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Interview with Kathlee Hicks

Hicks, Kathlee
Burton, Joy S.
Date of Interview: 
women and basketball; women and sports; swimming instruction; water safety; gender conventions; high school sports; high school band; Confederate veterans; North Carolina and basketball; Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence
Native Charlottean Kathlee Hicks discusses her career as a basketball player and drum majorette for Central High School in the 1930s. She describes the uniforms she wore and discusses how gender conventions of the day shaped their appearance. Hicks talks about the legacy of women in basketball in North Carolina and its contribution to the popularity of the sport statewide.
Charlotte, 1930s-1993
Levine Museum of the New South, Basketball Series
Collection Description: 
Interview was produced in conjuntion with an exhibit on basketball at the Levine Museum of the New South.
Interview Audio: 
JB (Joy Burton):And this is January the 24th, 1993, and I'm talking to Kathlee Hicks. And we're going to talk about basketball tonight. Kathlee, can you tell me your first memory about playing basketball?
KH (Kathlee Hicks):I think the first time was at Piedmont Junior High School, when we--. And I was on the team in the eighth and the ninth grades. At that time ( ), and we developed--the, the young women who on the team--we developed such a nice relationship. We still went on to Central High School, and we played basketball there, but I played intramural after.
JB: Was this about 1934?
KH: I graduated in 1934, so this was probably 1933 because I was only at Central two years because I graduated ( ) in only two years. But the varsity team, I didn't play--. I loved it, but I didn't play but once when I was right on--. I was on the team, and we had this game and here were all these people around looking at us play and all excited. And this woman knocked me cold. And I landed hard across the floor, and I was so embarrassed. I think I didn't get hurt, but it, it, it embarrassed me so much I never got on that basketball court again.
JB: You didn't play that night anymore?
KH: I did not.
JB: Or that day?
KH: I didn't play anymore I think because the coach was afraid you know, that it hurt me, because I really landed hard. And that's the first time anybody, anybody had deliberately hit me. Now, when, when I look at the Hornets' games, see, I see how mean they are and everything and you know they can take it. But you know in those days you didn't do things like that. We were, we were ladies.
JB: You were ladies. What, what did you wear in 1933 and 1934 to play basketball?
KH: Shorts and a, and a simple kind of top.
JB: Did you have a number?
KH: We didn't have numbers. Now, it could be--. And looking at the picture, I don't really remember whether they had numbers or not. We just had--. And it seems like, seems like my uniform was all the same color. You know, sometimes they would wear dark shorts and light tops, but--.
JB: Do you think it might--?
KH: And it was very conservative.
JB: Very conservative.
KH: Because at that time, if, if you remember since you went to Central, Miss Frazier was the dean of women and we had to dress very conservative. I mean, I'm surprised that I even had on shorts. They probably came--. No, they didn't come down to my knees either.
JB: What did you wear on your feet? What kind of shoes?
KH: Tennis shoes, tennis shoes. In my day, we were wearing, you know, the, the cut down ones, but just before that, you know, you had to wear hightop tennis shoes. And I guess I wouldn't have worn it. I couldn't stand them. But if you remember in those days, tennis shoes were bad for your feet. If we wore tennis shoes, we were going to have all kind of problems.
JB: Well, it was not--. Except that you got knocked out cold on the floor, it was not a rough game then. You didn't consider that--?
KH: No, no. Basketball was not a rough game. I mean, or my experience before that it had never been a rough game, but it's just that, sometimes in your life--. I remember once when I was in the fourth grade I had a, there was a girl in my class [Laughter] who seemed to pick on me, too, [Laughter] so I guess that happens sometimes in life. But, you know, we were talking about how times have changed with dress. I was a drum, girl drum majorette of the band, and it was new, because Mr.--. Oh what was the man who came here with the music company? Was a friend of Mr. Lonnie Sides. The music company was out there on Independence Boulevard. A big music store, you know. Anyway he came. He was a friend of Mr. Sides, and they'd seen this girl drum majorette out in Salt Lake City or somewhere, and so they had the idea that we needed a girl drum majorette with the school band. So the band voted and, and so I was selected the drum majorette. I think it was because, the other girl, Sarah Schwartz, who was much cuter than me, but she didn't know had to twirl a baton. [Laughter] The boys had taught me to twirl the baton before then. [Laughter] But for the first, for the first football game, we decided that I would wear one of the dance costumes--.
