Myles Brand and Ced Dempsey
It was the fall of 2002. Myles Brand, the president of Indiana University, had just been named to replace then NCAA President Cedric Dempsey in January. One of Brand’s first calls was to Wally Renfro, a veteran NCAA leader who had recently left the NCAA. The two men sat in Brand’s office in Bloomington, Ind., and talked.
“He said, ‘I want to change how people talk and think about college athletics,’” remembered Renfro, NCAA vice president and chief policy officer. “My thought was that is what I’ve always wanted to do.”
When asked to come back, Renfro said yes and worked with Brand at the NCAA from 2003 until Brand’s death in 2009.
He came back because he realized Brand understood the enterprise was far bigger than sports on campus. Rather it is about sports being embedded in higher education, said Renfro.
During Brand’s tenure, the NCAA’s focus narrowed in on the academic success of student-athletes. He pushed for the development and implementation of the Division I Academic Progress Rate (APR) and then worked tirelessly to see that it was accepted throughout the Association.
“It was sustained by his will to see it through and to make sure it didn’t regress,” Renfro said.
As the first former university president to serve as the NCAA chief executive, Brand ushered in a new era. With him at the helm, hitting the books now became a more important and necessary part of hitting the field.
But his focus wasn’t just on Division I. He helped Division II establish an identity campaign and an Academic Support Rate (ASR) model similar to the APR. He also helped lead Division III when it was experiencing unprecedented growth.
“His ability to put intercollegiate athletics into the context of the campus experience was extraordinary,” Renfro said. “Myles understood that intercollegiate athletics was entertaining, but he never once believed its business was entertainment. He believed it was embedded in the values of the sponsoring institutions, and paramount among those values was education.”
At the same time, Brand also understood the importance of athletics to the university. He fully embraced the notion that athletics were the front porch to universities. But he pushed hard to rein in athletic spending and to make sure that whatever money was spent on sport was part and parcel of the schools various academic missions.
Ced Dempsey, the man whom Brand succeeded, left his own imprint on the Association.
Dempsey may be most responsible for where the NCAA is today.
Among the many achievements during Dempsey’s nine years as NCAA president, the most visible is his orchestration of the Association’s move from Kansas City to Indianapolis in 1999.
Many staffers still remember him standing in front of them before the move and telling them they had a job waiting for them in Indiana.
“Many organizations, when they make a physical transition like that, are dismissive of those who are not going to make the move or in many cases of those who they hope won’t make the move,” Renfro said. “Ced’s first message to the staff was that everyone is welcome to move.”
Dempsey was a standout athlete in three sports at Albion College and would later serve as his alma mater’s head basketball and cross country coach and dean of men before moving on to become the athletics director at four Division I schools.
So, Dempsey was familiar with the workings of the NCAA when he assumed the position in 1994.
With the changes to the governance structure in 1997, the title of “executive director” disappeared. The chief executive became known as “president,” with a relation to the Executive Committee that mirrors that of a university president or chancellor to a Board.
This restructuring implemented by Dempsey wasn’t just significant for the NCAA’s national office; it established greater legislative autonomy for all three divisions.
Despite having served strictly as an athletics administrator, Dempsey still respected and appreciated what athletics could do for colleges and universities.
“He believed in the notion that those who coach are teachers,” Renfro said. “And that their impact on the lives of young people is as profound as any other professor on campus.”
James Frank has heard the question 100 times.
So, why not 101?
What did it mean to be the first African-American president of the NCAA?
He had 81 years of memories to organize before answering.
“Well, it meant that I had reached a certain level of acceptance from my colleagues,” Frank said. “It shows that the NCAA was willing to accept a person with the ability, and the color of his skin did not matter. I can’t vouch that it made everybody happy, but I never once received any kind of indication that I was not welcomed.”
Frank was a visionary during the four years he worked with the NCAA, first as secretary treasurer from 1979-81 and then as president from 1981-83. But it wasn’t for the obvious reason.
Yes, Frank helped break down the color barrier within the administration of college athletics, the same crisis that hampered this country’s black athletes for decades, but it was his role as the president at Lincoln University in Missouri that really made him a futurist.
When Frank was voted the NCAA membership president, he was about 20 years ahead of his time, becoming the first university president to hold that position. It was the highest membership position possible and is still a legacy that quite likely will last, as in 1997, the NCAA revamped its governance structure and moved away from an elected president.
“I think he was one of the early pioneers in what would become a memorialized approach,” said Wally Renfro, the NCAA vice president and chief policy advisor. “Twenty years after him, you had the Association putting the decision-making process in the hands of presidents. He was considerably ahead of his time.”
Before the current arrangement of the NCAA, where university presidents influence policy and legislation, the NCAA took its direction from athletics directors, faculty athletic representatives and others below the presidential office.
Frank said he pushed for presidential involvement at a time when presidents didn’t attend NCAA meetings.
Looking back, Frank’s two presidential accomplishments – becoming the first African-American and the first university leader to be voted into the NCAA’s highest membership position – weigh equally in his memory.
“I think both of them were very significant changes in the face of the NCAA,” Frank said.
Yet, there was more.
Not only was Frank the first university president to ascend to NCAA president, he did so from a Division II institution, a jump unheard of in the early 1980s.
Frank didn’t just look toward the future when it came to his positions. He had an eye on the horizon when it came to wide spectrum of issues across college sports.
During his time as president, he championed the inclusion of women’s athletics under the NCAA’s umbrella, which helped usher in an era of women’s championships at the NCAA.
But Frank’s most notable achievement as president came in 1983, with the passing of Proposition 48, the legislation that set eligibility standards for incoming freshman student-athletes. When Frank proposed the new standards, which included a required 2.0 minimum GPA, a 700 score on the SAT and 11 core classes, he dug in for one of the toughest fights of his career.
