Jim Heffernan column: From hot pants to bloomers in hoops

Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and columnist.

Jim Heffernan
Jim Heffernan
We are part of The Trust Project.

DULUTH — I’m no sports fan, that’s for sure. I can ignore any sport in a storm (or even in fair weather).

Oh, I admit I had the Super Bowl on TV this year as I sat rereading “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott. Looked up once in a while if somebody scored. I do get a kick out of the booting of field goals and extra points (all puns intended).

But of course when I was in high school many decades ago I supported our teams and dutifully attended all the games. When I was in college, at the University of Minnesota Duluth Branch (as it was known then), basketball was king.

I know this will come as a surprise to many of today’s fans, but when I was a student there, hockey, still in a regional small college league with home games at the old Duluth Curling Club, played second fiddle to basketball. Football was pretty big too, as it always is.

Well anyway, I attended lots of basketball games on campus as UMD faced fierce Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference opponents like St. John’s, Macalester, Gustavus Adolphus and others. The UMD hoopsters had pretty good teams in those days, with a couple of big stars from my own high school alma mater, Duluth Denfeld.


I was glad when we won, but I didn’t really care much. Going to the games beat the living daylights out of hitting the books.

Why all this now? Because in watching sports reports on the 10 o'clock news on TV and flashing by an occasional pro basketball game en route to a movie channel, I notice the drastic change in basketball uniforms worn by the men. (There were no organized woman basketball teams in what I now ruefully call “back in my day.”)

When I was attending high school and college basketball games, the players wore trunks what were tantamount to briefs that came to be known much later as “hot pants” worn by young women. These brief trunks somewhat resembled “boxer shorts” worn by many men even today.

Year in, year out, these small trunks were worn by basketball players at every level — high school, college, pros, church, Y.

Then, a few years ago, long after I grew up and stopped watching basketball on any level, I noticed in newspaper sports page pictures and snippets of games on the news that the men’s trunks were getting longer and longer — down to the knees — and fuller and fuller, waving in the breeze as players ran to and fro (aka back and forth) on the court.

The trunks resemble what we used to call bloomers, an ancient undergarment worn by older women made famous by the name of a city in Wisconsin. As kids we used to recite the ditty: “School’s out, school’s out, teachers wore their bloomers out, sliding down the banisters, kissing all the janitors.” (This should not be taken as literal truth, but it worked in a few cases I knew about, sans the banisters but likely not the bloomers.)

I never thought I’d see the day in America when basketball players wore bloomers. Lots of things seem to be going down hill in this country today.

Segue now to the present. They’re still wearing bloomer trunks, I see on the sportscasts, slimmed down a little bit, but now the players also don white long underwear under them. At least the outfits look like long underwear. They’re probably the same white tights worn by ballet dancers in “The Nutcracker,” “Swan Lake” and “The Bald Soprano.”


Ballet tights in basketball? Well, what’s the world coming to? What’s next, figure skates on hockey players clad in tutus?

Occasionally, as with today in this column, as a registered geezer I like to remind contemporaries of the way we were and tell the younger generation what it was like, especially in areas that don’t often get mentioned elsewhere.

Coming soon: “Tattoos — They’re not just for drunken sailors any more.”

Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and columnist. He maintains a blog at and can be reached by email at .

Wasn’t the world better when, instead of coming right out with a bad word or phrase, mouthing something like “goodness gracious sakes alive” was good enough?
This has been the nastiest election I have ever seen, including during all the years I was active in covering them, or writing stories and editorial opinions on candidates.
I want it acknowledged that I won the election for president of the Duluth Denfeld High School Boys Union when I was a senior way back when, in spite of what the counted ballots allegedly said.

Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and columnist. He maintains a blog at and can be reached by email at
What to read next
For those of you dressed in Christmas lights and smelling of gingerbread, I ask that you simply see those who walk among you who aren’t.
You should not reuse potting soil from plants that had disease.
The Minnesota State High School League changed its rules, allowing boys to compete on dance teams for the first time starting in 2019. Now 14-year-old Salman Masood no longer has to learn the Austin High School Dance Team's routines in solitude — he's one of the dancers.
In this week's Fielding Questions, Don Kinzler offers advice for caring for a weeping fig, tips for thinning apples, and tells readers it's not too late to wrap trees to prevent sunscald damage.