After 80-Year Hiatus, Aetna, Travelers Teams Meet Again

After 80-year hiatus, Aetna, Travelers women's basketball teams meet again.

HARTFORD — For the first time in about 80 years, the Aetna women's basketball team played a game on its Bulkeley Memorial Auditorium court.

The floor, refurbished this year, was newly varnished. The bleachers were packed with Aetna and Travelers employees. Dennis Brennan, the grandson of Adrian Brennan, Aetna's legendary coach from the 1920s and 30s, sat on the baseline. The silver Connecticut Girls Basketball League Defenders Trophy, last won by Aetna in 1930, awaited the winner.

Aetna kept its name on the trophy, beating Travelers 43-38 on Thursday night in what was dubbed the Insurance City Women's Basketball Classic. Brooke Bailey, a Central Connecticut graduate who hit a game-winning shot to lead her Bacon Academy high school team to a state title in 2009, led Aetna with 13 points and eight rebounds.

"I interned last summer and they told me, as I was sitting in the auditorium the first day, that this was a gym," Bailey said. "I couldn't believe it. It was cool to see how it actually turned out."

A Courant article in March about the successful Aetna women's teams of the late 20s and early 30s inspired the insurance company to revive the team and the game against traditional rival Travelers. John Bermel, Aetna's retired chief financial officer of business operations, organized the game and led the way in having the old basketball court uncovered and redone.

The court was originally installed for the company's popular women's team when Aetna moved into its new building on Farmington Avenue in 1930. The Aetna women, who had a record of 111-22 from 1923-34, played in the first women's game at Madison Square Garden and drew crowds of more than a thousand people during their heyday. But the team disbanded in 1934 and the court eventually was covered over with carpet. It is currently used as a meeting or assembly room.

Until Thursday night, that is.

"There hasn't been a game played on this court in 50 years," said Bermel, who became the historian of the project and served as the MC of the event. "We're pleased to bring it back to life."

Intramural men's and women's teams had played on the court after the Aetna women's team disbanded.

On Thursday, Aetna's Hilda Reedom was one of the oldest players on the court at age 60, but she had no problem keeping up with the younger players. Reedom is a member of the Connecticut Classics Senior Women's team, which won a gold medal at the National Senior Games.

"It was very exciting because there's a lot of history involved," said Reedom, who had a large cheering section of Senior Games teammates on the baseline. "I'm so appreciative of those women in the 20s and 30s that played professional women's basketball. I had no idea. That was very early in the century for women to be doing anything other than staying at home and raising their kids. And they were so successful. So it was an honor to be part of this."

Reedom, who works in the actuarial department at Aetna, was 1-for-2, hitting a long jumper in the third quarter to put Aetna up 22-19, which sent the crowd on the baseline into a frenzy.

"It was exciting to see them revive the whole thing," Reedom said. "I hope it's the first of many games. Maybe we can play Cigna, or MetLife or The Hartford. I think it was a success. I think everybody had a great time."

Janeice Boyd, who last played at Windsor Locks High School in 2006, led Travelers with 15 points and had six rebounds.

"It was so nerve-racking at first because when it comes to a historic game like this and it hasn't been played in a number of years, you have the pressure and you obviously want to win," Boyd said. "It was so much fun. It was cool to see all the history that came with it too. I hope we have it next year so we can come back and maybe have Travelers win."

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