Emily Ellis remembers being in third grade, sitting on the sidelines, sipping a soda and watching her boy classmates play recreation league basketball. She couldn’t play because girls weren’t allowed and there were no organized teams for girls.
“The only option was cheerleading. Thank you, no!,” Ellis said emphatically.
She was finally allowed to play organized basketball in seventh grade with boys but she had to wait forever to get into the game.
“That fueled my desire to play,” recalled Ellis, who wound up starring at Thorndike’s Mt. View High School and at the University of Maine.
Her 1,637 points and 623 rebounds at UMaine, along with her stellar high school career, landed her in the Maine Sports Hall of Fame, the University of Maine Sports Hall and the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame.
Her number (40) is retired in the rafters at UMaine. She was the first student-athlete, male or female, to have her number retired.
Now Ellis and Maine Basketball Hall of Fame administrators Jen Brooks and Beth Staples are the ringleaders in a celebration of girls basketball in the state of Maine.
They are encouraging girls and women of all ages to share their basketball stories and memories on the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame website for a project that ties in with Women’s History Month and the 50th anniversary of Title IX. A questionnaire for players, coaches, officials, reporters and others connected to the sport is on the website.
“Beth, Jen and I talked about the need for women’s voices to be heard. We’ve always wanted the same opportunities for our daughters as our sons and that wasn’t the case 50 years ago,” Ellis said.
Ellis admitted she didn’t think it was right that she and her teammates at UMaine had to practice at Lengyel Gym while the men’s team practiced and played at the Memorial Gym. The women did at least get to play their games at The Pit, she noted.
After girls started playing in school athletics, her reporting got them onto the sports page
As now-retired Bangor Daily News reporter Joni Averill sees it, things have gotten much better for women and girls in athletics in the 43 years since she became the first journalist in Maine to solely cover women’s sports.
She spoke about the dramatic impact Title IX has had on female athletes.
“Seventy-eight percent of female CEOs were athletes. They are shaping the world,” Ellis said. “Sports provide life-affirming experiences.”
Ellis noted that she received an education from playing basketball and also got to see the world when she played professionally in Austria and Finland.
She recalled a story told by Maine Basketball Hall of Famer Lisa Blais Manning, who starred at Westbrook High and Old Dominion University.
“Lisa is a really shy person but she talked about how basketball forced her out of her shell and made her a stronger person,” Ellis said.
“We want to collect as many stories as we can and disperse them. We want to hear about their varied experiences,” said Staples, who added that the website will continue collecting stories as long as women continue to submit them.
Those stories could eventually be compiled in a pamphlet, said Brooks, adding that the ultimate goal would be to have a wing or section devoted to women at the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame inside the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
“That would be fantastic,” Brooks said.
Ellis remembers her mother telling her how she played six-on-six basketball back in 1961.
Three players played in the backcourt and defended the other team’s three frontcourt players before getting the ball to their three teammates in the frontcourt. Only the three players in the frontcourt could score for either team.
“My mother finally got to be a scorer and she had over 500 points her senior year,” Ellis said.
Staples, who is on the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame selection committee, said this project was a point of emphasis for the Hall since seven of the 2022 inductees are women and two others going in as Legends are long-time Bangor Daily News sportswriter and columnist Joni Averill and veteran Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield girls basketball coach Tookie Russell.
The induction ceremony is on Sunday, Aug. 28.
Long-time Husson University of Bangor women’s basketball coach Kissy Walker said you couldn’t have a better group of people leading this project than Ellis, Staples and Brooks.