Until then, the eligibility standards were dictated by the 1.6 rule, which ruled freshman student-athletes eligible if their high school grades combined with their standardized test scores could predict a 1.6 GPA or better.
“It was just a big, big change for institutions,” Frank said. “There was a great recognition that it was necessary for high school graduates and athletes coming into college to recognize the main purpose of going to college was to get a degree.”
Among the greatest pushback was from Frank’s peers at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU).
Presidents of HBCU’s felt the new minimum standards were a way to restrict the number of black athletes admitted to college. The presidents said the new standards didn’t take into account the “handicaps that some of the athletes had,” Frank remembered.
During the discussions about Prop 48, he took an advising role with the NCAA’s executive committee and other university presidents.
The result can still be seen almost 30 years later.
“Today,” Frank said, “you don’t hear anything about it. You expect it. I think everybody would agree it was a good thing. I think it changed the atmosphere of college athletics in the sense that you had to also go to class and study to maintain a certain average.”
Renfro, who has worked at the NCAA for 40 years, said Prop 48 set a new standard, not just for how academic eligibility was calculated, but how it was developed.
“It was really the first time that we began using data to set those standards,” Renfro said.
As told by Delise O’Meally, NCAA Director of Governance and International Affairs.
I did not know Althea Gibson, and she did not know me. She grew up in the streets of Harlem, N.Y., in the 1930s and 40s, and I came of age in a small island ocean town in the 1970s and 80s. But as a former tennis player and a woman of color, I stand here today, a part of her legacy. A legacy that opened doors, that went beyond sports and helped to elevate the stature of women and women of color everywhere.
Althea Gibson was born in Silver, South Carolina on August 25, 1927. Her parents were sharecroppers and the family’s fortune rose and fell with the cotton industry. The great depression hit some areas of the South quicker than it did most and by 1929, Daniel Gibson was earning less than $75 for the entire year.
It was then, that he made the decision to send young Althea to his sister-in-law’s home in New York City, and slowly move his family north. The Gibsons became part of a mass exodus in which more than 50,000 black farmers left the state. Althea’s earliest recollections would have been of the streets of Harlem.
It was a Harlem that buzzed with energy from an inflow of people from the Deep South, the Near South, and immigrants from the Caribbean who came through Ellis Island after boarding boats of their own volition. It was a Harlem reveling in a renaissance that brings to mind the poet Langston Hughes and the author Dorothy West, a Harlem that was swinging to the sounds of Duke Ellington and inundated with leaders including W.E.B. Du Bois of the NAACP, A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and my countryman Marcus Mosiah Garvey who spent much of the 1920s trying to move the masses back to Africa.
But make no mistake, the Harlem streets were rough. Daniel Gibson, one of the few trained boxers in the neighborhood, taught his daughter how to fight and before long she had quite a reputation. She fought hard, and she played hard. Most evenings would find Althea playing stickball in the street, shooting basketballs at the local gym; she even tried her hand at shuffleboard, badminton and volleyball.
She hung with a tough crowd and after graduating from junior high in 1941, she unofficially quit school, staying out for weeks at a time, dodging the truant officer and her father. It was a life that was rapidly heading down the wrong side of the road, seemingly in freefall.
If you ever doubted the power of sports to change lives, and especially girls’ lives, listen to the rest of this story.
At around age 11, inspired by her brother’s success, Althea picked up paddleball, and before long was beating everyone in the neighborhood. Amazed at Althea’s natural ability, a youth program leader invited some of his tennis friends to hit with her on the streets. The snickers and laughter ended once they came to the block where Althea reigned and left as losers. With a pair of $5 wooden racquets she ventured out to the Harlem River Tennis Court and before long spectators had lined up on both sides of her court amazed by this 12-year-old kid with her speed and power strokes who was on a tennis court for the very first time. From there, with the help of various benefactors, Althea grew in the sport; she also grew in physical stature, topping out at 5-foot-11.
During these years, the United States Tennis Association was segregated. Black athletes were not welcome. To fill this void, the American Tennis Association (ATA) was formed in 1916 by a group of African-American businessmen, college professors and physicians. The ATA is currently the oldest African-American sports organization in the United States. Althea’s game was groomed within the ATA circle and she dominated the junior girls’ events and moved with ease into the women’s league. With her life back on track, Althea returned to high school at the age of 19, put her head into her studies and graduated 10th in her class at the age of 21. A full basketball scholarship took her to Florida A&M University in Tallahassee where she also competed in tennis for the Rattlers. She graduated from college in 1953 – not bad for a high school dropout from Harlem.
But bigger things were on the horizon for Althea – opportunities and experiences she never dreamed of. Just as Rosa Parks would later give the NAACP the incident the organization needed to move against segregation. Althea became the ATA’s choice for the big push to USTA’s biggest stage, Forest Hills for the U.S. National Championships. But it was not easy.
To even be considered for Forest Hills, she had to qualify. To qualify she had to do well at major tournaments, to do well at major tournaments she had to be invited to play … But she was not invited. It took a strongly worded editorial in the 1950 American Lawn Tennis magazine, written by four-time national champion Alice Marble to shame tournament organizers into allowing Althea Gibson on the court. She stayed away from social functions to minimize the risk of committee members voting against her because the tennis gentry did not wish to socialize with her.
On Aug. 16, 1950, the New York Times reported that “the entry of Miss Althea Gibson has been received, the United States Lawn Tennis Association said yesterday, but it will not be known until next week whether the New York Negro girl will be permitted to play in the national championship at Forest Hills.”
Finally on Aug. 21, the USLTA announced that Althea Gibson was accepted into the tournament. Journalist Lester Rodney wrote, “No Negro player, man or woman, has ever set foot on one of these courts. In many ways it’s even a tougher personal Jim Crow- busting assignment than was Jackie Robinson’s when he first stepped out of the Brooklyn Dodgers dugout.”
