Marion and Mercedes DeSutter became stars in Chciago amateur basketball not only for their exceptional talent but also because the newspapers of the day were taken with twins and sisters in their promotion of women’s basketball.
Marion and Mercedes DeSutter (born August 31, 1916 ) were twin sisters who were amateur woman’s basketball players of the 1930s and 1940s. Marion and Mercedes were ranked as leading players in Chicago’s flourishing woman’s amateur basketball of the 1930s and 1940s. The two also had a considerable softball career in the 1930s.
Marion and Mercedes first attended Alvernia High School and then Schurz High their senior year (their parents couldn’t afford the tuition at Alvernia). The girls were playing basketball at this time, and the nuns always told them that they should not be playing sports because it was not physically safe for girls–“they were in danger of a heart attack,” related Marion DeSutter’s daughter Kathleen Dabbert. The twins probably heard this through their high school years, as the dominant view of educators at the time was that girls should not compete in athletics, especially the physically strenuous sort. Before they graduated Marion and Mercedes competed in basketball, volleyball, and track and field.1
The sisters during their senior year at Schurz first played outside competitive basketball for the St. Andrews Lutheran church team. In March of 1934, the team entered the American Tournament in the Church division. Mercedes playing center and Marion playing forward led the team to the championship, beating the Bird Memorial Church team, which featured the three Hull sisters (Coral, Mabel, and Loral), 18-1, the DeSutters combining for 13 of the 18 points. The Chicago American and other papers were taken with the idea of sisters competing together on teams, and frequently ran photos of the DeSutter twins as well as other sister teammates.2
Marion and Mercedes first entered the top ranks of amateur basketball in Chicago in the 1934-35 season, when they played for the Hart Motors Girls. Hart Motors had a nationally recognized women’s softball team, and decided to branch out to women’s basketball in the fall of 1934. Other players on the team include Cassie Martin, Babe Sisk, and Natalie Young (both Sisk and Young were top softball players). The Hart Motors team was not competitive with top female squads, notably the Spencer Coals, but could beat most other teams. The team was eliminated in the American Tournament by eventual winner, the Andy Frain Usherettes.3
The Hart Motors team only lasted one year, and for the 1935-36 season, the DeSutter twins moved to the newly formed T. J. Bowlers team, directed by manager/coach Mark Singer. By this time the DeSutter twins were highly respected, as evidenced by the Chicago Tribune remark in January 1936 on the team: “the Bowler five is led by the DeSutter twins, regarded as the best women players in the central west.” Perhaps exaggerated, but indicative of how highly the DeSutter twins were rated. Other members of the team included two great veterans Lillian Rozhon and Anne Goldstein, plus Frances Wallace. The girls’ debut on the elite basketball stage came crashing down in March of 1936, when the coach and the twins and the-other players were suspended by the Central AAU, over issues of professionalism.4
The sisters the joined a new powerful amateur women’s team in the 1936-37 season, the Alamo Theater Co-eds. The team was coached by William Thompson. The girls were finally a part of a championship team, leading the Alamo Theater Co-eds to the American and Central AAU championships.. Romances on the women’s amateur basketball teams were common, and the Alamo Theater Co-eds experienced one, as evident when in 1939, Coach William Thompson and Marion DeSutter became man and wife.5
