Penny Ann Early

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Penny Ann Early
Personal information
BornMay 30, 1943
Height5 ft 3 in (160 cm) [1]
Weight114 lb (52 kg) [2]

Penny Ann Early (born May 30, 1943) is an American athlete who was one of the first female jockeys to be licensed to ride parimutuel horse races, and the first woman to play in a professional basketball league.


Early became one of the first licensed female jockeys in the United States in 1968. In protest, 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 to prevent her from competing.[3]

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 owners Joseph and Mamie Gregory, 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.[4]

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[edit]

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.[5]


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  3. ^ Rivera, Thomas (November 22, 1968). "Jockey Penny Ann Is 'Scratched' Again". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 23 July 2015.
  4. ^ "Penny Ann Early". NBA Hoops Online.
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-12-31. Retrieved 2009-01-30. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  • Louisville Courier-Journal, "True Tales", Sunday, May 1, 2005
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