When she was finally permitted to compete, she suffered through hecklers shouting racial epithets, she still could not eat in restaurants or stay in certain hotels or even enter some country club locker rooms to change her clothes for a match. Such discrimination would not become illegal until Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. At some tournaments, she came in through the back door, won her matches and left through the back door. In her autobiography, she wrote, “Maybe I can’t stay overnight at a good hotel in Columbia, South Carolina, or play a tennis match against a white opponent in the sovereign state of Louisiana, which has a law against such a social outrage, but I can get along without sleeping at the Wade Hampton and I don’t care if I never set foot in Louisiana. There is, I have found out, a whole lot of world outside Louisiana – and that goes for South Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, and all the other places where they haven’t got the message yet.”
During her career, she won 56 doubles and singles titles including 11 major titles. She won the French Open in 1956, Wimbledon in 1957 and 1958 and the U.S. Open also in 1957 and 1958. She also won three straight doubles titles at the French Open in 1956, 1957 and 1958. She was ranked No. 1 in the world in 1957 and 1958, and in 1957 was the first African-American to be named as the Female Athlete of the Year by The Associated Press. She was given that honor again the following year. The year she captured her first U.S. Open title, she received her trophy from former Vice President Richard Nixon.
Althea’s boisterous reception in New York, with more than 100,000 people of every race, creed and color celebrating her triumphs along the Canyon of Champions with a ticker-tape parade, provided a stark contrast to what nine black students were facing in Little Rock, Ark. While Althea was being lauded, the students required the intervention of the National Guard to protect them from people bent on doing them harm simply because they wanted to get an education and integrate Central High School in the process. At the same time, Althea knew that she couldn’t become too comfortable basking in the glow of her homecoming for she, too, had been subjected to the same type of venom that was being spewed in Little Rock. In fact, just weeks after being crowned the Queen of Tennis, she was unable to stay at any of the hotels in Oak Park, Ill., outside of Chicago, when she competed in the clay court championship.
Althea Gibson retired from the game soon after her 1958 Wimbledon and U.S. titles. At the time, there was no professional women's tennis circuit, so she won no prize money and had few lucrative endorsements. If she had been a half-step later in her tennis career, she would likely have been a multimillionaire. But in the 1960s, even the greatest women athletes received few financial rewards and it wasn't hard to guess that she struggled to make a living. She had to hustle. She briefly tried singing; actually putting out a jazz album called Althea Gibson Sings. She also did a bit of acting and then signed a $100,000 deal to play in exhibition tennis matches before Harlem Globetrotter games in 1959.
In 1960, Althea took up golf and became the first black woman on the LPGA tour. Although she didn’t have the same level of success as in tennis, she competed in 171 LPGA events between 1963 and 1977.
Gibson became the state commissioner of athletics in New Jersey in 1975, a job she held for 10 years. She then served on the state athletics control board until 1988, and the governor's council on physical fitness until 1992. She was inducted into numerous halls of fame, including the International Tennis Hall of Fame, the National Lawn Tennis Hall of Fame, the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame, the New Jersey Sports Hall of Fame, the Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame, the International Scholar-Athletes Hall of Fame, and the Black Athletes Hall of Fame. She was named one of Sports Illustrated’s Top 100 Outstanding Women Athletes, and was the first woman to receive the NCAA Theodore Roosevelt Award in 1991.
Althea Gibson’s contribution to the civil rights movement was done with her tennis racket. Through the turbulent years of the 1950s and 60s, she carried herself with a quiet dignity, and achieved her goals with steely determination.
If you believe that young people find self-efficacy through seeing the efforts and successes of others that look like them, then you know how important it is to have role models of every variety, to see women and women of color achieving and leading in sports.
Today my kids have opportunities to play USTA junior tennis events and they watch Venus and Serena, Sloane Stephens, and they know about Zina Garrison, Lori McNeil, Chanda Rubin, and Althea Gibson, and they believe this is the legacy of Althea Gibson. She inspired generations of girls to believe.
Althea Gibson died on Sept. 28, 2003, but every time a young girl or boy of color picks up a tennis racquet and walks onto a tennis court her legacy lives on and on and on.
Two years before she became the first female director of athletics at the University of Iowa, Christine Grant was summoned to the office of Dr. M. Gladys Scott, Chair of the Department of Physical Education for Women.
It was 1971 and along with a colleague at Iowa, Grant was being sent to a meeting in Overland Park, Kan., to discuss the future of women’s collegiate sports in America.
More than a few hundred of the brightest and most influential minds in women’s athletics gathered to discuss the birth of a collegiate athletic system for women. There, the women wrote a constitution and bylaws for their organization.
By time they went home, the governing structure which reflected the philosophical framework of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) had been created.
Grant knew she was part of something big. How big, though? She was still years away from finding out.
For the past 41 years, the AIAW has shaped Grant’s life and it still does to this day, 20 years after the NCAA enveloped the organization under its umbrella. It was a launching pad for the movement toward equal rights for women in sports.
“We literally built it from scratch,” said Grant, the 2007 NCAA Gerald R. Ford Award winner. “The excitement of the 1970s was truly unbelievable. The fact that Title IX was passed (in 1972) and it included athletics came as a shock to those who were in sports. And to those of us involved, it was a feeling of exhilaration. In one leap we went from club sports to varsity sports.
“That whole decade was a highlight for me.”
But Grant couldn’t believe the state of women’s athletics in America when she first arrived in the states in 1969. The Scotland native started playing field hockey when she was 12 years old. It quickly became the highlight of her week. When her parents insisted that a young Grant finish her homework, all she could think about was her next match. It was then, when an American society still shunned the idea of women playing sports at levels comparable to men, that Grant decided on her career path. She wanted to be a physical education teacher and a coach.
