Pioneers in Tech women's athletics speak at forum on Title IX

Pioneers in Tech women's athletics speak at forum on Title IX

Photo: Awesome Eagle (left), TTU Director of Athletics Mark Wilson (in back) and TTU First Lady Kari Oldham (fourth from right) join the nine Tennessee Tech women's athletics pioneers during halftime recognition on the court in Eblen Center Saturday night.

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- Nine Pioneers of Tennessee Tech women's athletics returned to their alma mater Saturday to speak to Golden Eagle female student-athletes about Title IX and their time at Tech, and how one piece of legislation changed their lives forever. 

Forty years have gone by since the passing of Title IX and the face of women in sport has changed dramatically. Title IX states that "no person shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any eduaction program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."

While many in the United States associate the landmark legislation with athletics, many of Tech's pioneers discussed its importance in academia. Jackie Wolfe, a member of Tennessee Tech's first women's track team spoke of being one of only a handful of women in the Civil Engineering program, and entering the workforce as a woman in a "man's world". Title IX gave her the opportunity not only to attend a top engineering school but to throw in the field events at the collegiate level. 

The panel featured former basketball, volleyball, golf, tennis, track and field, softball and soccer athletes. The nine pioneers included Kim Grizzle Kendrick (Basketball), Mary Helen Rudd (Track), Lauren Robinson Neal (Soccer), Molly Graham (Volleyball), Sonya Bowling-Brown (Softball), Dee Unkenholz (Tennis), Cheryl Williams Crabtree (Golf), Jackie Wolfe (Track & Field), and Terri Hall Bradshaw (Basketball).

Each member discussed the advantages afforded to them by Title IX, recalling a time when a young girl would have to hide her hair in a baseball cap in order to compete on a boy's team, but then run off the field immediately for fear of getting not only herself, but her father, the coach, in trouble.

Tennessee Tech, a Title IX revolutionary institution, provided an opportunity to each athlete in the room, former and present. Each pioneer recalled being treated with the utmost respect on campus, not only by her peers, but her professors.

A former basketball standout recalled the familial atmosphere on campus. Playing in Memorial Gym, the football team would be at one end of the gym cheering on the Golden Eaglettes, while the rifle team sat directly behind the opponents bench heckling each player and "making their lives miserable."

Though memories tend to fade, the benefits of Title IX remain. The panel discussed the change in all aspects of the game. They witnessed the transformation from 6-on-6 basketball to the current 5-on-5 game, in addition of the move from slow-pitch to fast-pitch softball.

The women grew up with few idols to choose from and now their grandchildren have hundreds. Tennessee Tech afforded them the opportunity to create not only memories, but the pillars of women's sports.

In 1989 Gayle Burgess-Hastings became the first woman to be inducted into the Tennessee Tech Athletics Hall of Fame. Since then, more than 20 female student-athletes have been inducted. In 40 years, Tech women have won 40 Ohio Valley Conference Championships in seven different sports.

Tennessee Tech has nearly 150 current female student athletes across seven varsity sports.

View the entire Title IX forum, held on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013: