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1970s: Women fighting on and off the field for equal rights with the Oklahoma City Dolls

OKLAHOMA CITY – The 70’s: a time when women were fighting for equal rights.

And, here in Oklahoma, that battle even played out on the gridiron – in the male dominated sport of football.

“It was something that a woman usually would not get the opportunity to do, so that is why I did it.”

There were about a dozen women’s football teams in the country.

Brothers Hal and Mike Reynolds thought Oklahoma City needed one, too.

“My brother and I are very close. I called him and said ‘Hey, this is just what we need to do, to start a team in Oklahoma City,'” Reynolds said.

So, in 1976, the Oklahoma City Dolls were born.

“I played middle linebacker,” said Joan Bone, who was Joan Williams at the time.

Bone was also a mother to five children and worked as a machinist.

“But, I never used the fact that I was a woman.”

Among her many roles, Bone was also an athlete.

So, of course, she was a perfect fit for the Dolls.

“Softball, basketball and, so, people came to me and asked me was I going to try out,” Bone said.

Her interest peaked – Bone looked into it.

And, at age 35, she became one of the oldest members of the inaugural team.

Playing the game of football had actually been a dream.

“I had an older brother that played, and he would come in and out of the field house, and you could smell that smell and it was so romantic to me as a young kid. They were like gladiators.”

Jean Derry was in her early 20’s at the time and played football for fun at the park.

A friend coaxed her into trying out for the team and, like Bone, she made middle linebacker.

“We had to learn everything. I mean, yes, we knew what most of the basic positions were. I don’t think most of us knew the difference between a guard and a tackle,” Derry said.

The Dolls’ coaches recruited the Selmon Brothers of OU fame to teach the women how to play the game.

Now, with some star studded help and a team roster, there was just one more item to tackle: the uniforms.

“I look at the jersey, and that looks fine. I look at the shoulder pants and helmet, and that all looks fine. I pull out these pants, and they’re this big.”

Derry managed to squeeze into the uniform along with the others.

And, the women set out on their history making endeavor.

They played games in Tulsa, Dallas, even Toledo.

And, eventually, they drew a big crowd.

“The best part was after the game. All the little girls would come screaming down to the field: ‘I want your autograph,’” Derry said.

But, there were some who didn’t want to see a woman on the football field.

“And, that’s kind of where we were: on the frontier doing things that weren’t necessarily popular with the community. A lot of people would say ‘Oh, those Dolls,’ you know? ‘What kind of girls are they that would go out and play football?'”

The Dolls weren’t bothered by the negative comments.

They played week after week – for free – and through bruises, scrapes and pulled muscles.

But, one day in Dallas, Bone would suffer a devastating blow.

“When I got down in the stance, I heard a girl say ‘Take her out now,’ so a six-foot, 230-pound girl stood me up, and another one ran her helmet plum through my knee and broke it from side to side and that kind of ended my career,” Bone said.

That may have been motivation for Bone’s teammates, who went on to win a national championship in 1976.

They still considered Bone a member of the team.

Their reign of glory continued in 1978 and one final time in 1979.

“The Oklahoma City Dolls played a lot of their games here at Taft Stadium but, after four short years, the team disbanded – a successful team gone in an instant.”

“It was just tough financially, so too many folded. If you won’t have the teams to play, you fold.”

A favorite past time for the strong women turned into a memory of what they’d accomplished.

But, then, a surprise a couple of years later.

Writers from Hollywood called and wanted to turn the Oklahoma City Dolls story into a movie.

Reynolds even played a stunt double for one of the main characters.

“They put a wig on the back of my helmet, and I was the stunt double and it hurt a couple of times.”

“It didn’t have a lot of truth as far as our teams was, but that was okay with us. Just the fact they had the movie and named it the Oklahoma City Dolls.”

Now, Reynolds and Derry are meeting again for the first time in 40 years.

“I didn’t recognize him. He didn’t have this lovely white hair then. It was black.”

Bone now has great grandchildren, while Derry volunteers for an Oklahoma City nonprofit.

There are no regrets.

“I’m glad I had that experience, because life is just a memory,” Bone said.

“It’s a part of my history. It’s not who I am. It’s just something I’ve done. I’ve always tried to live my life without regrets. If you want to do something, do it. Don’t be afraid,” Derry said.

Since that time, a few female football teams have formed in Oklahoma.

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