A chance encounter with the Canadian national field hockey team when she was still living in Scotland laid the foundation for a career in the sport. In 1961, Grant moved to Vancouver, Canada, and almost immediately got involved with field hockey. She had to retire from playing because of arthritis in her knees and ankles but took the next step and began coaching the Canadian national team.
Eight years later Grant moved to the United States to study at the University of Iowa and came to a startling realization.
“I was stunned at what the men had and the women did not have,” she said. “It was the most blatant display of discrimination I had seen. It shocked me and I was saying, ‘Why is this so?’ I was told women weren’t interested in sports. You could never, ever, ever in a million years convince me of that. I had seen highly talented women across the globe come together for elite level competitions.”
Grant saw a collegiate athletics structure work in Canada, which offered more opportunities to women in high school than America. In fact, the northern neighbors even offered varsity sports in college despite not offering scholarships.
A collegiate sports system could work in America, Grant thought – until she saw the uphill battle women faced first hand.
“Society at that time did not approve of young girls and women aspiring to the highest level of athletics,” Grant said.
Just three years away from the passing of Title IX, the America Grant saw was still stuck in a 1950s mentality.
“It seems as though the women’s role that was revered was a woman as a wife and a woman as a mother,” Grant said. “There was no thought of accepting women as strong and as powerful and as an equal to their brothers. Women were supposed to be this perfect wife and mother and that was enough for her.
“I think we went through that phase and it became stifling. That was our picture of the perfect woman. And that changed, that really changed.”
Joni Comstock, the NCAA’s senior vice president for championships and alliances, credited Grant’s mindset to her international upbringing.
“When I heard her talk about opportunities for women in this country, it almost made it more meaningful from her because she chose this country,” Comstock said. “It made you feel more patriotic.”
It was soon after she moved to Iowa that Grant believed her mission in life was set. She was set on changing the world of women’s athletics. Since then, Grant has been a voice for women athletes for two generations. During her career she has been a member of the U.S. Olympics Committee, an International Institute of Sport Ethics fellow, a National Administrator of the Year by the National Association of Collegiate Women’s Athletics Administrators (NACWAA) and the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA), and she is also a member of the National Association of Collegiate Athletics Directors Hall of Fame.
Perhaps her most important contribution to the women’s sports movement was when she testified three times in front of congress and served as a consultant to the Civil Rights Title IX Task force.
By appearing in front of congress, Grant shouldered the responsibility of women across college sports, those who were suiting up then and those who came before.
“I thought I had to do a really, really good job, and I had to speak for so many girls and women who wanted fair treatment in sport,” Grant said. “I felt if I didn’t do my very best, I was letting all of them down.”
Grant believes in equality for all student-athletes. Karen Morrison, the NCAA’s director of inclusion, said Grant made sure women were also aware of how their decisions affected men’s sports, too. Women who have followed Grant's lead revere her for her ability to see beyond the day-to-day. Her influence on women's rights in athletics have carried over to men's sports, too.
“I think Christine, as far as any leader I know, has a perspective of the big picture and she’s not afraid to challenge the traditions that we haven’t thought about,” Morrison said.
In 1973, Grant achieved one of the greatest accomplishments of her career. She was selected to become the director of intercollegiate athletics for women at the University of Iowa, a position she held for 27 years. For the rest of the 1970s she watched women’s sports take off. She saw the culture around women’s sports change almost immediately. Every year, Grant’s budgets for women’s teams increased to the point that they rarely resembled the previous year’s budget.
However, she was starting to be pulled in many directions. Grant was involved with the AIAW from its onset, taking on several roles before becoming its president in 1980. Prior to that, she was in charge of all championships for the AIAW’s Region 6, which included Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas, Missouri, North & South Dakota & Nebraska.
Of all the challenges and experience the AIAW provided, it made a significant contribution to Grant’s career that isn’t quantifiable.
“Many people wouldn’t believe this, but I really don’t like speaking in public,” she said. “I had to muster up my courage to go to the mike and speak. That forced me to grow as a person.”
Yet, even as she spoke to thousands of women across the country, giving them the courage and confidence to carve out careers in athletics, Grant still fought an uphill battle at the AIAW. While the organization’s budget was about $1 million, the NCAA’s was about $20 million.
When the AIAW closed its doors in 1982 after being enveloped by the NCAA, Grant retreated from the public light.
Grant spent about a year weighing her options. Some of her AIAW colleagues had already left athletics and Grant thought about being next. She felt defeated. But something kept coming back to her.
“I thought, ‘No, that isn’t the way to go,’” she remembered. “I decided I would persevere and see if I could help improve intercollegiate athletic programs for both men and women.”
And it might have been the best decision Grant ever made.
“I wouldn’t have traded any of that for anything,” she said. “I have had the most fantastic life and it’s all been related to sports, especially since being here in the states for more than 40 years, I’ve been thrilled to have been a part of increasing the opportunities for women.
“It’s been an absolute thrill. And it continues to be!”
By now, the history books have kept the legend of Jesse Owens alive for a new generation of track and field fans and athletes.
They know about his myth-busting performances at the 1936 Olympics and have read about his once-in-a-lifetime day at the 1935 Western Conference Track and Field Championship, the precursor to the Big Ten.
On May 25, 1935, in Ann Arbor, Mich., Owens had the type of day that is usually only hatched in children’s novels. It was a fairy tale, a fantasy and a legend all wrapped into one – and it only took 45 minutes to achieve.
In less than an hour, wearing his Ohio State University singlet, Owens tied the world record in the 100-yard dash and broke world records in the broad jump, 220-yard dash and the 220-yard low hurdles.
To this day, those marks still resonate at his alma mater and throughout the world.
“It’s unheard of at that time and even now,” Ohio State track and field head coach Ed Beathea said. “It’s just hard to believe. It’s neat to say you represent the same school and league Jesse Owens competed for . It’s all very humbling.
And all of Owens’ remarkable feats were carried out with a bruised back, the one part of the fable that tends to be forgotten, his daughter, Marlene Owens-Rankin said.
