The All American Red Heads shared some of their inspiring stories as they celebrated their 86th team reunion earlier this month in Jonesboro.
The Red Heads played for 50 years, from 1936 to 1986, and are still the longest running women’s professional team in history.
The four-day event, which was recorded by a German documentary crew, kicked off on Sept. 8 with the presentation of “A History of Women’s Basketball in Sports,” which was hosted by the Arkansas State University Dean B. Ellis Library in the Reng Student Union Auditorium and Mockingbird Room on the ASU campus in Jonesboro.
A-State Student Engagement and Outreach Librarian Sherry Eskridge began by introducing Arkansas State University’s head women’s basketball coach Destinee Rogers, who spoke about women in sports and how the Red Heads inspired her and so many other women.
Rogers, who is the first African-American woman to be a head coach at A-State, spoke about things she has learned during her 11-year career including 10 tips for women.
Her tips included leading with confidence, working your way up from the bottom, finding and seeking mentors, not being afraid to fail, playing to your strengths and not your weaknesses, learning from the ones who came before you, not comparing yourself to others, having a supportive circle of people, not allowing mistakes to define you and finally for her last piece of advice she said, “Climb the ladder and cut the net. Remember nets ain’t free, so do the work.”
She also thanked the Red Heads for paving the way for women in basketball.
Rogers was followed by the daughter of the Red Heads’ former owners, Orwell and Lorene “Butch” Moore, Tammy Harrison, who spoke about her new book, “The Journey of the All American Red Heads.”
“Red hair, shiny red uniforms and great at basketball,” she reminisced about the ladies, noting how they played full court against men and paved the way for strong women as they traveled across the county.
The presentation was then followed by a group shot of the Red Heads with A-State’s Lady Red Wolves.
After which, Harrison joined her co-author, Howard Rakin, and the Red Heads for a book signing as fans gathered around the tables to meet the players and get their autographs. Everyone also wanted to hear some of their first-hand accounts of life as an All American Red Head.
Here are a few stories that some of the local Red Heads shared with The Sun:
Katie Ingram, Osceola, #1, 1954
Katie Ingram, who was from Osceola, still recalls her time as a Red Head in 1954.
“I played basketball in high school and we had a wonderful team. We had a winning team,” she smiled proudly as she explained how she became a Red Head.
Ingram said that Orwell came over to her house one afternoon and they went to the gym where they played around for a little bit, then he asked her if she wanted to be an All American Red Head.
“I sure would like to,” she said she replied excitedly. “And that is how I became a Red Head.”
“I was pretty serious about a guy, whom I later married. He said go because this is the opportunity of a lifetime, and it was,” she laughed, noting that they ran 36 of the 48 states at that time.
“We played California to Washington over to New York and down to Cooter, Missouri,” she laughed. “It was a wonderful experience and Orwell was really good about taking us to places and letting us see things. We got to see Washington, DC, New York City and all the monuments.”
She even blushed a little as she recalled getting to meet Tyrone Powers, who was an American actor from the 1930s through the 1950s.
Although she loved her time as a Red Head, she had to admit that she wasn’t fond of the red hair.
“That was one of the worst things I ever had to do,” she laughed. “All that gunk in my hair,” she sighed, “but we lived through it.”
Ingram said they lived through a lot in that short period of time, as she recalled the black eye that she would never forget.
According to Ingram, the guys that they played against were really great, but, like the Red Heads, they played to win.
“We had some good games,” she continued. “Of course, things happen and I got elbowed in the face. I had a black eye for two weeks. Boy, if you don’t think that was something to see.”
“The coach and seven young ladies coming in… and one with a black eye. That kinda got their attention a little bit,” she laughed.
However, she said that when the people found out who they were, they understood how things like that could happen.
“I wouldn’t take anything for that year that I spent on the All American Red Head team,” she stated proudly. “It was just a wonderful experience. I came back home and got married six months later. We had 44 years together.”
Carolyn Gooch Hix, Trumann / Austin, Texas, #11 1968-1970
Although Carolyn Hix now lives in Austin, Texas, she was originally from Trumann.
“I had such an overwhelming and phenomenal weekend,” she began, noting that the ladies had spent Saturday at the gym and she got the chance to make a video invitation for Micheal Jordan to join their documentary.
She explained that he had been at their induction at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012, where they had also met many other basketball icons such as Charles Barkley, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.
Hix went on to explain how she had become a Red Head back in 1968.
“My sister’s best friend was a Red Head when I was in the fourth grade. So I was a huge fan already,” she began. “Someone that knew me had called Mr. Moore, and so, we met at a game in Trumann.”
She recalled wearing a dress, stockings and leather shoes like young ladies were supposed to back then, when he flipped her a basketball and told her to shoot him three free throws.
