T. J. Bowlers
T. J. Bowlers, a women's amateur basketball team from Chicago that was a force in the game during the 1930s.
The T. J. Bowlers played for three years, from the 1934-35 season through the 1936-387 season. They were a part of the Thomas J. Bowler Athletic Club, sponsored by Thomas J. Bowler, a major Democratic politician on the city's north side, committeeman of the 41st Ward, and president of the sanitary district. Like many politicians of his era he formed an athletic club to sponsor athletes in various competitions, notably baseball, speed skating, and basketball.
The T. J. Bowlers in their first season, 1934-35, were formed as the T. J. Bowler Boosters, and did not have a good season. The team had none of the top players, and regularly was beaten by the top teams. For example, in January 1935, the Spencer Coals smashed the team 38-11, and in the American Tournament in late February the team was eliminated early by the Spencer Coals, 22-8.
T. J. Bowlers formed from Spencer Coals
The following season, 1935-36 season, the team made a major upgrade, when Thomas J. Bowler managed to lure his major nemesis, the Spencer Coals, and the team's coach, Mark Singer, to become his new team, its name being changed from the T. J. Bowler Boosters to now simply the T. J. Bowlers. In addition, the reconstituted team obtained a great pair of twin players, Marion and Mercedes DeSutter, who had emerged into the first ranks of women basketball talent in Chicago, after leading their church team, St. Andrews Lutheran, to the American Tournament church division title in 1934, and becoming the mainstays of the Hart Motors Girls in the 1934-35 season. The Chicago Tribune remarked in January 1936 on the twins: "the Bowler five is led by the DeSutter twins, regarded as the best women players in the central west." Perhaps exaggerated, but indicative of how highly the DeSutter twins were rated.
By the third week of February, the T. J. Bowlers had won 25 games, and was ready to compete in the American Tournament and the Central AAU championship. The girls' debut on the elite basketball stage came crashing down, however, in March of 1936, when the coach and the twins and the other players were suspended by the Central AAU, over issues of professionalism. Goldstein had been declared ineligible at the beginning of the season because she worked as a physical education director, but Singer continued to use her and the whole starting lineup was punished.
The T. J. Bowlers were restored to eligibility for the 1936-37 season, but they lost the DeSutter twins. But the team was still formidable, with Lillian and Mabel Rozhon, Anne Goldstein (now Gomberg), Julia Stluka, Marge Quilter, Dorothy Dennison, and veteran and former Taylor Trunk player, Cassie Martin. In late December 1936, the team made a 3,000 barnstorming tour of Texas, Mississippi, and St. Louis, Missouri, but got a major shock when lost four games in Texas. The team also joined the Windy City League, a league of industrial and club teams—amateur and probably semi-pro—where the women’s amateur games would open the men’s semi-pro games. The team did well during the season, and when they were eliminated in the semi-finals by the Queen Anne Aces in the American Tournament, 19-17, it was considered an upset. The team was essentially the Spencer Coals of a couple of years ago, boasting a lineup consisting of Anne Goldstein, the Rozhon sisters, Cassie Martin, Betty Reidl, Ione Murphey, and Rae Levine.
As Turner Clothiers
The 1936-37 season was the last for the team as the T. J. Bowlers, but in the 1937-38 season, the team was reorganized under new sponsorship and played as the Turner Clothiers. Players on that team included Lillian Rozhon, Ione Murphey, Rae Levine, and Dorothy Dennison, from the Bowlers, plus a player known only as Wilkins. The team played regularly in the Windy City League, and in the American Tournament the Turner Clothiers reached the championship game in the women's free lance division, and was barely edged by the Queen Anne Aces, 15-14, for the title. The Turner Clothiers climaxed the season by winning the Windy City League title, beating the Bill Rand Girls, 33 to 29.
As Resurrected Legendary Teams
The T. J. Bowlers/Turner Clothiers left a legacy as one of the more accomplished women amateur teams during the 1930s. Mark Singer moved on to become a successful boys coach at Wells High School in the Chicago Public League, and in the 1938-39 season he added to his coaching duties the great Chicago women's team, the Taylor Trunks. The following year he renamed the team, giving it the name of another legendary team, the Spencer Coals, which was built on the Turner Clothiers. Members included Ione Murphey, Dorothy Dennison, Frances Wallace, Bee Zoller, Mary Gravin, and Mercedes DeSutter.