UCSB’s basketball rivalry with Cal Poly began with a 1922 win at the Santa Barbara YMCA
The 1920s were new and exciting times for women.
They kicked off the decade by winning the right to vote with the 19th Amendment.
They were soon kicking up their heels, trading their starchy petticoats for the scanty frock of the flapper so they could boogie to a new dance called The Charleston.
And then there was their initiation into college men’s basketball.
Wait … What?
What in the Susan B. Anthony did college men’s basketball have to do with the women’s movement?
That thought rattled inside my head 35 years ago when UC Santa Barbara started to make serious inroads into college basketball.
A section of the Gaucho record book entitled “All-Time Coaching History” immediately caught my eye.
A coach named Alice Bradley guided UCSB — or rather, its precursor, Santa Barbara State Teachers College — to an 8-5 record in its first basketball season of 1921-1922.
That winning percentage of .615 still rates as third-best in school history.
I was reminded this week of my 1988 quest to learn all about Alice Bradley when I checked to see where current coach Joe Pasternack ranked on that chart.
Gilliland, who was also the school’s football coach, headed up Santa Barbara State’s basketball program after succeeding Bradley in 1922-1923.
A Woman’s Touch
Women of Alice’s era were discouraged from looking at bare-legged men, let alone following them into the locker room.
But unless Bradley was some Roaring Twenties version of male rocker Alice Cooper, women’s history was made right here in the gymnasiums of Santa Barbara.
Or maybe it’s been lost to history.
Google searches identify Kerri Ann McTiernan as the first woman to ever coach collegiate men’s basketball. She took charge of the team at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, New York, when the head coach quit just before the start of the 1995-1996 season.
Teresa Phillips is credited with becoming the first woman to coach an NCAA Division I men’s team. She was the athletic director at Tennessee State when she took over the Tigers for one game during the 2003 season.
Phillips, who had previously coached women’s basketball, fired head coach Nolan Richardson III earlier that year. She was then forced to take charge for one night after suspending the interim coach for the game against Austin Peay.
No woman has ever served as a head coach in the NBA, although several have been assistants.
Gottlieb spent two seasons in pro basketball before returning to the college ranks as the head women’s coach at USC.
There was no Google 35 years ago to help me determine Alice Bradley’s place in history.
I was left with the painstaking task of digging into old, musty newspaper files.
The articles told different versions of the same story: Bradley was a renowned nutritionist and professor of home economics at Santa Barbara State.
One story trumpeted her new textbook about the value of foods. Another told of her study of the Santa Barbara diet. She discovered that it was curiously lacking in the vitamins supplied by citrus fruits.
Even something so surprising made her sound … kind of nerdy and boring.
Her 1970 obituary in the Santa Barbara News-Press, a publication that now is also deceased, made no mention of her pioneering days in basketball.
I was afraid that our file on Dr. James Naismith, the one who actually invented the game of basketball, would contain only articles about his dexterity in towel distribution at the YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts.
The best quote I could find from Bradley went like this: “The use of spinach or rhubarb at the same meal at which milk is consumed results in an acid which prevents the absorption of calcium in the milk.”
It was enough to make me want to burp.
The search took me next to the microfilm library. Surely, the newspapers of 1921-1922 would chronicle this trailblazing woman.
Birth of UCSB Sports
My first real discovery came from an October edition of the 1921 Santa Barbara Morning Press. One story noted that college President Clarence Phelps was appropriating $486 to field the school’s first teams in basketball, football, baseball and track.
“Since the beginning of the war and until a recent time,” Phelps said, “there has been practically no attention paid to athletics for the reason that there were too few men to make anything like a formidable contingent of huskies.”
So was Alice an early day Rosie the Riveter? Educating herself in the game of basketball while the men were away fighting the hun?
The Dec. 16 edition of the Press noted that the new college basketball team was working on a schedule by writing letters to prospective opponents. They sent one to every high school in the tri-counties area.
