Barnstorming in athletics refers to sports teams or individuals that travel to various locations, usually small towns, to stage exhibition matches.
Some barnstorming teams lack any home arena whatsoever, while other teams have been known to go on "barnstorming tours" in the off-season. Teams in baseball's Negro Leagues often barnstormed before, during and after their league's "regular season". Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Satchel Paige barnstorm toured with Dempsey Hovland's Caribbean Kings. While barnstorming is no longer as popular as it was in the twentieth century, some teams such as basketball's Harlem Globetrotters, softball's King and His Court and Ice hockey's Buffalo Sabres Alumni Hockey Team carry on the tradition. In the 1990s the Colorado Silver Bullets women's baseball team resurrected barnstorming as there was no women's league in which to compete until the development of the WNBA basketball franchises.
It was very common in the early days of professional football; for instance, the Los Angeles Wildcats of the first American Football League of 1926 played the regular season as a traveling team, then went on a post-season barnstorming tour of Texas and California, with Red Grange and the New York Yankees as the designated opponent for most of these games. NFL teams were also known to barnstorm in small towns against local teams all the way up through World War II.
Barnstorming teams differ from traveling teams in that barnstorming teams operate outside the framework of an established athletic league, while traveling teams (also known as "road teams") are designated by a league, formally or informally, to be a designated visiting team for all, or almost all, of its league games.
Numerous auto racers, most notably Barney Oldfield, staged exhibitions around the United States in the early twentieth century. Oldfield barnstormed against the aviator Lincoln Beachey at least 35 times in 1914.
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One of the most renowned national baseball and basketball barnstorm team owners Dempsey Hovland started his barnstorm career as a member and organizer of the barnstorming House of David in the 1930s . He was respected as an barnstorm icon: the only team owner to operate both male and female basketball teams and baseball teams. Hovland's world-famous Texas Cowgirls (touring worldwide like the Trotters) were the first female team to open on the men's professional basketball tours (BAA, NBL and the NBA). The barnstorming female Texas Cowgirls also broke ground and opened for the Harlem Globetrotters in the 1950s and 1960s. The Texas Cowgirls originated in Chicago. The Texas Cowgirls were the first racially integrated female barnstorm basketball team (1949–1977). The Redheads and Arkansas Travellers were two other well-known female basketball barnstorm teams, but did not accept integration. The New York Harlem Queens (an African-American female basketball team, another Hovland team) barnstormed against off-season NFL teams and the barnstorming Texas Cowgirls. The world famous Texas Cowgirls were invited to play U.S. service bases overseas by President John F. Kennedy. The team received an honorary ambassador award from Robert McNamara, United States Secretary of Defense 1961-1968. CBS's Roger Mudd reported a feature on the team in 1974. The colorful sports commentator Heywood Hale Broun travelled with the team. Barnstorming basketball was the opportunity for women to play men's rules against men. At halftime the females would show off their ball handling expertise. As an international barnstorm promoter Hovland carried barnstorm entertainers on the road tours to entertain at halftime.