Did Amelia Earhart play basketball at St. Paul Central High School?

Amelia Earhart in 1928.
Amelia Earhart in 1928.

— Associated Press

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Long before she became the first woman to fly nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean, Amelia Earhart was Millie, a 16-year-old junior at St. Paul Central High School.

Minnesota's capital city was a brief stop for the Earhart family, who spent the winter of 1913-1914 living in a house at 825 Fairmount Avenue.

After reading a biography that mentioned Earhart's time in St. Paul, a reader contacted Curious Minnesota, the Star Tribune's reader-powered reporting project, wanting to know whether it's true that she played basketball at Central.

The answer? Probably.

Amelia Mary Earhart was born in Atchison, Kan., in 1897. She had a tumultuous childhood, shadowed by her father Edwin's alcoholism, and the family moved frequently as he struggled to hold down jobs. This included stints in Des Moines, St. Paul and then Chicago, where Amelia graduated from high school in June 1915.

During her time at Central, Earhart earned high grades — 80s and 90s in English, physics, math and German — and was "busy and popular," according to information the school supplied to writer Jack Pitman in the 1950s. The correspondence with Pitman, who was writing a book on Earhart, accounts for the bulk of the Minnesota Historical Society's records on Earhart's time at Central.

"I remember hearing Miss Dickson and others say that she was an attractive, friendly, red-haired teen-ager — not at all unlike her friends," school librarian Laurie Johnson wrote of Earhart. Johnson added that Earhart may have been interested in theater since she had signed the school stage curtain.

The Pitman correspondence doesn't mention basketball. But author Susan Butler wrote that Earhart made the basketball team at Central in her 1997 biography "East to the Dawn: The Life of Amelia Earhart."

"She played basketball, making the basketball team, which she enjoyed, writing her Atchison school chum Virginia Park, 'You miss much by not having gym,'" wrote Butler, who had no further details to share when contacted by the Star Tribune.

The 1914 Central yearbook offered no additional clues — or even mention of the girls basketball team. The team won the city championship a year after Earhart departed, according to news accounts.

Amelia Earhart, right, was greeted at Wold-Chamberlain Field in 1933.
Amelia Earhart, right, was greeted at Wold-Chamberlain Field in 1933.

Hennepin County Library

Local media claimed Earhart as a hometown darling after she achieved fame in the late 1920s. "Records at Central High reveal flier was above average as pupil" read a May 1932 headline.

The story described the young Earhart as "a slim, fair girl who was quietly studious back in 1913."

"She was a good student, and did some good work in my classes," her former physics instructor, W.M. McClintock, was quoted as saying.

As an adult and international celebrity, Earhart returned to St. Paul multiple times. She visited the St. Paul airport in 1933 and likely returned to her old Fairmount Avenue house in 1935, based on news reports.

In 1937, Earhart embarked from Miami on an attempted flight around the world. She and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared over the southwestern Pacific Ocean and were never found.

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