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AIAW greats to be honored at halftime of championship game

By Greg Johnson

Pioneers who helped build women’s basketball through their accomplishments on and off the court will be honored during halftime of the Women’s Final Four championship game in New Orleans Tuesday night.

Among the honorees are administrators who took the game to new heights under the auspices of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, which governed women’s collegiate sports before the NCAA began sponsoring championships in 1981-82.

Anucha Browne, NCAA vice president of women’s basketball championships, believes the names of the honorees will resonate with people familiar with the sport. Browne also said a city like New Orleans, which is known for its celebratory nature, is the appropriate place to commemorate their accomplishments.

“This is the perfect time to celebrate the players, coaches and administrators from the AIAW who helped establish the foundation for collegiate women’s basketball,” Browne said. “Their achievements at that time were remarkable and opened the door to what we have to today, with the Women’s Final Four growing into the marquee women’s sporting event in America.”

Among the honorees is former Iowa women’s athletics director and longtime women’s sports advocate Christine Grant. She was a founding member of the AIAW and testified before Congress several times on behalf of gender equity.

“It is wonderful that some of the AIAW women are being honored,” Grant said. “But I would like to emphasize that we are there to represent all of the people who worked in the AIAW in the 1970s. Everybody together created this revolution in women’s sports.”

Judy Sweet, former athletics director at UC San Diego who was the first female president of the NCAA when that role was a membership position, said it’s critical for today’s participants in women’s sports to learn how the past struggles translated into growth of the games.

“Sometimes that piece of history gets lost,” Sweet said. “It is important for us to make sure people realize the impact that the AIAW had in helping women’s athletics get to the competitive level that it is today.”

Sonja Hogg, who as an innovative head coach built Louisiana Tech into a national power, said she remembers how players like Nancy Lieberman at Old Dominion and UCLA’s Denise Curry Ann Meyers Drysdale helped influence the growth of the game. Hogg said recognizing their accomplishments will resonate with fans and players alike.

“A lot of those players could be described as once-in-a-lifetime players in their day,” Hogg said. “There were some fabulous players. Now, you have exciting players who are bigger, stronger and faster. You don’t come across (Baylor center) Brittney Griner but once in a lifetime.”

Meyers Drysdale, a vice president of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury, remembers playing before crowds of 10,000 when she helped lead UCLA to the AIAW national title in 1978. It was a huge step for women’s basketball, she said. Now, she is impressed by the type of event the Women’s Final Four has become.

“There’s a big-time feel to it with the way it is promoted,” said Meyers Drysdale, who in years past worked on the ESPN broadcast crew. “It is simply a big event.”

Meyers Drysdale also is glad to see players from her era receive the recognition for their accomplishments. While both Griner and Delaware’s Elena Delle Donne surpassed the 3,000-point mark in their careers, Meyers Drysdale said players from the AIAW era who accomplished the same feat should be honored as well.

“You have to acknowledge what the athletes did back then,” Meyers Drysdale said. “Carol Blazejowski averaged more than 30 points a game without a three-point line. She may have averaged more than 50 points if there were a line then. That was the kind of player she was. She was a phenomenal scorer.”

Honorees to be recognized at the Women’s Final Four

Players

  • Carol Blazejowski (Montclair State) – Led the nation in scoring at 33.5 points per game in 1976-77 and 38.6 points in 1977-78.
  • Debbie Brock (Delta State) – Starting point guard for Delta State teams that won AIAW national titles in 1975, 1976 and 1977.
  • Denise Curry (UCLA) – Set 14 school records, including being the Bruins’ career leading scorer (3,198) and rebounder (1,310).
  • Ann Meyers Drysdale (UCLA) – First female to receive a basketball athletics scholarship at UCLA and recorded the first quadruple-double in Division I basketball with 20 points, 14 rebounds, 10 assists and 10 steals during a game in her senior season of 1977-78.
  • Suzie Snider Eppers (Baylor) – Holds the school record for points 3,861 and rebounds 2,176.
  • Pamela Kelly-Flowers (Louisiana Tech) – Led the program to two AIAW national titles and was the Wade Trophy (national player of the year) recipient in 1982.
  • Lusia Harris (Delta State) – Averaged 25.9 points and 14.5 rebounds per game while leading Delta State to three straight AIAW national titles (1975-77).
  • Nancy Lieberman (Old Dominion) – First two-time winner of the Wade Trophy, finishing her career with 2,430 points, 1,167 rebounds, 961 assists and 562 steals.
  • Pearl Moore (Francis Marion) – Scored 4,061 points in her career and had a 60-point game during her junior season.
  • Lynette Woodard (Kansas) – Scored 3,649 career points and went on to become the first female member of the Harlem Globetrotters.

Players/head coaches

  • Theresa Shank Grentz – Won AIAW national titles as a player at Immaculata and as a coach at Rutgers; sported a career coaching record of 671-309.
  • Marianne Crawford Stanley – First person to win AIAW national titles as a player at Immaculata and as a coach at Old Dominion; recruited Nancy Lieberman and Ann Donovan to Old Dominion and Lisa Leslie to Southern California.

Head coaches

  • Carol Eckman – Considered the “mother of collegiate women’s basketball” for establishing the first women’s national championship in 1969; coached West Chester from 1969-72.
  • Lily Margaret Wade – The namesake of the Wade Trophy guided Delta State to three straight national titles (1975-77).
  • Sonja Hogg – Coached Louisiana Tech to a 34-0 record en route to the 1981 AIAW championship; also coached the Lady Techsters to the first NCAA championship in 1982.
  • Billie Moore – First women’s coach to win national titles at two schools (Cal State Fullerton in 1970 and UCLA in 1978).
  • Cathy Rush – Won three consecutive AIAW titles (1972-74) and was 149-15 as Immaculata’s coach.

Administrators

  • Christine Grant – Founding member of the AIAW; Iowa’s first women’s athletics director in 1973; testified before Congress several times on behalf of gender equity.
  • Judie Holland – Selected to start UCLA’s women’s athletics program after the passage of Title IX; developed women’s athletics at UCLA into a multi-million dollar enterprise.
  • Donna Lopiano – Past president of the AIAW who as women’s AD at Texas grew the budget there from $57,000 in 1975 to nearly $3 million by 1987.
  • Judy Sweet – In 1975 became the first female athletics director to lead a combined men’s and women’s athletics department at UC San Diego; first female to serve as president of the NCAA (1991-93).
  • Charlotte West – Former president of AIAW who worked 42 years at Southern Illinois as a coach, instructor, professor and administrator; consultant for the Department of Health, Education and Welfare during the 1970s after Title IX.