Owens stayed humble after his athletic achievements had earned him international fame. The stories only came out when Owens was prodded, but what stories they were. In fact, Owens-Rankin set the record straight for one account.
“He did not meet Hitler,” she said from Chicago, where she is the managing director of The Jesse Owens Foundation.
At the 1936 Olympics, Owens, an African-American, won four gold medals while Adolf Hitler looked on. Owens’ victories dispelled Hitler’s notion that Aryan athletes were superior to those of any other color.
“He really didn’t talk a lot about his athletic days,” Owens-Rankin said. He would respond to questions about the Olympics if you asked something specific.
“It wasn’t something where he would say, ‘Let me sit down and tell you about that,’ because it was something that happened, but it was not his life. He was busy trying to make a living and provide for his family. He really was more preoccupied with how he was going to do that than with what he had done.”
There’s another side to Owens, however, one that’s been overshadowed by his track and field life.
When he returned from the 1936 Olympics, Owens worked in the playgrounds of Cleveland. There, he discovered how well he related to children and how much they looked up to him.
It didn’t take long for Owens to see positive results when he worked with kids – an experience that led him to a life of helping children. His affinity for helping children began to take root when Owens was in junior high, where the track coach, Charles “Pop” Riley took the slender young Owens under his wing.
“He had a very good role model in “Pop” seeing the impact of helping someone else realize their potential,” Owens-Rankin said. “I think Owens emulated that kind of guidance and shared it with all kids throughout his life.”
When he moved to Chicago, Owens worked with the South Side Boys Club, sharing that same compassion Pop Riley gave to Owens with a new generation.
His legacy lives in the foundation run by his youngest daughter that offers scholarships to students attending Ohio State and educating them on everything Owens accomplished.
While he traveled the country and the world promoting fitness through running, Owens kept his family grounded from his successes.
It wasn’t until she was 11 and attended a dinner for her father in Chicago that Owens-Rankin started to learn about her father’s celebrity. One reason? She got a new dress.
“The fact that he was a celebrity really didn’t enter into our family life,” she said. “It was a very normal kind of family life.
“Both my parents were very clear about what they wanted our family to be and what they expected out of us.
“They wanted us to grow at our own pace and to set our own expectations, rather than have those that would be imposed on you by the outside world.”
To his family, Owens was a simple man.
He loved track and field, and Owens-Rankin remembers her father attending most Olympics as a guest of somebody or another. But when it came to entertainment, Owens found it in the most unlikely of places – the Wild, Wild West.
“What he liked to enjoy on TV was cowboys,” Owens-Rankin said. “He loved Bonanza. All kinds of western shows or movies, he loved them. He watched those a great deal.
To the world, Owens is among the most elite athletes ever. And for his alma mater and college athletics, his legacy means even more.
“I think what he did do was bring a certain level of excellence throughout our department and certainly to our track program,” Beathea said.
Beathea looks for recruits who know and appreciate what Owens accomplished. While breaking three world records and tying another in just a 45-minute span won’t likely ever be accomplished again, Beathea said the 87-year-old feat still impresses him everyday.
“I think he’ll always be significant,” Beathea said. “I can’t imagine a scenario he won’t be significant in. Without question. The more I hear about him, the more I think that.”
Matthew Mitchell’s days at Central Holmes Academy High School were busy.
In the mid-1990s, he was the head coach of boys and girls basketball teams, the golf teams, and the track and field teams. Mitchell was also the defensive coordinator for the football team. He even cleaned the floors.
Mitchell didn’t have time to think about Pat Summitt.
In 1996, a friend of Mitchell’s, who was also an assistant coach at Mississippi at the time, told him he could help out at a women’s basketball camp at the University of Tennessee. Always in the market to learn more about coaching, Mitchell headed to Knoxville. It didn’t take him long to find out who Summitt was. And how selfless she is.
“That’s where I first noticed how giving she was,” Mitchell said. “There were 100 coaches from all over the country, and she would spend time with all of them.”
During the summer of 1999, his fourth working at Summitt’s camp, he was offered a job as a graduate assistant on Summitt’s staff. Although his stay in Knoxville lasted just a year before his career took off, eventually landing him at the University of Kentucky’s as head coach of the women’s basketball program, the confidence he developed from working with Summitt still stays with him.
Summitt’s been a pioneer in women’s basketball longer than her players have been alive. She was hired in 1974 as a graduate assistant at Tennessee, when women’s basketball was still governed by the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW). Before the 1974-75 season began, the head coach quit and Summitt was quickly promoted to head coach, starting a 38-year run with the Lady Vols that included eight national championships,18 Final Fours and 16 Southeastern Conference crowns. She was named national coach of the year seven times and was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2000.
If that’s not impressive enough, her career coaching record is 1098-208.
But no amount of championships, honors or statistics could keep Summitt from thinking she was above the sport that ran through her blood. It wasn’t uncommon for her to walk into Tennessee’s student union, step onto a table and promote the women’s basketball game that night – even at the height of the Lady Vols’ success. When it came to advancing women’s basketball, she was second-to-none. Often, Summitt volunteered to move the time of Tennessee’s games if it fit the TV network’s schedule better.
If a Kiwanis or Rotary club asked her to speak, Summitt never said no.
Michelle Perry, the director of the Division I women’s basketball championship, said Summitt was always available when the NCAA needed someone to speak to corporate sponsors. In 2008, the NCAA hosted its sponsors in Tampa, the site of that year’s Final Four. Summitt took the stage in front of a crowd of sponsors, the majority made up of men.
“You could hear a pin drop,” Perry said. “Every person was absolutely mesmerized. I saw grown men climb over each other to shake her hand. She transcends not just women’s basketball, she transcends sports.”
But her priority is Tennessee and her student-athletes.
