Top Basketball Player Hazel Kelfstrom: The Poster Child of Highly Commercialized Amateur Basketball in Chicago in the 1930s: Essay by Robert Pruter

 

To illustrate concept on text

Hazel Kelfstrom, 1932

Chicago top basketball player, Hazel Kelfstrom, who joined the semi-pro Taylor Trunks in 1930 at the tender age of 16, represented everything the physical education establishment found abhorrent about commercialized amateur basketball for women. But nonetheless she emerged as one of the stars in the working class amateur basketball world.

 

 

 

 

 

Hazel Kelfstrom was a top woman basketball player in Chicago, playing successively for the Taylor Trunks (semi-pro); Great Northern Debutantes (AAU amateur); and the Montgomery Motors (AAU amateur), from 1930 through 1935. Kelfstrom, who shockingly joined the Taylor Trunks as a 16 year old high school student, played under highly physical men’s rules in highly competitive commercial environments before large crowds. She was thus a poster child in the contentious conflict between the promoters of commercial basketball and the physical education establishment whose model for basketball was the moderated women’s game played in intramural settings in non-competitive environments.

Hazel Kelfstrom was born on May 16, 1913, the only child to Albert and Martha Kelfstrom on the far North Side of Chicago. Her parents were born in Illinois of Swedish immigrants. She was an only child. Her father was a buyer in a department store in the 1920 census, and a salesman for a leather goods store in the 1930 census.  Nothing can be found where Hazel learned her basketball skills, perhaps in one of Chicago’s many park and playground teams. Like most top female athletes of her day, she also competed in another sport, tennis.1

Hazel Kelfstrom joined the Taylor Trunks for the 1929-30 season, at the team’s apex in fame and achievement. She was a 16 year old student at Roosevelt High School on the city’s North Side, and continued in school to graduation while touring and playing with the team. This was undoubtedly appalling to the educational establishment of the day, who probably deemed the Taylor Trunks an unfit environment for a 16 year old girl. Girls in Chicago high schools then were only allowed to compete intramurally and then only playing the tame women’s rules line game, deeming interschool games too taxing both emotionally and physically for young girls.2

Kelfstrom would be competing with grown women in playing a highly aggressive and athletic men’s rules basketball, against not only other women teams but also men’s teams, playing before mostly men audiences, smoking and drinking and acting in the most profane manner. The arenas of the 1920s and 1930s were not the family friendly brightly lit indoor venues of today. Although the team claimed to be an amateur outfit, the team when she was with them in the early 1930s was at best “semi-pro,” the paying of “travel expenses” covering up the sin of professionalism. Kelfstrom’s joining the Taylor Trunks at the age of 16 would appear to be shocking for the day, but nothing appeared in the press at the time about her participation. But we must consider that commercial amateur basketball by the early 1930s had been around for a while and a separate world apart from that of the education establishment, who was more concerned about the middle class girls in the high schools and colleges, and had little concern with the working girls in factories and business establishments.

To explain concept in text

Taylor Trunks, April 1930, when they were competing against the Grads, Kelfstrom, second row, second from left.

Kelfstrom in her first year with the Taylor Trunks was not used much, because the team was at its apex in strength and ability, and she substituted infrequently. There were few box scores published then, and she appeared in only a couple. Probably the biggest experience for the 16-year-old was traveling to Edmonton, Canada to compete against the Commercial Grads for the Underwood Trophy, representative of the North American championship. In their coverage, the paper wrote about the various members of the Trunks, saying this about the healthy 150-pound Kelfstrom: “Hazel Kelfstrom, the ‘baby’ of the team is not so sure she is quite ready to stay here though. Largely due to the training methods of Harry D. Wilson, trainer of the team, she complains that Alberta doesn’t offer enough food for healthy girls.”3

The Edmonton Journal featured big write-ups before, during, and after the two challenge matches, in which the combined score in two-game determined the champion. For the first time since the inauguration of the Underwood Trophy, the Commercial Grads lost a game in Underwood Trophy competition, being setback 34-24. But the next night, the Grads demolished the Trunks 40-13—the combined scores giving the Grads the Underwood Trophy for 1930.   Kelfstrom may or may not played, as her box score was a line of zeros.4

