Spencer Coals, a women’s amateur basketball that competed in Chicago and the Midwest during the 1930s. The team, a typical industrial team of the era, was sponsored by Spencer Brothers Company, a coal supply concern. The company was highly involved in the support of sports, sponsoring Prairie football, baseball, and softball teams, and operating a baseball field on the North Side. The Spencer Coals competed in AAU competition, against church teams, and toured the Midwest.
Origins of the Spencer Coals
The origins of the Spencer Coals, who made their appearance in the fall of 1932, can be traced back to the spring of 1931, at the Central AAU championship, when the Forest Park Cardinals beat Jones & Winter for the title, 17-12. The Cardinals featured two outstanding guards, Mary Fandell and Helen Weise; and Jones & Winter featured forward Lillian Rozhon, supported by Small, Ruth Miller, and Agnes Martin. The following fall, a new powerful team appeared, the Charles V. Barrett Girls, consisting of those six players from the Cardinals and Jones & Winter, and coached by Mark Singer. The Barretts took second to the May & Malone Girls for the American tournament title in March, but were upset and eliminated early in the Central AAU championship in April.
Charles V. Barrett, who sponsored the team through his athletic club, had died in December of 1931, and the Spencer Brothers Company took over sponsorship of Barrett's team in the fall of 1932. Coach Mark Singer, and three of that team's players--Mary Weise, Mary Fandell, and Lillian Rozhon--made up the core of the Spencer Coals. They also picked up a star player in Anne Goldstein from the Jewish Peoples' Institute Girls, and former Taylor Trunk star Cassie Martin, all together creating a formidable team.
By the end of December, when the Spencer Coals defeated the Leavittsburg Athletic Club Girls, in Warren, Ohio, in two games, 24-18 and 31-30, they had won 18 straight games. In March the team edged the Six Points Co-eds for the American tournament title 17-16. By early April, the Spencer Coals had won the City of Chicago and Cook County championships, and had become the top amateur team in Chicago.
Central AAU Champions
The Spencer Coals met their first setback on April 9, 1933, when the Six Point Co-eds beat them 26-22 for the Central States AAU women’s basketball title. The team avenged the loss less than two weeks later, narrowly defeating the Six Point Co-eds for the Central AAU championship, 42-40. The Spencer Coals ended the season with a 60-2 record.
The 1933-34 season for the Spencer Coals was as successful as their first season. Early in the season, in October 1933, the Spencer Coals met the National AAU champions, Oklahoma Presbyterian College Cardinals, but lost to them 24-18. The game was played at the 132nd Regiment Armory, and was intended to be a part of Chicago's Century of Progress exposition. The team entered two teams in the American Tournament, for the open title and for the girls rule title. The team easily won the girls rules title, 24 to 10 over Empire Sportsverein, but lost a tight game, 17-19, for the open title to the Rickett's Restaurant Girls.
Then the Spencer Coals went on to win the Central AAU championship for the second year in the row, beating the Great Northern Debutantes, 40-20. The Spencer Coals at this time had Lillian Rozhon, Anne Goldstein, Rae Levine, Mary Fandell, and Helen Weise on their roster, and the Debutantes roster was not too shabby either, with Cassie Martin, Teddy Martin, Teddy Teichmann, and Dolores Naas. Both teams went on to Wichita, Kansas, to compete for the National AAU “Tomboy” championship, a men's rules competition held simultaneously with the National AAU women’s championship under women’s rules. Spencer Coals beat the Shaw-Stevens team of Maplewood, Missouri, 28-19, to win the title.
Later in May, the Spencer Coal Girls went up to Edmonton, Canada, to play for the Underwood Trophy, emblematic of the international women’s basketball championship. They lost the three-games series to the Edmonton Grads in two games, the first 100-39 the second 46-37.
The Spencer Coals had another successful season in 1935, playing a variety of local amateur teams, such as the Club Store Co-eds, who were billed as the "United States girls" colored titleholders. The team had their four veterans in Rozhon, Goldstein, Fandell, and Weise, and they were augmented by an excellent player, Ione Murphey. In the American Tournament, the Spencer Coals lost the major girls title to the Andy Frain Usherettes, which was also for the Central AAU title.
The Spencer Coals disappeared as a team at the end of the 1934-35 season. Mark Singer left and took the entire team with him to play as the T. J. Bowlers to become a new team sponsored by a Democratic political leader, Thomas J. Bowler, replacing an unsuccessful women's team called the T. J. Bowler Boosters.
The T. J. Bowlers lasted through the 1936-37 season, and then Mark Singer reorganized the team as the Turner Clothiers for the 1937-38 season. The Clothiers competed in the Windy City League, and took second to the Queen Anne Aces in the American Tournament. In the 1938-39 season. Singer again reorganized under the resurrected name of the legendary Taylor Trunks. The players on this team were The members of this team were Lillian Rozhon, Millie De Lord, Dorothy Dennison, Ione Murphey, Mary Graven, Bee Zoller, and Miller.
Then for the 1939-40 season, Singer dropped the Taylor Trunks name and resurrected the Spencer Coals name to play in the Windy City League. He lost the great Lillian Rozhon, but gained another great player, Mercedes DeSutter. The other players, going back several Mark Singer teams, included Ione Murphey, Frances Wallace, Bee Zoller, Dorothy Dennison, and Mary Gravin. The team was still working off the reflected glory of their 1934 achievement in winning the national AAU "Tomboy" tournament. When they were billed on a basketball triple header at White City, they opened with a game against the Chicago Co-Ads, and the newspaper item described the Coals as “former national champions under men’s rules.”
The Spencer Coals were a highly successful in the 1939-40 season, garnering at least a 19-game winning streak, but they lost the championship of the American Tournament to the Queen Anne Aces, whose lineup that year included Spencer Coals veteran Lillian Rozhon. The Spencer Coals disappeared at the end of the season, around the same time as other Chicago legendary women’s teams also disappeared, notably the Taylor Trunks. A great era was over.