“Pat has been the No. 1 ambassador for the University of Tennessee, for women’s athletics, for women’s basketball,” said Joan Cronan, the former Tennessee Lady Vols athletic director who has worked with Summitt for 29 years. “She’s always been, not only a great representative but also a person who wants everyone else to be the best they can be. The most important thing to her is the team she’s dealing with.
“The fact that we lead the nation in attendance isn’t something that just happened. Pat Summit has always been willing to get out among the student body, among the community and help promote the game.
It’s all of this that made it so much harder on women’s basketball – and sports in general – when Summitt announced in August that she was suffering from early onset dementia. Summitt coached through the 2011-12 season and then handed over the helm of the most successful program in women’s Division I college basketball history to Holly Warlick, a former player and assistant coach for 27 years.
“The team always came first,” Cronan said. “But what she’s done with other coaches is also incredible.”
Mitchell’s story is one of hundreds, if not thousands, of coaches who have benefitted from some form of Summitt’s help. Usually it’s a coach just calling about an opponent or with a question about strategy. Sometimes it’s a coach stopping by one of Summitt’s practices, which are famously open to any coach who asks.
And other times, Summitt’s selflessness extends to helping a coach ascend the ladder, as was the case with Mitchell and former players such a LSU head coach Nikki Caldwell and Warlick.
“She’s always put everybody – coaches, players – in front of her,” Warlick said. “She always puts the game and everything she does in front of her own personal success and in her life. You can’t just say it enough.”
No one has seen it happen more often than Tyler Summitt, Pat’s son.
Phone calls from coaches and game film became the soundtrack for Pat’s home. Tyler said other coaches would call often for advice on opponents, an offensive or defensive scheme or even a job. And he doesn’t remember his mother saying no when asked to recommend a fellow coach for a job.
“That’s a pretty strong recommendation,” Tyler said with a laugh.
Yet, Tyler didn’t ask her for one when he started searching for his first coaching job.
“Just call my mom, she would be a good reference,” he said with a mighty laugh.
In April he was hired as an assistant coach at Marquette University, but it was his basketball IQ, not his last name, that helped land him the job. At first, Marquette coach Terri Mitchell told Tyler she didn’t have room for another coach on her staff. After about 45 minutes on the phone about X’s and O’s and coaching philosophy, Mitchell was so impressed she flew Tyler up for an interview. She hired him on the spot.
It wasn’t quite Pat’s influence that helped Tyler land a job, but instead years of listening to his mother dissect game film as a bedtime story had an impact only the two Summit’s could share.
“That’s not all I got from my mom, there’s so much more,” Tyler said. “It’s deep down inside, the value of selflessness.
And Pat got her value of selflessness from her father.
When Pat was a child, her father, Richard, would give out loans to people around Henrietta, Tenn., their hometown, and never made them pay him back. He wanted to help them get back on their feet. At his funeral in 2005, Tyler remembers people, sometimes total strangers, telling Pat and Tyler about her father’s generosity.
“Her dad was feared among a lot of people, but he was still a very giving person,” Tyler said. “Mom brought that style to every area of her life.”
The success never changed Pat. Some of Tyler’s earliest memories were of the national championships in 1996, 1997 and 1998.
“I grew up thinking you just win a national championship every year,” Tyler said. “And then once we didn’t win there for a few years, I really saw what my mom was doing and how much she was helping others and putting herself aside for anybody who walked through the door. It really shaped me as a person.”
While Summitt would help anybody who asked, she cherished helping young women in the sport. As a high school student, Summitt had to transfer schools just to get an opportunity to play on a team, Tyler said.
Even as her coaching career came to a close last spring, Summitt isn’t going to stop helping others. And she’s certainly not going to let her pay-it-forward mentality go away.
As she combats early onset dementia, Summitt is already letting the world in to watch her cope with hopes of helping others.
“I think you can see it through her illness because she’s opened up her personal struggles and personal life for the community,” Warlick said. “She didn’t have to do that. She didn’t have to open up. She chose to do that because that’s the type of person she is.”
When Judy Sweet moved to San Diego 40 years ago, having a female in charge of a school’s athletic department was unheard of.
At the time, most felt a female administrator should only oversee women’s sports. But leaders at UC San Diego thought differently and in 1972 made NCAA history by naming Sweet the athletics director. At the age of 27, the former tennis player and coach became the first woman charged to oversee a combined athletic department.
“There were a lot of people who were not supportive of having a female in a non-traditional role – what was then non-traditional – and wanted to see me fail,” Sweet said. “It actually was even more incentive for me to be successful. I knew that if I wasn’t successful, it would be more difficult for women in the future to be given the opportunity to be an athletics director.”
But Sweet was diligent and persistent in doing her homework before making any decisions because she knew every move she made would be closely scrutinized by those wanting her to fail.
“Sometimes, I might not have made the perfect decision, but I would always learn from what the outcome was and learn to do better if the outcome wasn’t the best,” she said.
More often than not, however, Sweet made the right call. During her 27 years as athletics director at UC San Diego, Triton teams won 26 national championships, and the school claimed the prestigious Directors’ Cup, awarded by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, in 1998.
Eventually, college athletics began to take notice of her success and Sweet was named to the NCAA Communications Committee in 1981. It would be the first of 20 NCAA committees she worked on until 1997, including being named chair of the prestigious revenue-distribution committee.
During her time on the revenue-distribution committee, Sweet saw the NCAA – men’s and women’s sports alike – begin to benefit from the growing popularity of college athletics. As the NCAA’s secretary-treasurer, she was on the committee that negotiated the NCAA’s first billion-dollar contract with CBS in 1990. Just as importantly to Sweet, the contract helped more women’s sports get on TV.
In 1991, she made NCAA history again when she was voted in as the NCAA’s only female membership president. In 1997, the NCAA revamped its governance structure and moved away from an elected president.