To explain concept in text

Taylor Trunks competing in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. Dec, 1931, from l to r: Ella Smith, Hazel Kelfstrom, Cassie Martin

The team in the 1931-32 season saw a loss of a number of the Taylor Trunks top players,notably the great Violet Krubaeck and original players Elizabeth Falbisaner and Dena Schaper, as well as their long-time coach, Harry Wilson. New coach was Kenneth Anderson. The team’s greatest days were behind it. The Trunks by this time were unabashed professionals, and were regularly playing boys and men’s teams to fill out its schedule in “exhibitions.” Interviewed before her death in 1994, Hazel Kelfstrom said, “When I played it was during the Depression. We were paid $10 a game against the men, and that was good. When I went to work, I got $10 a week.”5

The Taylor Trunks was decreasingly receiving coverage from the press, as competition with top female teams had gone down in Cleveland, Detroit, and Edmonton. Box scores were infrequent, so there are few stats available to give some sense of Kelfstrom’s role in the team. At the end of the 1932 season, the Chicago Tribune ran a publicity photo of Hazel Kelfstrom, showing a strong young lady holding a basketball in the air posed to throw it. The paper’s caption of the photo said that the Taylor Trunks has just ended its season, with a loss to a boy’s team. The paper commented, “Miss Kelfstrom’s playing has been a major factor in the successful season just closed.”6

In the 1932-33 season, the last full season for the famed Taylor Trunks, Kelfstrom competed as Hazel Joyce. She adopted her middle name as her last name, apparently for simplicity sake. In any case, with so many of the Taylor Trunks now gone, Joyce was now the considered one of the mainstays of the team, subject to feature stories, which regularly pointed out that she was the youngest of the Taylor Trunks, at 19 years of age. She played guard, but was also one of the “most sizable” players, at 5 feet, 7 inches, and 150 pounds. The common narrative of her story related how she was still a high school student when she joined the Trunks and was the youngest. Publicity photos on the Taylor Trunks most commonly showed Kelfstrom/Joyce as their “star.”7

The last mention of the Taylor Trunks was a small item in the Chicago Tribune in January 1934 that the Trunks were playing the Dundee Merchants. By March of that year, however, it is clear that the Trunks had disbanded. With top athlete Nan Gindele, along with three former Taylor Trunks– Hazel Kelfstrom (she had dropped “Joyce”), Cassie Martin, and Inza Teague—were now competing in a new AAU amateur team, Great Northern Debutantes (which was probably coached by Kenneth Anderson). The team was competing in the prestigious American Tournament, sponsored by the Chicago American, the afternoon paper in Chicago of the Hearst organization. Despite the stellar line-up, the Debutantes were eliminated early in the tournament in an upset to the Empire Sportscraft, which had no stars.8

The following year, Kelfstrom again competed with an AAU team, Montgomery Motors, which upon its formation in late 1934 aspired to be a top tier team. The team besides Kelfstrom and fellow former Trunk Elsie Teichman, also included Rose Olbur and Charlotte Schoen, both former members of the Spencer Coals, Chicago’s top team and National Men’s rules AAU champion from the previous season. Kenneth Anderson helmed the team. In the American Tournament, Montgomery Motors made it to the semifinals, losing to the eventual second-place Spencer Coals. Kelfstrom scored 4 of her team’s 11 points.9

To explain concept in text

Montgomery Motors team members in St. Louis, March 1935, From l to r: Rose Olber, Charlette Schoen, Elsie Tiechmann; above: Hazel Kelfstrom

Like most Chicago top basketball team, the Montgomery Motors Girls team traveled, notably to the St. Louis suburb of Maplewood, Missouri, where they met one of the area’s top female teams, the Shaw-Stephens American Legion Girls. in January 1935. The previous year Shaw-Stephens took second to the Spencer Coals in the AAU national men’s rules championship.  Thus two members of the Montgomery Motors team met the Missouri team the prior year.

