Today’s post was going to be on one item, but then it turned into two.  Here’s the later one first: A Silver Badge from the Playground Athletic League of Maryland, awarded circa 1940 to Miss Barbara Walker of Gaithersburg.

3/4 inch diameter

3/4 inch diameter

Barbara Walker (later Barbara Kettler Mills, 1924-2007) attended the local public schools, graduating from Gaithersburg High School in 1942. Sadly (for me) we don’t have any yearbooks from her time at GHS, but her daughter noted, “in high school, [my mother] was athletic, especially enjoying basketball.  She played basketball, field hockey, softball and tennis while [in college] at Penn Hall.”

The pin above (donated by Mrs. Kettler Mills’ estate) is undated, but was most likely awarded to Miss Walker sometime in the late 1930s or early 1940s. The Playground Athletic League of Maryland, though focused primarily on the Baltimore area, sponsored “state-wide activities” such as annual soccer, track and field, basketball, and dodgeball championships.  In addition to recreation, the P.A.L. was also concerned with tracking and improving the health of Maryland’s youth; they held state-wide, school-level “badge contests” to evaluate students’ basic physical fitness.  The 1922-23 Report of the P.A.L. can be read online; here are the standards for the Girls’ Badge Contest, likely very similar to what Miss Walker achieved to earn her silver badge:

The Athletic Badge Test for Girls.
The Playground Athletic League of Baltimore has adopted the following standards which girls out to be able to attain:
First Test for Bronze Badge-
Balancing [on a balance beam] – once in 2 trials.
Leg raising – 10 times.
Far-thrown basket ball – 25 feet.
Second Test for Silver Badge-
Balancing – once in 2 trials.
Leg abduction – 2 times.
Far-thrown basket ball – 35 feet.
Third Test for Gold Badge –
Trunk raising – 12 times.
Volley ball service – 8 times in 10 trials.
Round-arm basket ball throw – 55 feet.

As for the badge itself, it is marked “sterling,” has a sturdy pin-back, and measures .75″ in diameter. The design, by sculptor Hans Schuler, is described in the 1922-23 P.A.L. Report: “The spirit of the League is symbolized in Schuler’s beautiful design for the League’s medal.  Here we have David in the act of slinging the stone at Goliath.  David was the prototype of the Man of Galilee and typified all that rugged honesty, virile character and physical beauty and strength which we all desire for our boys to-day.”  And yes, though a large part of the Report is dedicated to girls’ sports and activities, and a large number of women (including physicians) are included as Board members, staff, and volunteers, the description of the “spirit of the League” only mentions boys.

…That was going to be today’s object. But as I was looking through the 1922-23 report, I noticed a posed photograph similar to the postcard below from our collections, an image which has always puzzled me: A young woman about to throw a large ball, between two lines of spectators, captioned simply “Rockville Md., Badge Contest, May 15 ’17.”

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Aha! The young woman in question is doing the “far-throw basket ball” test for an Athletic League badge!  Indeed, the 1917 Report for the Public Athletic League – a direct forerunner to the Playground Athletic League, with many of the same contests, and the same medal design – notes that Montgomery County’s Third Annual Track and Field Championship was “held at Rockville on May 14, 1917.”  Unfortunately the report does not name badge contestants for that year, but it does give the following rules for the “far-throw basket ball” challenge:

-The ball shall be from 14 to 17 ounces in weight. It is thrown from a stand with feet apart, with the toes at the line. The throw is from both hands over the head. Swinging the arms with bending of the trunk is an advantage. The toes or heels may be raised, but a jump is not permitted.  Touching the ground in front of the line or stepping over the line before the throw is measured constitutes a foul. (A foul counts as one trial.) Three trials are given each contestant, of which the best one counts.  Spalding “O” soccer will be the official ball.
-The ball must land within a lane 10 feet wide and must strike the ground at least 25 feet from the throwing line for bronze pin, 35 feet for silver pin.
-This test will be made the day of the county athletic meet.

If you’d like to while away some time, I encourage you to peruse the 1922-23 Playground Athletic League report, and the 1916 and 1917 Public Athletic League reports.  Each one contains lots of information on the history of the two Leagues, the health of Maryland’s children, and the various championship winners, as well as insight on attitudes toward public health issues, African American schools and neighborhoods (by 1922, the P.A.L. included a “colored section”), and the relative strengths and abilities of girls vs. boys.  If that’s not enough, you can also learn how to play End Ball.

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