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Penny Ann Early

Penny Ann Early (born 1944) was an American athlete who achieved two notable firsts: she was the first female jockey, and the first woman to play in a professional basketball league.

Early became the first licensed female jockey in the United States in 1968. Male jockeys unanimously refused to ride in the first few races in which she was slated to compete at the Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.

In the midst of this controversy the Kentucky Colonels of the American Basketball Association signed Early to a contract to play basketball for the team. Early had not played basketball at any level. (At just 5'3" and 112 pounds, she was also the smallest pro basketball player ever.) Management, including Colonels majority owner Ellie Brown, ordered coach Gene Rhodes to play Early in a game. Rhodes was not amused and protested to management.

Penny's moment came on Wednesday, November 27, 1968, against the Los Angeles Stars. Wearing a miniskirt and a turtleneck sweater with a number 3 on the back (to represent the three boycotted races at Churchill Downs), Early warmed up with the players and sat on the bench with the team.

Early in the game, during a timeout, Rhodes reluctantly sent Early to the scorer's table, where she checked into the game. In the Kentucky backcourt she took the ball out of bounds and inbounded it to teammate Bobby Rascoe. He quickly called a timeout and the Colonels removed Early from the game to a standing ovation. Afterward, she signed hundreds of autographs.

Later life

Penny Ann was often accused of trying to gain publicity more so than mounts. She was so frustrated with maintaining her weight and getting enough mounts that she quit to become a trainer. In 1974, at the age of 30, she went on a strict diet and worked diligently to get her weight down; however, her comeback was short-lived when she broke her arm, ankle, wrist, and some ribs in a racing spill. Today Early, a divorcee and mother, continues to work with horses.[1]


  1. Louisville Courier-Journal, "True Tales", Sunday, May 1, 2005
  1. ESPN.com story


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