In the 1937-38 season, the twins joined the Bill Rand Girls, and helped make it a powerhouse in the city. Besides Marion and Mercedes, the team included veteran star Anne Goldstein, Babe Sisk, and Natalie Young (reuniting some of the Hart Motors Girls team from some years earlier). At the end of the season, in May, much of the team, along with some other top Chicago players, notably Evelyn Krubaeck and Lillian Rozhon, were organized into the Chicago All-Stars to play in the Edmonton Grads in Canada for the Underwood Trophy. As usual in these years, the Chicago team was beaten handedly. The following season, the team was strengthened, and the twins were supported by veterans Madge Kline and Catherine Fellmeth. That season they won the Windy City League championship by taking the title game as part of the Central AAU tournament that year. On the other hand, the Rands lost the title game of the American Tournament to the Queen Anne Aces.6
In the 1939-40 season, Mercedes DeSutter joined the Mark Singer’s Spencer Coals (not actually the original Spencer Coals but a team that took the legendary “Spencer Coals” name), playing center, and helped lead her team to second place in the American tournament, losing to the Queen Anne Aces. On December 2, 1939, she was married to Terrence J. McGrath, but it was only in the following season, 1940-41, that Mercedes played as Mrs. McGrath. That year she helped her team, the Standard Transformers, win the women’s championship of the Herald-American Tournament.7
Marion DeSutter, besides her twin, had two brothers and one other sister. With her husband, William Thompson, she had five children (4 girls and 1 boy). DeSutter was a member of the St. Mary’s church in West Chicago, and was employed as a clerk in the DuPage Recorder of Deeds office for 12 years. She was a volunteer for more than 15 years at DuPage County Convalescent Center. Marion died on July 16, 2005. Mercedes DeSutter with Terrance McGrath had two sons and one daughter. She worked at Easter Seals part-time, and like her sister volunteered at the DuPage County Convalescent Center. She died on March 18, 2002. Their deaths went unnoticed, and neither were memorialized with their basketball achievements.8
1.. “What’s the Score? Who Cares!” Chicago Times, undated newspaper clipping Marion DeSutter scrapbook; “Here’s a Problem for a Cage Official” , Chicago American, 21 December 1934; Leo Fischer, 3. “What’s the Score? Who Cares!” Chicago Times, undated newspaper clipping Marion DeSutter scrapbook; “Here’s a Problem for a Cage Official” , Chicago American, 21 December 1934; Leo Fischer, “Play Six Games in American Cage Meet Semifinals,” Chicago American, 4 March 1935.
2. Leo Fischer, “Five Title Games Tonight As Cage Meet Nears End,” Chicago American, 9 March 1934.
3. “What’s the Score? Who Cares!” Chicago Times, undated newspaper clipping Marion DeSutter scrapbook; “Here’s a Problem for a Cage Official” , Chicago American, 21 December 1934; Leo Fischer, “Play Six Games in American Cage Meet Semifinals,” Chicago American, 4 March 1935.
4. “Bowler Girls’ Quintet Meets Racine Tonight,” Chicago Tribune, 5 January 1936; “T. J. Bowler Girls Beat Guy Bush Boosters, 26-12,” Chicago Tribune, 19 February 1936; “Central A.A.U. Suspends Ten Girl Athletes,” Chicago Tribune, 18 April 1936.
5. Leo Fischer, “Hail Champions! Five Cage Title Winners Crowned,” Chicago American, 4 March 1937; Eddie McGuire, “Artillery Beats Philo for Central A.A.U. Cage Title,” Chicago American, 11 March 1937;
6. “Grads Triumph Over Chicago 40-33,” Lethbridge Herald, 11 May 1938; “Noel MacDonald Leads Grads Within Game of Hoop Crown,” Winnipeg Times, 13 May 1938; Leo Fischer, “Four Title Games End Cage Meet,” Chicago American, 3 March 1939; Leo Fischer, “Final Champs Crowned in Big Cage Tourney,” Chicago American, 4 March 1939; “Harmon Quintet Wins Trip to Denver,” Chicago American, 9 March 1939.
7. ‘Bride” . The Garfieldian, 4 January 1940; “Roos Star of Acme Steel Cage Win,” Chicago Herald American, 13 March 1940; Leo Fischer, “Thrillers Decide H. A. Cage Titles,” Chicago Herald-American, 13 February 1941.
8. “Mercedes E. McGrath, 85; Glen Ellyn Resident Was Volunteer,” Chicago Tribune, 21 March 20.