ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) – Some historians say Rochester is in need of a sports museum, in part because of teams like the Filarets. Nearly 100 years ago, at a time when few people paid attention to, let alone approved of, female athletes, the Filarets tore up the basketball court and became world famous.
Long before the WNBA or high school girls’ hoops, the Rochester Filarets blazed a trail.
In the 1930s and 1940s, the Filarets were the best amateur women’s basketball club in the United States. They were “the girls who played by men’s rules,” and won.
Over two decades, the Filarets complied a record of 523 wins and 12 losses. Today, they’re all but forgotten.
Sports columnist and author Scott Pitoniak is one of the few who have chronicled the Filarets.
“Female sports were not promoted, not covered at all,” Pitoniak said. “So it was unusual that they would get the coverage they did.”
The Filarets began as a youth basketball league at St. Stanislaus Church. In the early years, the players came from the Polish neighborhood in Rochester’s north side then they recruited a big-time coach: retired American league baseball umpire, Roy Van Graffen.
Van Graffen brought in top leaders from beyond Rochester and turned the team into a national powerhouse.
The Filarets were featured in Ripley’s “Believe it or Not” and in 1941 they got a three-page write-up in Life Magazine.
Most of the women stopped playing to raise families. Roy Van Graffen passed away in 1953 and the team disbanded soon after.
The Filarets have a place on the Sports Walk of Fame at Frontier Field but the only known archive is at St. Stanislaus.
Thanks to athletes like Olympia, Rose, Bernice, Olga, and Irene; the Filarets set the sports world on fire. Their celebrity remains one of the greatest untold stories in sports history.