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FLASHBACK: The unrivaled Rivalettes

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The 1920-21 Rivalettes - click photo to enlarge image
The 1920-21 Rivalettes: l. to r. front: Sylvia Highstone, Elizabeth Spoelman, Nell Bosma, Coral Van Domelen, Willemine Brink; back: Jeanette Timmer, Sophia van der Kamp, William Cornelisse, Hilda Van Dam, Margaret Bell

When the college and seminary moved to the Franklin Campus in 1917, the students bristled at the Board of Trustees' decision prohibiting organized athletics. Physical activity at the local YMCA was encouraged, but organized sports were considered too distracting from the students' primary purpose of gaining an education.

The students were of a different mind and organized themselves into basketball teams and began playing at locations near to the campus in spite of the decision. During the winter of 1917-18, a group of young men in the preparatory program (comparable to present-day high school) organized a basketball team called the Calvin Y.

During the following year other teams organized with such names as the Preps (freshmen), Theologues (seminarians) and the Rivals. The latter, young men under 18, were so dedicated to basketball that they outperformed the other teams and quickly were recognized by other teams and students as the team that could best represent Calvin. By the 1919-20 season the Rivals played a schedule of 23 games and won the Junior Championship of Western Michigan in an invitational playoff. As a result, the Board relented and approved an official college basketball team starting in 1920.

More impressive than the work of the Rivals, who ended the first year of approved play with a 4-11 record, was that of the women's team, the Rivalettes. The women had organized in 1919 and played three games—all losses. But by the next season they had improved, coached by William Cornelisse, and captained by Nelly J. Bosma (who also is believed to be the first woman graduate to earn a Ph.D.—University of Michigan, 1937 in biology), the nine-member team played a seven-game schedule. They played by the old rules for women with six players, two guards, two centers and two forwards per team. Players could only dribble twice before having to pass. Forwards and guards could not leave their respective offensive and defensive zones, but centers could play the length of the court.

The starting lineup had Margaret Bell and Sylvia Highstone as guards, Hilda Van Dam and Coral Van Domelen as forwards, with Bosma as the center and Elizabeth Spoelman as the side center. Jeannette Timmer, Sophia Van der Kamp and Willemine Brink were substitutes. All were in their last year of the preparatory course (high school seniors) except for Bell who was in her sophomore year in the college program and Highstone who was in the second year of her prep program.
The team was fast and skilled at passing, crucial due to the women's rules. The seven-game season began December 5, 1920, with a 21-10 victory (one point per basket in those days and a jump ball after every score) over Coopersville High School (west of the city). The next game was a 4-2 victory over Clarksville High School (east of the city). According to a reporter, the score was kept so low because the referees were unfamiliar with the rules and the low ceiling of the Clarksville auditorium. All of the other games were victories except the January 14 game against Spring Lake, in which the outcome is not clear. Chimes reports it was a 9-10 loss, but later accounts list it as a 10-9 victory. Among the defeated teams was Grandville who, until that game, had been considered the favorite for the state championship.

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