Editor’s note: To celebrate Women’s History Month, the Transcript plans to run articles featuring successful women in the community.
Growing up in Putnum City, Jackie Krutsinger never expected her name would be associated with a part of history. She also never intended to be a trailblazer in the world of women’s basketball.
Krutsinger, who now lives in Norman, played on the All American Red Heads from 1955 to 1956. The professional team was comprised of all women and crisscrossed the United States playing basketball similar to that of the Harlem Globetrotters. The All American Red Heads were formed in 1936 by a Cassville, Mo., businessman, C.M. “Ole” Olson, who owned and operated several men’s barnstorming teams.
“He had seen some women playing basketball around Missouri and got the idea to start a women’s team,” Krutsinger said. “There were two teams. One on the eastern half of the United States, and one on the western half. The team I was on traveled the western half of the United States. It was a thrill for me to see the western half of the United States. People were so nice to us when we came to town. It was just a wonderful experience.”
Krutsinger began her basketball career in junior high and high school but it was after her freshman year of college at Central State College, now the University of Central Oklahoma, in 1956, that she signed on to play with the All American Red Heads.
“I knew about the Red Heads. One of the Red Head players came to the school, they needed another player,” Krutsinger said. “I loved playing basketball. I’d played basketball since junior high school. I’d pretty much worn out all the little boys in my neighborhood playing basketball.”
Being a member of the team meant that Krutsinger not only would have to leave her family, but also included a demanding schedule.
“We played every night and twice on Sunday. We played by men’s rules and we played men’s teams. We made it fun for them. We explained that we had a few trick things we would do. Generally speaking, they were good sports. We really played good basketball,” Krutsinger said.
For the most part, Krutsinger said, all of the members of the Red Heads got along really well. Considering they traveled around in a station wagon, that’s a pretty decent accomplishment.
“We’d rotate seats. If we didn’t, everyone would fight over who got to ride shotgun,” Krutsinger said.
As if traveling around the country in a station wagon wasn’t enough of a bonding experience, the women also would dye each other’s hair the team’s required red tint.
Although Krutsinger doesn’t remember how much money she got paid while on the team, she was able to save the money to help finance her college education. She graduated with a bachelors degree from CSC in 1959 and earned a masters degree from the University of Colorado in 1964.
After the Red Heads and after college, Krutsinger became a teacher and coach. Her career took her to many schools, including the University of Oklahoma. Currently, she is retired and serves on the advisory board of Community Works in Norman.
Although she has left her days of basketball behind for the most part, Krutsinger still enjoys attending OU women’s basketball games and gathering together with her teammates for reunions.
“When we get together now it is fantastic. This was a wonderful opportunity, I feel very fortunate,” Krutsinger said.
Krutsinger and her fellow teammates are a permanent fixture in basketball history. In September 2012, the All American Red Heads become the first women’s team ever inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
The All American Red Heads continued playing basketball until 1986. Krutsinger estimates that there were about 300 women that played for the team during the years.