Starting small was apparently an idea that encompassed more than just the $486 budget.
Their college opponents, however, would include San Luis Obispo’s California Polytechnic College — a rival to this day.
The Dec. 17 edition of the Press recorded the first basketball result in Santa Barbara State College history: a 19-16 win over the local American Legion team.
The sportswriter noted colorfully — with a stain of crude insensitivity — that for the veterans, “Argonne tactics failed to function properly, the college team coming back strong after each assault.”
He’s lucky the Legionnaires didn’t booby-trap his press-row seat at the next game.
The newspaper, meanwhile, had yet to even mention Alice.
Time for Change
Santa Barbara State’s next game was scheduled for Jan. 6 against the County National Bank team. The bankers, however, succeeded only in giving preview to the upcoming Great Depression:
They failed to show.
State did play an exhibition that night, losing 21-19 — to Santa Barbara High’s second team.
That embarrassment evidently shook up the campus. The Jan. 12 Press reported that, “The difficulty due to lack of coaching has been somewhat overcome by the volunteering of several faculty members to act as coaches for the squad.”
This is when Alice turned the Santa Barbara State Teachers basketball team into the Bradley Bunch.
The historic turn of events was recorded by that year’s college yearbook, La Cumbre.
“Things looked bad for basketball,” it reported, “until Miss Bradley of the Home Economics Department agreed to serve as coach.”
Professor Bradley, who had won the right to vote barely a year earlier, guided the team to four straight wins.
The Roadrunners — the university’s nickname before the switch to Gauchos more than a decade later — suddenly drew crowds to their games at the YMCA gymnasium on the corner of West Carrillo and Chapala streets in downtown Santa Barbara. The site is now home to Ralphs grocery store.
The Morning Press quoted YMCA director J.C. Lewis as saying, “The games are proving unusually popular with the public and the spectators’ gallery is always full for the games.”
He did add this caveat: The games were “the only ones played publicly in Santa Barbara and are free.”
Creating a Rivalry
Santa Barbara State soon changed that. It decided to cash in on its monopoly by charging 20 cents per ticket for its Jan. 14, 1922, contest with Cal Poly — the first intercollegiate basketball game in its history.
The pregame rally on campus was even covered by the Morning Press.
“Speeches by the various members of the team and school songs and yells were made to awaken enthusiasm for today’s struggle,” the newspaper reported.
The Roadrunners, duly motivated, defeated the Mustangs 46-39.
Henry Minetti, it was reported, was so inspired that he led the team in scoring “against all odds, suffering from a lame leg and a nosebleed incurred early in the game.”
The Morning Press noted that Santa Barbara State won even though it was “outweighed” by Cal Poly.
Maybe hiring a nutritionist as coach was a stroke of genius.
Plenty of controversies still loomed ahead.
When the referees failed to show for a cross-town game against the Santa Barbara Boys’ School, Alice agreed to let Boys’ School coach Eric Erichson officiate.
But Boys, as you might’ve heard, will be boys.
The Morning Press reported that Erichson had to be removed at halftime after his “decisions were unsatisfactory to his audience and several were greeted with jeers.”
A nutritionist can stomach only so many bad calls.
And then there was the game at Carpinteria High. The Warriors, in their mischievous wisdom, assigned Santa Barbara State to shoot at the inferior basket the entire game.
The backboard, rim and net were all OK. They just had, as the Press put it, the “sun shining in their eyes.”
Life on the road can be tough, Alice learned — especially when the court is on an outdoors blacktop.
But one of the Morning Press’ final stories about the 1921-1922 team showed that she never lost the woman’s touch.
The preview for the last game against Ventura High noted that Santa Barbara State would be playing host to a post-game dance for the players and rooters of both schools.
And perhaps this was the pioneering innovation that should have earned Miss Alice her proverbial 15 minutes of fame.
The “Big Dance” of March, after all, is now the endgame that every college basketball coach desires.