She said she was so nervous, but she kicked off her shoes, slid across the court in her stockings and missed all three.
Afterwards she was shocked when Moore asked her to join the team.
“Why? You missed all three.” she asked.
To which, she said she will never forget his reply,… “You never hesitated, which means you will be very coachable. Plus, you have sparkle,” he laughed.
She said that of all the remarkable moments she had as a Red Head, her most memorable thing was just being selected to the team.
“We played in every state… All 48 connected states plus Mexico and Canada.” she continued, noting that they had seen so much, from the Painted Desert of Arizona to the geysers at Yellowstone.
“Every girl should have the same chance. It would change their life,” Hix declared as she recalled the exhilaration of the red headed girls piling out of the limo and people automatically asking if they were a band.
“I was on so many different radio and TV shows that speaking to people just came naturally,” she said.
“It was an incredible life,” Hix said. Her life would evolve from there as she went on to start her career as a make-up artist after leaving the Red Heads in 1970 and then would become the general manager of three different nightclubs.
“We played eight games a week and our teammates became our sisters,” she said. “We lived together from September to May. I love these women. They are all incredible women.”
Marsha Tate, Black Rock / Jonesboro, #4, 1974-1977
Marsha Tate said that she was only 15 years old when Moore spotted her at a district softball tournament.
She explained that she went to Black Rock and they didn’t have a high school basketball team, but she remembers him contacting her when she was still too young to join the team.
So, she started his camp in the 10th grade and started practicing a lot, which paid off because at the age of 18 Tate joined the Red Heads straight out of high school.
“I graduated high school in May and went on the road with the Red Heads in October,” she proudly recalled.
She said her most memorable time was their month in Alaska with two girls to a suitcase and the hospitality of strangers.
“We went dog sled riding,” she smiled as she recalled how the people had taken them in, let them stay in there homes and treated them like they were family.
“They took us on flights and sight seeing. I remember, it was November and Alaska was so beautiful,” she continued.
“The people were wonderful and the kids were just amazed by our red hair,” she smiled as she recalled how the giggling children would sneak behind them just so they could touch their hair.
She said that she got to see all but four states, plus travel to Canada and Mexico.
After the Red Heads, Tate would get her nursing degree from Arkansas State University in Jonesboro in 1981, before starting her 38-year career at St. Bernards, where she would retire in 2019.
Being a Red Head was the opportunity of a lifetime, Tate stated, noting how Mr. Moore made sure they presented themselves like ladies and taught them so much.
“He taught us to conduct ourselves very professionally in life, not just in basketball,” Tate said.
She also noted what a special relationship all the women have thanks to him.
“We can be away from each other for so long and then just pick back up right where we left off the next time we see each other,” she laughed.
Michelle Weyer, Caraway, #11, 1985-1986
Weyer counts herself lucky as she grew up in Caraway, which was also the Moores’ hometown.
“I knew them. I had watched them practice whenever they would come into town,” Weyer recalled.
“They would practice in the gymnasium, when I was still playing peewee and junior high basketball.”
She said that she still remembers standing back thinking, “Wow. That is so amazing. It would be so amazing to be able to travel and do that.”
However, little did she know that she caught Moore’s attention in the sixth grade and he had been watching her progress all the way through her senior year.
“In my senior year, he asked me to come be part of the team,” she recalled her excitement.
After becoming a Red Head, Weyer too had many wonderful memories.
She recalled that one of those moments was actually a very close game on an Indian reservation somewhere towards New Mexico.
“We were behind and they were booing us,” she began. “They were not happy that we were behind.”
“They had been told that we were a winning team. This is what we do. We win,” she explained, noting that the year she played, the Red Heads won 114 of their 121 games.
So, when they got behind the crowd started booing, she reiterated.
“It was down to the seconds,” she continued. “My teammate, Karen Riggs, who was from here in Jonesboro (Valley View) … she broke off and one of the girls passed down court. She laid it in right at the buzzer and we ended up winning … The crowd just went crazy and it was so funny.”
“Looking back, it made me who I am today,” she stated. “We were taught discipline. We were taught that you take care of your body. You take care of yourself. You take care of your teammates.”
Weyer said that she has used these life lessons through her life as well.
“So, that is what I used with my family and my kids. We don’t tear each other down and if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”
She said that she taught her children to be positive.
“I let them know that they can do whatever they set their mind to because when I was a young girl, I set my mind to play basketball and that is what I did,” Weyer stated.
“I was given the best opportunity of my life,” she recalled proudly, “and I can still remember my mom saying, ‘If you don’t you will regret it.’
“It was amazing to me. I absolutely loved every minute of it.”
Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part series on the All American Red Heads.