lab School, we ran several blocks to the pool, and in winter on the return trip, our hair froze in icicles where it stuck out under wool stocking caps. MU provided bathing suits - 100 percent cotton, ugly gray, with legs that extended two or three inches below a skirt. We dropped them into a big washing machine after dressing, and a genial woman handed us clean suits each day. She gave me one of those suits to keep after my last swim.
When I taught at Christian College, we all wore our own bathing suits, but when I was chosen to oversee all classes except dancing, horsemanship and fencing, I discovered that manufacturers of athletic apparel dictated the styles. In gym classes, the girls wore Broderick uniforms costing more than similar garments cost in Columbia stores. The students and I agreed on white shorts and shirts, which saved both time and money.
Uniforms affect athletic performance. That’s why I shudder to see teams run, jump, leap, stretch and battle for the ball in outfits that seem to hamper their performance. About twice as many yards of cloth are there flapping, wadding up, pulling out of place, sticking to sweaty bodies.
During breaks, they wipe sweat with their overlarge, baggy shirts and stuff them back into their culottes. The crotch is often about halfway down to the knees. On long strides, the crotch stretches just so far, and then cloth binds both legs.
Compare basketball uniforms with those garments worn for speed skating, baseball, acrobatics, bicycling, gymnastics or track. Compare them with the uniforms worn by basketball players five to 10 years ago. The late Dr. Naismith, who invented basketball long ago, would shriek in horror to see last Saturday’s players in action! I’m betting the final four teams will have had someone alter those ill-fitting garments - regardless of style.
After completing this column, I flipped channels and was surprised to see Duke and Georgia Tech battling in short shorts! Yes, it was a replay of a classic - from 1990!