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Penny Ann Early was the first woman to play in the ABA, or, for that matter, any men's professional basketball league. In 1968, Early created controversy in the Louisville area by becoming the nation's first licensed woman horse jockey. In a show of "male solidarity," the jockeys at Churchill Downs boycotted all three races that Early entered.

The Kentucky Colonels responded by signing the 110 pound, 5'3", 23 year old Early to a basketball contract, even though she had never played basketball in her life. Colonels' coach Gene Rhodes was not amused, and protested to management. However, the Colonels' owners not only kept Early on the roster, but also ordered Coach Rhodes to play her in a real game.

November 28, 1968 (against the Los Angeles Stars) was the big day. Early wore a miniskirt and a turtleneck sweater with the number 3 on the back (to represent the three boycotted races at Churchill Downs). She warmed up with Gene Moore, Louie Dampier, Darel Carrier, and the rest of the Kentucky players (photo above right). During the game she sat on the bench with the team.

Early in the game, during a time out, Coach Rhodes reluctantly followed his orders from above. He sent Penny Ann to the scorer's table, where she checked into the game with Official Scorer Charles Ruter (photo below left). In the Kentucky backcourt, she took the ball out of bounds and inbounded it to a wide-open teammate, Bobby Rascoe. Rascoe immediately called a timeout and the Colonels removed Early from the game to a rousing standing ovation. After the game, she signed hundreds of autographs. She never "played" basketball again.

Even by ABA standards, Early's moment of fame with the Colonels was one of the most bizarre publicity stunts ever.

Related link:

Kentucky Colonels History Page

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