Six-on-Six basketball: STAYING ALIVE
By BRANDON HURLEY
SCRANTON – It is perhaps one of the more unique “secrets” Greene County – and frankly, the entire region – has to offer.
Most sports leagues sprout from a desire to recapture the glory days, but this one become so much more than friendly pick up games each winter.
The Scranton Community Center and a group of dedicated women – seasoned and and wide-eyed rookies – have been hosting an annual six-on-six basketball game for the past nine years.
Dawn Rudolph, a Greene County supervisor and former Scranton Mayor, and Marilyn Tasler came up with the idea several years back discussing the spectacle that was six-on-six basketball.
Rudolph graduated in 1984 from Scranton High School and played the legendary game throughout her youth. Her memories stuck with her, even 30 years after she hung up the laces.
“There was more of a camaraderie amongst the girls,” Rudolph said. “It was such a different game and it brought a lot of crowds. They were high-scoring games, too. Even if you weren’t a good ball-handler, you could still play six-on-six. It gave girls more of an option to play basketball.”
Rudolph knew there was a way to revive the game in the 21st Century, and once the Scranton school building was turned over to the city in 2008, those frequent discussions with Tasler neared a reality.
“I was working in the elementary school in Jefferson and (we) would visit about six-on-six basketball. I told her we could play in the Scranton gym because it’s available now,” Rudolph said. “We started calling people, started to shoot some hoops and tried getting back in shape.”
The scrimmages grew legs, and became a local phenomenon.
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Scranton six-on-six girls’ teams were on the brink of tremendous success in the 70s and 80s, contending for several Central Valley Conference titles and holding their own against the legendary Paton-Churdan, Lake View-Auburn and Ar-We-Va teams.
The Scranton High School gym is the only structure remaining from the 2012 demolition – now under the city’s ownership – as it has witnessed a new lease on life. The annual basketball games, which draw in several hundred fans, have generated enough money for a new scoreboard, basketball hoops and a refinished floor. The Scranton High School gym was the cream of the crop when it was first built in 1953, with its brown bleachers peppering the sidelines, putting fans nearly on top of the court. The original floor is encased by gray, brick walls and high vaulted ceilings while a wooden stage sits behind the north basket.
It’s cozy and tight, exactly how the stars of the six-on-six game would have wanted it. The rustic, yet modernized authenticity of the gym is what adds to the nostalgic of the winter league.
Tasler and Rudolph had the perfect facility, but a central Iowa competition opened the doors for more 10 years ago.
Tasler encouraged the women to play in a six-on-six tournament in the Iowa Games. It was an eye-opener for how popular the game remained, even 15 years after the state abandoned the high school game.
The tournament experience sparked an idea, locally.
“They are very serious and very competitive (at the Iowa Games),” Rudolph said. “But, we had a lot of fun. So from some of our contacts through that, we decided to start our own games.”
The weekly pick up games blossomed into annual showcases against men’s teams, the local fire department and even a makeshift team of new graduates, complete with boisterous crowds and a special public address announcer. The Town and Country band belted out various fight songs and the national anthem while the Community Center brought in funds through entry fees.
Of course, the rules of the old game are followed to a T, quite literally.
One particular player a few years back was whistled for a technical. She didn’t know why until she glanced down at her feet – she had crossed the half court line, which was a big no-no in the six-on-six game.
Authenticity, again, was the driving force.
“It’s a night of nostalgia,” Rudolph said. “We try to do things to commemorate six-on-six. We first called it our own March Madness. We hold trivia games and even honor old teams.”
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The Scranton league immediately sparked the interest of six-on-six purists, even ones that had never played.
The group of women who flock to Scranton each winter range vastly in age, with a handful who played at the six-on-six level, while others only saw the game from the stands. A select few never even heard of six-on-six before the league came to be.
That disparity is what makes it fun, Rudolph said. Explaining the six-on-six game to a new generation will help keep the sport alive.
“Without seeing a video of it, they were trying to comprehend how this actually works,” Rudolph said. “If you don’t have 12 girls to play, to get the full gist of it, it’s harder to catch on. But they did well, we even taught a few men.”
It was a challenge at first, getting the newbies familiar with the game. It wasn’t something high school coaches had to deal with in the 70s and 80s, but presented somewhat of a learning curve for the newest league members.
“The hardest thing I think for younger girls to overcome is the two dribbles. It’s a passing game,” Rudolph said. “People think it’s not intense, but when you have to pass after two dribbles, you’re constantly on the move.
You can go quite a ways with two dribbles. On the same note, if you don’t have shot, you have to pass.”
Deb Morton, director of rehab services at 21st Century Rehab and one of the original members of the Scranton league, was intrigued by the sport, though her high school team exclusively played five-on-five. She grew up in Bethany, Missouri in the late 80s and early 90s, but heard – and saw – the impact six-on-six had to the north.
‘We lived close enough to the Iowa border that I had friends who played in Lamoni,” she said. “I thought it was the craziest thing I had ever seen.”
When word spread there was a league forming in Scranton, she jumped at the chance. The league fueled her passion and allowed her to meet new people.
“I was all about it. I love basketball, It’s my favorite sport,” Morton said. “It’s a way for me to stay close to the game.”
While Morton was at least familiar with what the six-on-six game looked like, a few of the younger players had no idea what they were getting into.
Emma Saddoris, a 2015 graduate of Greene County High School, played in the Scranton game last winter with a few of her friends and dabbles in some of the scrimmages from time-to-time. Her experience in the Scranton gym was her first taste of six-on-six.
“If I wouldn’t have came here, I would’ve never known,” she said. “There’s not as much running, that’s enjoyable. The two dribbles, that was a big adjustment.”
The flow of the game was much different as well, but nothing Saddoris couldn’t handle.
“It was a little easier to adjust to because the rules aren’t that much different,” she said. “Once you got adjusted to the three-on-three and staying on your own side, it wasn’t too bad.”
Morton had trouble confining to the limited dribbles as well. She found herself putting the ball on the floor without even realizing she had broken a rule.
“There were times out there where I’d stand and just dribble, and they’d look at me and say ‘what are you doing?’” Morton said.
Now, as one of the more veteran league members, she’s able to enjoy the intricacies of the game and the way it brings all generations together.
“It’s been awesome. It’s been great to recruit some of the ones that come back to Jefferson,” she said. “My husband, Chad (now an assistant coach for the Greene County boys), used to coach some of the girls (at Jefferson-Scranton).
I play with two of my best friends. It’s a great way to exercise. It’s fun.”
Saddoris admires the passion the women have for six-on-six, even as we pass the quarter-century mark of the last six-on-six high school game. There’s a thing or two she can learn from some of the women her mother’s age and older.
“(I like) how aggressive and really good these ladies still are, even though they are older than us,” Saddoris said. “My mom (Margaret Saddoris) is way more aggressive than I am. She didn’t really talk (about six-on-six), but she was really good.”
While there was no Scranton showcase this winter due to conflicts in schedules, it was an annual deal for the past nine years. The scrimmages picked up this past Sunday and Rudolph plans to re-ignite the yearly showcase next winter.
Recalling the stories of the past and establishing new connections has been what Rudolph has enjoyed most.
“It’s the friendships. I’ve been able to meet a lot of wonderful ladies,” she said. “I think it brings people together for a night of nostalgia.”