By KEVIN WEAKS
This particular Union City girls’ basketball team had players who could put up big scoring totals on one end of the court and defensive specialists who could shut down opponents on the other.
So-called star players and role players came together to form, quite literally, an unbeatable team.
The Lady Tornadoes capped off an amazing season at the state tournament.
It was 1925, and Union City was a Tennessee high school girls’ basketball powerhouse.
It was the team’s fourth consecutive state tournament appearance, and the Lady Tornadoes left no doubt who the best team was by capping an undefeated 17-0 season with five wins in the state tournament.
It should be noted that the “state tournament” was an invitational event and was held before the TSSAA formally organized its girls’ basketball state finals. The TSSAA, however, currently recognizes those early events as state tournaments, and UC will be listed in the official program as having appeared six times. In addition to 1922-25, the Lady Tornadoes participated in 1928 and ’29.
A newspaper article of the times, prone to hyperbole, declared the 1925 team to be “probably one of the greatest high school girl combinations ever to play in Tennessee or even the country.”
The year 1925 saw Calvin Coolidge move into the White House as president of the United States and Benito Mussolini take dictatorial powers over Italy.
The New Yorker magazine published its first issue, and the country-variety show WSM Barn Dance, later known as the Grand Ole Opry, made its radio debut.
The book “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald was published. So, too, was Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler.
The Tri-State Tornado ripped through Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. The deadliest in U.S. history, it killed 695 people and injured 2,027 more.
Tennessee Gov. Austin Peay signed the Butler Act, prohibiting the teaching of evolution in the state’s public schools, on March 21. Less than two months later, on May 5th, a young biology teacher named John T. Scopes was arrested for teaching Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. He was indicted on May 25th, and the sensational Scopes Monkey Trial began on July 10th and ended July 21st in Dayton with Scopes found guilty. He was fined $100.
Paul Newman, original Mercury 7 astronaut Scott Carpenter, Yogi Berra, Malcolm X, Barbara Bush, Margaret Thatcher, Bobby Kennedy, Johnny Carson and Sammy Davis Jr. were born in 1925. Football coach Walter Camp, lawyer William Jennings Bryant and baseball player Christy Mathewson died that year.
On basketball courts across Tennessee, girls’ players wore baggy bloomers and long, think wool socks. Pulling down those stockings and exposing a little leg simply was not done.
The Lady Tornadoes of that era needed no such shock-value exposure. That team had talent and knew how to work the rules of the day.
One basketball rule of that era was to have a jump ball after every made basket. Margie Dahnke was UC’s center, and she gave the Lady Tornadoes a decided advantage. As a result, some games had very lopsided scores.
Modified boys’ rules were used with two forwards confined to the offensive end, two guards on the defensive side and a roving forward that could play fullcourt.
Union City, coached by W.S. “Shep” Hanner, was a juggernaut. The Lady Tornadoes scored over 1,000 points while limiting opponents to 300 in their 17 games.
In addition to Dahnke, the team included Mary Simmons, Mary Virginia Blanton, Hazel Nichols, Theresa Caldwell, Stevie Garrison and Genola Cunningham.
After early exits the previous three years, Union City rolled into its fourth straight state tourney on a mission.
The march to the championship began with a 70-3 — yes, 70-3 — win over Savannah, followed by a 68-9 verdict over White County and a 51-25 triumph over Lewisburg.
The 47-41 win over Nashville Hume-Fogg in the semifinals was described by newspapers as “the most spectacular game of the tournament.”
Later that day, UC clinched its title with a 55-16 win over Nashville Peabody.
The scores listed here are updated from what has been long accepted locally, all coming from TSSAA files.
Blanton, Cunningham and Dahnke were the scorers, while Caldwell and Nichols were lauded for their stellar defensive play.
Describing the state champion UC team, former sports editor of The Messenger, Richard Cox, wrote this: “Yes, this was a great team. The girls played as a team and not as a group of ‘stars’ trying to see who could outplay the other.”
On Thursday afternoon in Murfreesboro, Union City finally makes its return to the state tournament. Focused on the task ahead, the 2011-12 Lady Tornadoes have displayed a type of teamwork that would likely make those 1925 champions proud.
Published in The Messenger 3.7.12