JB: A skirt--?
KH: Pants.
JB: Oh, pants?
KH: From Henderson Dancing School. It was a--, one of those solider uniforms. Darling. And we didn't think about that we had to ask any permission. And so after that ball game, and everybody thought it was so cute, we were called, Mr. Sides and I were called into Miss Lafferty's office and told that we could not wear pants again. I had to go home and get a skirt. And in the annual you'll see a picture of me with a white skirt with my, [Laughter] with my solider costume. [Laughter]
JB: That's a cute story. Were the, were the rules very different when you played basketball in 1933 and '34? Were, were the rules different from now?
KH: Well, see, you played on, you played just half court.
JB: Half court.
KH: Um-huh. It's been so long, goodness gracious, I don't even remember.
JB: How many years?
KH: Too long, now hear. I teach classes in aging. And when people ask me my age, I say that really, it isn't an important thing, you know, your chronological age. It's not really the most important thing, and so I never tell people my age. [Laughter]
JB: Just tell how many years it's been, 1993, 1933. Half court, that's so different. Just a few years before you played, we looked at some old Central High School annuals. They wore blue uniforms. Just darling. And hightop-looking tennis shoes.
KH: And knee socks.
JB: And knee socks that were rolled at the top.
KH: Just about like women were wearing bathing suits in those days.
JB: Yes.
KH: Because earlier, I think, you know, going to Virginia Beach and things, we have some pictures, some pictures of women, you know, in their bathing suits, and they still were wearing roll-top socks. And, you know, I guess I don't know when we started letting the socks down and wearing bobby socks.
JB: Um-hum. Um-hum. Well, I wore bobby socks, real thick bobby socks in 1948 at Central.
KH: But, see, this was '34.
JB: Right.
KH: And we were wearing bobby socks and shorts. I don't know whether, whether Miss Frazier--. Maybe she retired, [Laughter] and a, and a more modern counselor took over as dean.
JB: Well, she was still at Central
KH: That's right.
JB: when I was,
KH: That's right.
JB: and it was from '48 to '51, she was still at Central High School. Do you have any other stories to tell about basketball or--?
KH: Not really.
JB: Being a drum majorette?
KH: Well, now being the drum majorette was real exciting because Central High School had such an outstanding band, we were invited so many places. We went to the national conference in Greenwood, Mississippi and then we were invited to go to the Rhododendron Festival. Did you know about those in Nashville? Where the leading bands, like from Knoxville and Nashville and Lenoir--. Lenoir, you remember had such a fantastic band. But we were always--. I guess--. I don't know what it was about Charlotte girls, but we, you know, we never had any problems. It was, it was--. We had ten girls I think in the big concert band, and at that time we might have been the only band in any of those other schools that had girls. So we had a fantastic time.
JB: Was it fun being a drum majorette?
KH: It really was, especially, I remember marching in Asheville and it was so hot. And it was really just so exciting, because people, you know, hadn't seen a girl drum majorette, so everybody, you know, was just, it was really exciting. And then we always marched here in Charlotte on May 20th. Do you remember the big celebrations and big parades?
JB: Memorial Day?
KH: No, May 20th.
JB: May 20th.
KH: The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence.
JB: Mecklenburg Declaration.
KH: That used to be a really big celebration here in Charlotte. In fact, all the years I think that I played in the band, the band from Central always marched, you know, in the big parade. I can remember when I was a child--.