For Sweet to be the first woman to hold such a lofty position in college athletics has been inspiring for other women in collegiate athletics, said Joni Comstock, the NCAA’s current senior vice president for championships and alliances. “It really gave women a direction. It gave us all hope that women were going to be great partners in the NCAA.”
Not only did Sweet make history and turn heads as a woman president, she also changed the perception and value of a Division III background.
Saying there were many who doubted her abilities because she came from a Division III institution, naysayers questioned her understanding of the Division I landscape and, therefore, her ability to lead the Association. In the end, she proved her doubters wrong.
“The positive piece was that I truly believe they gave me an opportunity and at the end of the day, neither gender nor division was an issue,” she said.
Chief among her accomplishments as president was the gender equity study, which led to the formation of the Gender Equity Task Force. Without the task force, Sweet believes the progress made in the 1990s might not have happened.
“We created the definition of gender equity that’s in the NCAA rule book,” Sweet said. “I’m very proud of that.”
After serving her two-year term as president, Sweet said many of her doubters acknowledged her contributions.
“I applaud the Association for being willing to do something different,” Sweet said. “It represented an openness to change.”
Following her presidency, the NCAA offered Sweet the opportunity to become vice president of championships in 2001. Sweet retired from UC San Diego and moved to Indianapolis. Two years later, she was named senior vice president for championships and education services.
When Comstock first worked with Sweet, she was impressed with how approachable the women’s sports pioneer was.
“She was very willing to share her experience, to provide me with guidance as I prepared to fill this role,” Comstock said. “My first experience was very surprising because she made it so easy to talk to her.”
After almost six years – and six winters -- at the NCAA, Sweet decided to return to San Diego.
“I was sincerely grateful for the opportunity. Had the NCAA office been in San Diego I would’ve stayed longer,” she said with a chuckle.
One highlight during her time at the NCAA was testifying before Congress when the Bush Administration attempted to weaken Title IX in 2002 and 2003. Her testimony gave the latest generation of women a front-row seat to her dedication to the fight.
“I saw courage and leadership,” said Karen Morrison, the NCAA’s director of inclusion. “I saw perseverance. I saw her as inspirational for women in sports, those who wanted to pursue their dreams. She just led the way and made you believe you can do it also."
Sweet continues to advocate for women’s athletics to this day. In 2011, she became one of the founders of the Alliance of Women Coaches and currently serves as its co-director.
The fight continues.
Charlotte West has done it all.
She’s coached a national title team. She’s officiated some of the country’s top athletes. She’s organized championships. And she’s helped guide an athletic department.
And she did it all to promote and advance women’s collegiate athletics.
“It was tough at times and hurtful because you were doing something that you knew was right and good, but there were a lot of people who hoped you would fail,” West said. “I think the reason I could continue on, is because I concentrated on progress and the small steps that were going in the right direction.
“Goodness knows it’s been 40 years since Title IX, and we’re still not there. I’ve tried to stay positive.”
Even at 79, West is quick to rattle off facts to back her stance: 55 percent of college attendees are female, yet only 42 percent of collegiate student-athletes are women.
“That’s a clear example we’re not there yet,” she said.
West’s career at Southern Illinois University (SIU) began in 1957, when she was hired as a coach and physical education instructor.
Three years later she took charge of the Women’s Athletic Association (WAA), which operated within the physical education department. Women’s athletics was under the WAA’s umbrella until 1975, when it officially became an entity at SIU, and West became the director of intercollegiate athletics for women, a role she held until 1986, when the men’s and women’s departments merged. West then became an associate athletics director, was named the interim director of athletics in 1987, and a year later became an associate AD again until her retirement from SIU in 1998.
Both SIU and the Missouri Valley Conference honor her legacy: the school named its softball stadium after West, and the conference presents an annual award to a female and male student-athlete for outstanding achievement in academics, athletics, service and leadership named after West.
“You don’t do it for those honors but when it’s all said and done, I appreciate that others have noticed and appreciated it,” West said.
Her versatility stems from a childhood in the 1940s full of opportunities. She did most of her schooling in St. Petersburg, Fla. About 30 years before Title IX, unlike many of her peers, West was given the opportunity to play volleyball, basketball and softball. Her team’s schedules weren’t elaborate, maybe three or four games most seasons, but “the exposure was really, really healthy.”
West’s childhood was a foundation for her run of impressive achievements beginning in 1969, the year she coached the Salukis’ women’s golf team to a national championship.
Every professional decision West made before the passing and subsequent implementation of Title IX had the future of women’s sports in mind. She became a nationally-rated official in four sports despite a tedious process. She had to take a written examination and had to reach a certain score to be eligible for the practical exam. It was then that she was judged in action by three other rated officials.
West groomed the next generation of officials through her physical education curriculum. She taught the rules and intricacies of various sports to her students. But it wasn’t totally by choice.
“To be honest, it was a period of time that if we didn’t prepare the officials, there wouldn’t have been any,” West said. “There wasn’t any attention paid to women’s sports.”
Evidence of that came in the Sports Days that became popular in the 1960s. West remembers upwards of 17 colleges sending women’s teams to the event, held on a college campus to cut down on expenses. Each team was guaranteed two games, and when players from another team weren’t competing, they were officiating or keeping score.
West has long been a mind beyond her time. By diversifying her students with a variety of sports, she was trying to prevent a sports epidemic that is crippling athletes today: concentrating on one sport.
And as she’s done throughout her career, West has used one opportunity to build on another.
Coaching, officiating and advocating for women’s sports led to her involvement in the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW). One of West’s first roles in the AIAW was as director of national championships in 1975. She oversaw all the events, but she was best able to see the rapid growth in the skill set of women athletes in swimming.
When West took over the swimming championships, she learned quickly what kind of diplomatic skills it would take to succeed on the national level. She faced two distinct factions: one provided a fierce backlash that the qualifying standards were too low and the other wanted as many women to compete as possible. She settled in the middle. That first year, the event would commence with the qualifying standards already in place. It would act as a measuring stick. The next year, she said, they’d be lowered.
