A nationally known women’s basketball team, the All American Red Heads formed in 1936 in Cassville, Missouri, with Connie Mack Olson as its founder and coach. Originally, the team, all sporting dyed or natural red hair, publicized Olson’s Beauty Parlors in Kansas and Missouri, and though later the team moved to Arkansas, they kept their name. The team became so popular with the sports’ crowds that the team hit the road and successfully challenged men’s teams with their trick shots, athletic ability, and “hijinks.” The Red Heads thrilled audiences all over the United States with behind-the-back shooting, back-hand passing, and athletic ability on the court. They played men’s teams using men’s rules and won seventy percent of their games. While the men’s teams rested during half-time, the women put on a show that featured their comedic, yet physical, acrobatics. The All American Red Heads is the only women’s basketball team that is copyrighted and registered in the United States Patent Office and the first women’s basketball team inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
In 1955, the Red Heads had a new owner, Orwell “Red” Moore, and a new base in the small town of Caraway (Craighead County). Moore began coaching the Red Heads in 1948 after leaving a position as the coach of the girls’ basketball team and athletic director at Central High School in Caraway. His wife, Lorene “Butch” Moore, a former star basketball player at Central, played for the Red Heads for twelve years. She has the distinction of playing in over 2,000 professional games and scoring 35,426 points during her career with the Red Heads.
The Red Heads played in every state in the union, as well as Canada, Mexico, and the Philippines. The team was featured in Life, Sporting News, Sports Life, Look, and Colliers magazines. They appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, I’ve Got A Secret, Art Linkletter’s House Party, and What's My Line. In addition, the Red Heads have been called goodwill ambassadors by various publications and dignitaries; Governor Orval Faubus once presented the team with a plaque denoting their status as “Ambassadors of Goodwill for Arkansas.”
Coaches of the All American Red Heads, in addition to Olson and Moore, included Hazel Walker (who left the organization in 1949 to form her own barnstorming team, the Arkansas Travelers), Willa Faye “Red” Mason, Jack Moore (Orwell’s brother), Chuck Plummer, Larry Emison, Wilb Coggin, Ben Overman, Charlotte Adams, Jolene Ammons, and Cheryl Clark. Adams, a coach/player, scored over 26,000 points and was offered a coaching position with the Milwaukee Does of the Women’s Basketball League (WBL).
On July 26, 1996, the Red Heads played their last game ever, following a ten-year interval. The commemorative game—played against the Walmart All Stars at the Albert Payne Gymnasium on the former Caraway Central High School campus, where Orwell Moore began his coaching career—marked the reunion of many former Red Head players and coaches. The city of Caraway declared the day as All American Red Heads Basketball Team Day to honor the historic organization.
In 1998, Orwell and “Butch” Moore were honored for their contributions to the game at the Women’s Basketball Final Four and the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) Convention in Kansas City, Missouri. The Moores attended the grand opening of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1999. The Red Heads’ exhibit showcases the team’s history from 1936 to 1986, including a collection of warm-up suits and jackets, monogrammed ball bags, signed basketballs, and the stretch limousine in which the team toured. In 2012, the Red Heads became the first women’s basketball team inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
For additional information:
“35th Anniversary Celebration!” All American Red Heads Commemorative Program. Caraway, AR: 1973.
All American Red Heads. http://www.allamericanredheads.com (accessed December 21, 2017).
Blaylock, Revis. “Red Heads Back in the Spotlight.” Northeast Arkansas Town Crier. September 21, 2004, p. 1.
Franco, Cheree. “Without the All American Red Heads, There Would Be No WNBA.”Arkansas Times, November 7, 2012, pp. 14–19. Online at http://www.arktimes.com/arkansas/without-the-all-american-red-heads-there-would-be-no-wnba/Content?oid=2522479 (accessed December 21, 2017).
Molina, John A. Barnstorming America: Stories from the Pioneers of Women’s Basketball. Morley, MO: Acclaim Press, 2016.
“Moore’s All American Red Heads.” Keepsake Edition. Caraway, AR: 2002.
Donna Brewer Jackson