JB: Down, downtown in Charlotte?
KH: Yes. Um-hum. I can remember when I was a child, and then, you know, I didn't know too much. I was still too young to know anything about--. Because we hadn't studied about the Civil War or anything. And riding the street car once, because I lived out near the Plaza and riding it in. And then, see, then I didn't know the reason so many veterans were on the streetcar was because they were going to the, this big reunion or something they were having down at the Armory. You know, on, on Seigle Street, right--. Isn't that Seigle? Wasn't that Seigle Street?
JB: I remember the Armory being behind Central High School.
KH: Yes, um-hum. But that's where they were going. I think this was maybe the first one.
JB: Yeah.
KH: That one burned, didn't it?
JB: Yeah. Um-hum.
KH: The first one burned. Well, any--. I was so impressed. Here I was, you know, just a child and there was this real old man on the bu--, on the streetcar. He had on his uniform and everything. And this woman got on the bus- I mean on the streetcar, I keep calling it- on the streetcar, and he got up and gave her his seat. And here he was this really old man.
JB: Was he crippled in any way?
KH: No. They were just--.
JB: Or just--?
KH: He was just, he was just old.
JB: Elderly?
KH: He was just really an elderly man. And she took his seat.
JB: [Laughter] Men were real gentlemen back then.
KH: Yeah. [Pause] Well, I had, at this time I can remember, that, you know, we had, we had charm schools, Sharon School.
JB: How many high schools? Because when I went to Central there were only one or two, maybe three high schools in Charlotte: Harding, Central, and I think, Tech.
KH: No.
JB: Do you remember any other high schools?
KH: There was, there was no other high school except Central and, and Tech. Tech was a technical school.
JB: Yes. Um-hum.
KH: Those were the only two high schools within Charlotte. But the outlying areas had Cherry, Paw Creek--. I've gone blank. I know those--. Thomasboro.
JB: Yes.
KH: Because I'm doing an interview with some people, you know, from Thomasboro when--.
JB: Um-hum. Did they all have basketball teams and--?
KH: Yes, and they were terrific. They were really good basketball teams. Billy Graham went to Sharon I think.
JB: Yes, he did--. Um-hum.
KH: I don't know whether he--.
JB: And he used to be my mother's milkman.
KH: Oh.
JB: He used to work for his father's dairy, and he used to be our milkman and my mother's milkman. And we remember him way back when.
KH: That's great. Well, I'm trying to think--. You know, there--. I thought it was five schools, but for some reason I can't think of the others.
JB: Well, we're just saying that we do remember Charlotte way back.
KH: And they did have a--. I know Paw Creek and Thomasboro were, were well known for their basketball teams.
JB: Did you, did you?
KH: for their girls' basketball. Derita.
JB: Derita.
KH: Derita.
JB: Did you play against these other teams?
KH: Yeah, against them.
JB: Uh-huh.
KH: And they weren't mean. [Laughter] They didn't treat me mean like [Laughter] (some).
JB: Did you play with other towns and cities?
KH: No.
JB: Just the, in the county? The city?
KH: Only the football team played other, as far, as far as I know.
JB: Um-hum.
KH: Now I know that, that the men's basketball team at Central, see, was really good because Earl Ruth and what was that other young man's name? They were so good, and after they left Central, they went on to Carolina and--. Well now Earl Ruth became something involving politics, the last time I heard.
JB: Um-hum.
KH: I remember reading about (that). But it was the football team that really got most of the publicity and everything that comes from it.
JB: I, I was wondering if back then, back in the 30s and back in the late 40s and early 50s, but especially in the 30s, was basketball as, as famous as football back then? Somehow I don't think so.
KH: I think people participated--.
JB: I think football and baseball were big, and basketball, there wasn't quite the same excitement. Am I wrong?