In one story in the St. Louis Star and Times, Kelfstrom was said to rank as “the outstanding member of the Montgomery club.” Another story has Coach Anderson praising Kelfstrom as “one of the outstanding girl basketball players in the United States.” This was typical hyping of visiting teams, but does indicate how Kelfstrom was valued as a basketball talent. The Montgomery Motors Girls nipped the Shaw-Stephens team 15-14, but the St. Louis team turned the tables in late February beating the Montgomery team easily, 25-12. The Shaw-Stephens team only defeat that season was to Kelfstrom and her teammates.10

Kelfstrom’s last year of playing basketball appears to be 1935, as her name no longer showed up afterwards in basketball newspaper reports. In December 1937 Kelfstrom married Joseph Johnson, and worked for years at National Tea Company and then Nielson Media Research Co. She survived the death of her husband and lived to the age 87.

Unlike some other more famous Taylor Trunk players she received a sizable obituary, discussing her career with the team and how it was a “professional” team, and repeated the narrative how she joined the Taylor Trunks from Roosevelt High School at the age of 16.11

Notes

1.  Fourteenth Census of the United States: 1920–Population, Bureau of the Census, Illinois, Cook County, Chicago; Ward 27, Enumeration District 1621, Sheet 11A. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1992; Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930, Population Schedule, Bureau of the Census, Illinois, Cook County, Chicago, Ward 39 , Enumeration District 16-1424, Sheet 6B (Washington, DC: National Records and Census Administration, 2002); Illinois Births and Christenings, 1824-1940, “Hazel Kelfstrom, 16 May 1913,” Chicago, Cook, Illinois, United States, 20 February 2020.

2.  Harland Rohm, “194 Games Won and 9 Lost; That’s the Trunks’ 8 Year Record,” Chicago Tribune, 7 December 1929; “Taylor Trunks Defeat London Team, 23-22,” Chicago Tribune, 13 February 1930.

3.  “Not Enough Irish Here, Says Taylor-Trunks Star,” Edmonton Journal, 2 May 1930.

4.  “Canadians Beat Taylor Trunks to Win Trophy,” Chicago Tribune, 6 May 1930.

5.  “Wilfred Smith, “Bruin Quintet Beats Purdue Stars, 24 to 23,” Chicago Tribune, 4 April 1932; Ray Gibson, “Female Basketball Player Who Turned Pro at Age 16,” Chicago Tribune, 8 October 2001.

6.  “When Girls’ Five Ended Season,” Chicago Tribune, 4 April 1932.

7.  “The Youngest of the Trunks,” Chicago Tribune, 30 December 1932; “Hazel Joyce Is Youngest of Famed Taylor Trunks Quintet Appearing Here Saturday,” LaCrosse Tribune and Leader, 20 January 1933.

8.  “Gabby Harnett to Preside Tonight at Dundee Social,” Chicago Tribune, 25 January 1934.   “Five Games on Card Tonight in District Meet,” Chicago Tribune, 1 March 1934; Leo Fischer, “Six Games Tonight in Basket Classic,” Chicago American, 2 March 1934.

9.  “Chicago Girls Who Will Play Here,” St. Louis Star and Times, 12 January 1935; Leo Fischer, “Five Title Games Tonight in American’s Cage Meet,” Chicago American, 7 March 1935; Eddie McGuire, ”Tourney News,” Chicago American, 7 March 1935.

10. “Shaw-Stephens Girls Team to Play Chicago Montgomery Quintet,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 8 January 1935; “Chicago Girls Who,” 12 January 1935; Dan J. Forrestal, “Shaw Gains Revenge on Montgomery Cagers, 25-12, St. Louis Globe-Democrat, 25 February 1935.

11.  “Illinois, Cook County Marriages, 1871-1920, “Joseph Layton Johnson and Hazel J. Kelfstrom,” 04 Dec 1937; Cook County Clerk. Cook County Courthouse, Chicago; Ray Gibson, Chicago Tribune, 8 October 2001.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Responses to Top Basketball Player Hazel Kelfstrom: The Poster Child of Highly Commercialized Amateur Basketball in Chicago in the 1930s: Essay by Robert Pruter

  1. Pingback: Elizabeth Falbisaner: The Face of Modern Athletic Women’s Basketball in the 1920s; Essay by Robert Pruter | The World of Early Amateur & Youth Sports in Chicago

  2. Pingback: Spencer Coals: Chicago’s Premier Representative for Men’s Rules Basketball in the 1930s in the Campaign to Advance American Women Athletically in Basketball; Essay by Robert Pruter | The World of Early Amateur & Youth Sports in Chicago

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