Oklahoma Presbyterian College Cardinals
The Oklahoma Presbyterian College Cardinals of Durant, Oklahoma, or OPC Cardinals, was a women’s Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) team that competed nationally from the late 1920s to the mid-1930s. Oklahoma Presbyterian College for Girls, to use its long name, was founded in 1894 by the Choctaw Indians and Presbyterian Church. Initially the school was supposed to serve poor primarily Indian children. The school evolved into a coed degree-granting college, but had retrenched by the 1920s to become an all girls junior college.
By the mid-1920s, the OPC Cardinals had established a strong program in Oklahoma, and by the 1927-28 season had become a threat in the national AAU tournament (the unofficial one held in Wichita). The team’s coach was Sam F. Babb, who recruited well throughout Oklahoma, stressing that the women could get a good education while playing basketball. He emphasized conditioning, and had his players run a mile every day and shoot 100 free throws in practice. All the girls had part-time jobs at the school to help pay living and tuition costs.
By the 1932 tournament the Cardinals were ready to make an impact. The favorite of in the 1932 tournament was defending champion, Golden Cyclones, which still had Babe Didrikson on the team. The Cardinals upset the Golden Cyclones in the finals, 35-32, led by Doll Harris, who netted 19 points in the game. Harris was selected as the Most Valuable Player, joining teammates Lucille Thurman, Hazel Vickers, and Coral Worley on the All American (all star) team.
The following year, the Cardinals repeated as champion, again meeting in the finals the Golden Cyclones, which had three former Cardinals on their squad, but not Babe Didrikson who quit after the 1932 season. The Cardinals prevailed 49-39, even though they were without the services throughout most of the game of Doll Harris, who got injured early. Three OPC players were selected as All Americans—Doll Harris, Ernestine Lampson, and Lucille Thurman who also was selected as the Most Valuable Player.
Beating the Edmonton Grads
The Cardinals capped their season by defeating the Edmonton Grads for the North American championship, the champion which would go to Europe to play in the world tournament. Although often listed as a competition for the Underwood Trophy, the men's rules challenge contests for North American supremacy, it was not. The contest was designed as a five-game series, the first team to win three out of five would be declared the winner. Complicating the contest was that the games would alternate between men and women rules. The first game was under men's rules theoretically gave Edmonton the advantage, but the Cardinals upset them, 59-52. The second game under women's rules, and the Cardinals again prevailed, 83-48. In the third game, the Cardinals prevailed in close contest, 45-43. The Grads, who had beat every American team in every Underwood series, this upset was a tremendous shock. This was the first series between national champions of the two countries. The victorious Cardinals went to Europe to the world championship, and in turn was shockingly upset by a French team.
As Oklahoma City University Cardinals
In the 1933-34 season, financial difficulties at the college forced the disbandment of the team, and the girls and Coach Babb migrated over to Southeastern, the state-supported college in Durant, and played as the Cardinals there for a brief time. But then most of the team moved to Oklahoma City to play as the Oklahoma City University Cardinals. The Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce supported the girls with jobs. At the AAU national tournament, the Cardinals made it to the final game, losing to the Tulsa Business College Stenos, which put an end to the Cardinals 89-game winning streak. Lucille Thurman and Hazel Vickers were selected for the All American team. After a trip to Europe, the Cardinals disbanded.
Former Cardinals went on to play for such teams as El Dorado Lion Oil, Galveston Anicos, Holdenville, and Tulsa Business College. Hazel Vickers and the twins Lera and Vera Dunford joined the All American Red Heads. Sam F. Babb went on to coach first at Shreveport and for the Galveston Anicos.