KH: Well, it's because it wasn't publicized. I think, you know, I--. That's when we first talked about this, and I said, "Women's basketball?" I came home and looked in my annual. Fifty-five women played basketball, sometime, if it was just one year or two years, or some, if they happened to get to stay in high school for three years, then they played for three years. But it was fifty-five different women. So that made me think, well, no wonder this area, it's the, we're such basketball fiends because it was born in our grandmothers. Our grandmothers were basketball players.
JB: And I noticed that the women around Charlotte are so excited about basketball and excited about the Hornets, not just the men
KH: Right.
JB: and the young people, but the women. That could be the reason for that. Um-hum.
KH: Well, it, it really dawned on me after our first meeting, when I thought, "Women and basketball?" And then I came home, and then it dawned on me. And here I am the one. I pick up the paper in the morning, do you know I turn to the sports page, but I read about the Hornets. But now I read about, you know, other stuff. I have to read about State, because that's my son's alma mater, but I love Duke, too. And I love Carolina. I love Wake Forest. Anybody who's playing basketball for North Carolina.
JB: Do you think your love for basketball, started--?
KH: Evidently.
JB: Back here when you were in high school?
KH: Evidently it did.
JB: Um-hum.
KH: And, and to me, I'm just--. I have come to the conclusion that that's why we have such basketball fiends, [Laughter] and I mean and why we're so gung ho on basketball in North Carolina.
JB: What about your sons, your twins?
KH: Yes, well, they both, they both played basketball. One of them, you know, played more basketball than the other, and the other one, one of them played football. But they both, you know, were swimmers, got to be swimmers because the fantastic swimming programs here, you know. Also, the Red Cross is really responsible for really developing a fantastic swimming program here. I'm a water safety instructor, too. (I'm a certified water safety instructor.)
JB: Well, I took, I took my Red Cross swimming from Franke Bell. Franke Bell was a famous woman coach out at--.
JB: Is there a YMCA Johnston Memorial?
KH: Johnson, Johnston Memorial.
KH: See, but she started at Suttle's swimming pool. I've got to tell you this. The son at Virginia Beach who swam for State's swimming team and broke some records in swimming, when he read about this special thing that was on Franke Bell not too long ago, it was in the Virginia Beach paper, and he said-well it was that Christmas, he said, "Hey." He taught in Virginia, he taught her, you know, some swimming or something." I don't--. She must have been in his class. I can remember when she was a friend of Sue Suttle's, you know, and they were taking the swimming.
JB: Is that why she would teach out there at Suttle's swimming pool?
KH: That's where she went, because she was friends with--. And then when Johnston Memorial Y opened their program, but I thought that was really something that I wasn't really aware of. Well now, both my sons were Red Cross water safety instructed and had been to the aquatic school, you know, up in, up in the mountains and everything like that, but I wasn't aware of the fact that he was the one who said that he taught Franke Bell, and I've been planning to call her and tell her. [Laughter].
JB: She, she was quite a gal. Quite a swimmer.
KH: Well, so was Sue Suttle. Now, Sue Suttle was, you know, was also a teacher. And she became--. She would only, you know, she didn't devote her entire time to it like, like when Franke went over to the Johnston Memorial Y, and then that was a full-time job.
JB: And I also wonder how many boys and girls got started in sports, especially swimming and basketball, at the YM and the YWCA? Are you familiar with any, any of--?
KH: Well, in the begin--.
JB: Did you have any people or any members of your family that got---? I used to swim at the YWCA when it was on Trade Street.
KH: That's where I learned to swim. I was invited to their special thing here. Did you go?
JB: No, no.
KH: I was invited to their special, you know, when they were having their celebration. I got me a sweatshirt and everything, because that's where I learned to swim.
JB: Um-hum. I'm sure I learned to swim either there or out at the Catawba River.
KH: Well, right down here, Mammoth Oaks, right behind me, was a pool, and I have pictures of that.
JB: Can you tell me where Suttle's swimming pool used to be?
KH: Yeah.
JB: Because that's where Franke Bell--.
