Orwell Moore's Red Heads back in the spotlight

Thursday, September 30, 2004
Orwell Moore, former owner and coach of the All American Red Head Women's Basketball Team, is interviewed by Andrea Lloyd Curry, professional basketball player. (Town Crier photo/Revis Blaylock)

The name Orwell Moore is automatically associated with the All American Red Heads, pioneers in women's professional basketball. Once again, Moore and the Red Heads are in the spotlight as John Molina, historian/preservationist of women's basketball, brought a production team to Caraway to film the true story of the American Red Heads.

Molina is from Connecticut and the filming team included Tom Stockard with Running Pony Productions from Memphis. Stylist Jackie Jason of Memphis accompanied the group. Personal assistant was Anne Rislove and interviews were done by Andrea Lloyd Curry, professional basketball player from Minnesota. Curry is a Kodak All American and played for the Texas Long Horns from 1983-87. During her basketball career, she played 10 years in Italy.

The visiting group enjoyed several days in Caraway, where Moore gave them the tour of the area before filming on Saturday at the Riverside Junior High gymnasium.

The history of women's basketball would not be complete without the story of The Red Heads and who better to tell the story than Orwell Moore who was involved with the team for almost 50 years.

Molina has the largest private collection of women's basketball memorabilia in the world. He said his grandmother played basketball in the 1930s and growing up he saw the pictures of her in the basketball uniforms. He started looking into the history of women's basketball and started collecting in the 1990s.

"I gave up on professional sports because of the egos, but women's basketball is a true sport," Molina said. "When I started looking for information, the more I found the more I wanted to find."

His collection dates back to 1892, the beginning of women's basketball.

Molina has held several exhibits in Connecticut. He is planning an exhibit starting next year in Hartford to run six months. His overall goal is to establish a museum dedicated to women's basketball.

"Women's basketball still sells out quicker than men's in Connecticut," Molina said.

Through Molina's research, he contacted Moore several years ago and they have had many telephone conversations and found their love of the history of women's basketball a common bond.

"John knows more about the history of women's basketball than anyone I have ever met," Moore said. "When he asked me about coming to Caraway, I was looking forward to seeing him and meeting with the others."

Ms. Rislove said she was impressed with the pride in the Caraway community.

She and Ms. Curry are members of the WINE (Women Impacting the Next Era) Foundation, Inc. It is a non profit organization committed to raising and distributing funds for projects that enhance the quality of all aspects of life for women.

Moore said he enjoyed taping the interviews as it gave him the opportunity to share the legacy that was left by the American Red Heads.

Moore called himself a "hillbilly boy" moving from Cotter to Caraway in 1948. He had plans to farm part-time and teach school. That all changed with one contact from C.M. Olson of Cassville, Mo. Olson was owner and founder of the Red Heads that was established in 1936 out of Cassville, Mo. Olson was interested in recruiting Moore's wife, Lorene, to play professional basketball. During the course of the conversation, Olson asked Moore if he would be interested in managing the team. He accepted the challenge, a decision that he has never regretted.

Moore worked as coach, business manager and driver as the team went on the road.

"I tried to be a father figure to the team," Moore said. "It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for the team. We traveled a lot of places."

The travels were an education in life, but Moore was also interested in the teams' academic education. He talked to officials with the employment division and made arrangements for the players that wanted to go to college to draw money during the summer months for school.

"The Red Heads were the greatest ambassadors of women's sports," Moore said.

"They played men's teams with men's rules. We traveled across the United States playing as far away as Alaska, and played in Mexico and Canada. We wanted to show everyone that women could play basketball and we did that and much more."

The Moores became the owners of the Red Heads in 1955 when the Olsons retired. The team's headquarters were moved to Caraway.

Even though the Red Heads were on the Ed Sullivan show, I've Got a Secret and What's My Line, played 750 games a year, Moore said they still did not get the recognition they deserved.

Mrs. Moore played for the Red Heads for 12 years.

"It was a dream come true for her," Moore said. "She was one of the team members. She scored over 35,000 points in her career."

Moore also talked about opening one of the first summer basketball camps, Camp Courage in Mississippi, in the 1970s. It operated for 12 years.

"We had kids from California, Connecticut, Maine, Minnesota, all over Arkansas and other states come to our camp. We stressed teamwork as the name of the game. We stressed mental skills. If you have to think, you are behind," Moore said.

Moore is always proud to talk about the Red Heads. He can remember the individual players as well as most of the games.

"Our motto was the show must go on and we drove through some very tough weather to get there more than a few times. We traveled over 3.5 million miles without a serious accident. We traveled by bus, car, air, and railroad," Moore said.

Moore said he was just one part of the team.

"I was no more important than any other Red Head," Moore said.

Moore summed it up when he said, "I looked at the players through my heart, and not my eyes."

In addition to the entertainment the Red Heads provided from 1948 to 1986, they left behind encouragement to young women everywhere that loved the game of basketball.

Molina and his crew taped several other interviews including former Red Heads, Arkansas State University women's coaching staff and local residents.

It was appropriate to film at the Caraway gymnasium where the last Red Head game was played on July 26, 1996. After a 10 year absence, a commemorative game was played. The mayor of Caraway declared July 26 as All-American Red Heads Basketball Team Day to honor the organization. Many former Red Heads attended the reunion game.

The Moores were guests of honor at the March 1998 WBCA National Convention in Kansas City, Mo. In 1999 the Moores attended the grand opening of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville. In 2000, they were recognized at a brunch held by the American Red Head's Alumni Association at the Convocation Center at Arkansas State University.

Moore said he is very grateful that through the work of Molina, the legacy of the Red Heads will continue to be passed down through future generations.

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