KH: Yeah, out Wilkinson Boulevard.
JB: Is that where it was?
KH: It's still there.
KH: You go on out beyond--.
JB: You mean it is still open?
KH: Sure.
JB: It's still a swimming pool? A public swimming pool?
KH: Sure. No, I think you, you have to be a member, but it's, you know, very inexpensive. But, now, when Mr. Suttle, you know, has died. The last time I saw Mrs. Suttle, she--. Oh, she moved with her daughter, with Miss Sis Suttle, and they live up on Tuckaseegee Road, but I think it's Ralph Suttle, one of those boys, has that whole club. They owned all, a huge piece of property there, and they, they have a trailer, like trailer park there?
JB: I think so.
KH: But the pool is still there, and they still have a swimming program. But you know, at one time I can remember--. Well see, we didn't have many Y's. The Y uptown, the YWCA was small; it couldn't accommodate many people.
JB: No.
KH: And, and, the men's Y was on South Tryon Street and, and it was, it was small. It wasn't integrated, so then when the Red Cross came along and started swimming programs, and we had then all these like Suttle's, and Municipal, and what was that other pool out in north Charlotte?
JB: Oh, well there was one off of West Boulevard.
KH: That was Municipal.
JB: And that's where Franke Bell taught me my Red Cross lifesaving. You got a certificate if you passed it. I, I have in my mind--. I--. No, I'm sorry.
KH: You got the red badge, too.
JB: She taught me, she taught me my lifesaving course at the, at the Y, YWCA on Trade Street, when it was still there.
KH: Well, now the only time I remember seems that she taught out at Johnston Memorial Y.
JB: That was, that was after that was built, I think, after my time. I think the YW was there. Well--.
KH: But the reason I was going to say, the reason the Red Cross--. I can remember once when I was teaching down at Suttle's that, you know, and you like you, you like you start in beginners and maybe in
JB: Intermediate.
KH: it took you two or three weeks.
JB: Um-hum.
KH: You know, two or three weeks to pass beginners. And then you would always get, you know, a little thing, a little badge thing to put on your suit. But I can remember over a thousand going by, you know, that we had to number them.
JB: Um-hum.
KH: And we had the classes so--. It was over a thousand in one week that was taking swimming. That's how important, and that's how--. You know, I really thank the Red Cross. I mean it's just like their first aid classes and everything. They were really, they're the ones who really started all of this. And then along came the, the, the Y, you know. And as some cities, because when we moved to Greensboro my sons were involved in the Y, because they had a fantastic program at the Y. And the Red Cross wasn't as strong as it was here.
JB: Well, the Red Cross would have had to have used women who that still could have been sponsored by the Red Cross, couldn't it?
KH: Oh, it did.
JB: Yes. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Uh-huh.
KH: That's what I'm saying.
JB: They really did
KH: But not many, the--.
JB: sponsor the lifesaving and water safety. [RECORDING INTERRPUTED, THEN RESUMED]
KH: Well the--, what we did was in the public schools. We had water safety programs, and we would go around.
JB: Um-hum.
KH: I remember the--. One year, I had like fifteen thousand elementary children I showed first aid and water safety. We would go around the schools, and we'd had these cute little programs ( ).
JB: Can you remember what year? Can you remember what years you did that? Because I was a public health nurse in Mecklenburg County in 1955 and 1956.
KH: Which schools?
JB: I had Thomasboro Grammar School, and I had West High, and I had that part of the county, and then later, Davidson, and Cornelius and Huntersville. But I don't remember, I really don't, I don't remember.
KH: Well, it's really strange, but I have those skits that we did somewhere, what we would do.
JB: Is that how you would teach?
KH: We would, we would go to the school--. We would go to the school, maybe an hour or so before the, everybody would come into the auditorium, and the teachers would select these pupils who were going to play these parts. And I have those skits somewhere. They're just darling. At that time it was when Elvis Presley I guess was, was popular, and somebody--.
JB: That would have been in the 1950s.
KH: Somebody, somebody would always play the part of Elvis, you know, in teaching this safety, and then we did back pressure-arm lift method of Red--. You know, I remembered all this stuff! I haven't even thought about this. I haven't thought about--. You're making me remember things that I hadn't even thought about in years and years.
JB: Well that's good.
KH: I'm a Charlotte native, too, by the way. I was born here.
JB: What part of Charlotte did you grow up in?
KH: I was born over near--I was telling this to a group of people one time--it was over near Tech High School, it was called Kennon, Kenya--, Kennon Street, or something like that. And then, when we moved to Norfolk and I lived in Norfolk until I was ready--, I start, starting into kindergarten. Came back here and my grandmother lived right across the street from Tech High School. That was a really good section to live in then.
JB: But I can't remember, I can't remember where Tech High School was.
KH: Well that was--.
JB: What was the name of the street?
KH: I think it's called ( ).
JB: ( )
KH: But see now, you know, it's not a very good area.
JB: Well, no, but that's OK. That was back when--.
KH: But it was a really good, it was a really good area then, and then we went, then we moved on Pecan Avenue and I went to Elizabeth School.
JB: Yes. My mother went to Elizabeth School. Well, we're both Charlotteans, then. And were you born at home or in a hospital?
KH: I was born at home.
JB: I was born--.
KH: They probably didn't have. Well, let's see, where in the world--?
JB: St. Peter's Hospital was where I was born. Nobody even had ever heard of it, but it's a condominium now.
KH: Well I know, I know St. Peter's because the year after I graduated from high school, this boyfriend got a car, and we were coming from Horseshoe Bend, you know where that is? Out, it's out, you go out Highway 16 now.
JB: Yes.
KH: It was really nice place; it wasn't a joint. But it started pouring down rain, and it was one of those little things with a rumble seat.
JB: A rumble seat.
KH: And so we all had, it was two couples and I had, we had to get, all in the front seat to keep--. And I remember a shadow coming across in front of us. Anyway, when I, when I got--. I was knocked unconscious for a couple of days and then ( ) woke up, when I woke up, I was in St. Peter's Hospital.
JB: Really?
KH: [Laughter] With a brain concussion.
JB: Well, well, was--. Oh that was dangerous. So you had an automobile wreck? I mean did you--?
KH: A car ran out in front of us.
JB: Um-hum. Um-hum. Um-hum.
KH: Yeah, and we went down an embankment, and it threw me out as it went down this high embankment. And this is terrible, but, but my face landed in the mud, and these people were sitting on their front porch. You know, I don't know whether you ever did this, but when we used to have front porches and when it rained you'd sit on the front porches
JB: Of course.
KH: in the summertime in the rocking chairs. It was just wonderful. But anyway, when the people washed their face, they knew me. I didn't know them, but they were a cousin's family. And so they
JB: And recognized you.
KH: rushed us, rushed us to the hospital.
JB: Was anybody else hurt in that wreck?
KH: Well, I don't know whether you want me to tell names, or not.
JB: No. [Laughter] I don't care.
KH: I don't know whether he would want to. Well, it was Creighton Sossomon. And Creighton Sossomon ended up to be, I think he's head of the history department at Western Carolina if he's still there. Wonderful young man. But, he had a real bad gash in his head.
JB: But nobody was killed.
KH: No. We must, in those days we must have landed softer or something. [Laughter]
JB: Well, you, you landed in mud. That's what saved your life.
KH: Yeah. That was probably. Um-hum.
JB: Um-hum.
KH: But at the ven--. You know, it didn't really do any damage. I can remember I couldn't see for a while, of course.
JB: Um-hum. And you were out for two and a half days?
KH: I was out for a while. I don't know how many days.
JB: Well, I'm glad you're still with us.
KH: [Laughter]
JB: I think we'll come to an end now, but thank you, thank you for talking.