In 1975, about 500 women competed in the AIAW swimming national championships. A year later, with the qualifying standard more stringent, another 500 qualified. West made qualifying even harder a year after, and another 500 women competed.
It didn’t matter the venue or the sport or the organization, women were quickly proving they could compete at the highest level.
“It was a great demonstration of how rapidly the skill level was improving,” West said. “To me, that was exciting.”
Joni Comstock, the NCAA’s senior vice president for championships and alliances, personally benefitted from the progress West made at the AIAW, which ultimately afforded her an opportunity to play volleyball at Eastern Illinois University.
“What she said mattered,” Comstock said. “When you’re advocating for women, the connection is more closely tied to other women.
Charlotte West was one to offer solutions broadly for intercollegiate athletics. She was respected by both men and women.”
West’s time bouncing around the country and working with people from all regions gave her a foundation to thrive when eventually working with the NCAA. Her time at the AIAW helped West learn how to interact with the 44-person Management Council and the NCAA committees she served on.
She was also a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee and was the first female member of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.
Karen Morrison, the NCAA’s director of inclusion, summed West up in one word: Iconic.
Charlotte gave “a living example of women who didn’t have resources and didn’t have opportunities but made the experience of intercollegiate athletics valuable,” Morrison said. “She’s seen so much change in intercollegiate athletics but never lost her vision for student-athletes.”
The NCAA, Morrison said, still focuses on applying policies and practices to the student-athlete’s well-being because of the work West put in.
But it almost never happened.
West faced a choice in the early 1970s. Either pursue a full research professorship at the University of Wisconsin, where she received her doctorate or stay at SIU and continue to be involved in athletics.
History knows her decision, and history knows how close women’s athletics rights could’ve been to losing a major cog.
Soon, it will.
West has decided the time has arrived to let the next generation take over the fight she’s so passionately championed for 55 years. When she retires again after this summer’s circuit of institutes, academies, conferences and speeches, West won’t miss the packing or the hotel rooms.
“There’s a sadness, but I think it’s time,” West said.
She’ll spend more time at her home in Estero, Fla., where West will try to perfect her other passion - golf. Moving to Florida was supposed to be a haven – and heaven – of sorts. Golf courses dotted the southern Gulf Coast of Florida, just the kind of landscape West was looking for. But in the 10 years since she moved south, her handicap has moved north, jumping 10 strokes.
Now it’s time to work on that.
“I’m still fine,” West said with a laugh. “I just don’t have any distance.”
Tyler Trapani was eight years old and had just returned to his Southern California home from a youth league basketball game.
As the rest of the family began to make their way into the house, Trapani found himself under the shadow of a basketball hoop in his driveway, alongside his parents and great-grandparents. It was the perfect moment for his great-grandfather, affectionately called PawPaw, to lend a helping hand.
He asked if he could show the young Trapani something on the court.
Trapani turned to the man, then in his mid-80s, and turned down his help.
“What do you know?” Trapani, in all his young stubbornness, said.
Trapani’s father, Paul, grabbed his son by the arm and raced the child to his room for a scolding.
“Do you know who you were talking to?” Paul asked his son.
“I was talking to my pawpaw,” Trapani replied, nearly in tears.
“You were talking to the greatest basketball coach ever,” Paul replied.
It took Trapani about a year after that to fully understand who Wooden was. Trapani thought maybe he should, in fact, listen to his PawPaw, who was known as a Wizard around Westwood. From then on Wooden wouldn’t offer advice and helped Trapani only when he asked, but their conversations rarely centered around basketball.
“I think Tyler hurt his feelings,” said Cathleen Trapani, Tyler’s mother and Wooden’s granddaughter, with a laugh.
Wooden, who won the NCAA Gerald R. Ford Award in 2006, was more interested in Trapani’s academics than he was his athletics. The great-grandson hit the books hard in high school and became the only one in the extended Trapani family to attend UCLA. Whenever Wooden was asked about Trapani, he’d talk about about how great of a student his great-grandson was.
The older Trapani grew, the more he resembled his great-grandfather, not so much in looks as demeanor, said Nan Wooden, the coach’s daughter and Trapani’s grandmother.
Trapani graduated this month from UCLA and plans on following in the footsteps of his parents and become a teacher. His father, Paul, teaches at John R. Wooden High School. And Trapani wants to also follow his great-grandfather on the court. Rather than coaching college, though, Trapani wants to bring his passion for teaching the game to the high school, where he can positively impact young players.
During the application process to UCLA, Trapani didn’t mention he was related to Wooden, which would’ve given him an express lane into the school. He didn’t want the favor. When Trapani was asked if he knew any UCLA alumni on his application, he chose not to list the likes of Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, former Wooden players who Trapani, in fact, knew.
“Tyler, in many ways, is like my dad in a lot of ways,” said Nan Wooden. “He made his studies his main focus. A lot of kindness. I think he’s going to be an old soul.”
As a sixth-man in high school, Trapani didn’t have the basketball prowess that would’ve landed him on UCLA’s roster as a scholarship athlete. He tried out as a walk-on and earned a seat on the end of the bench.
Bruins coach Ben Howland knew who Trapani was related to, but nobody else on the team knew until a few months into his freshman season. By then, however, as one assistant coach noted to Cathleen, the team understood it wasn’t Trapani’s family legacy that gave him a UCLA jersey, it was his work ethic – another trait he picked up from his great-grandfather.
In the decade before Wooden’s health declined, he attended most UCLA home games, often with Trapani by his side in the stands, whenever his schedule allowed. Trapani would rattle off stats to the elder coach and the two would dissect halftime box scores. There wasn’t a player who Trapani didn’t know – and who didn’t know Trapani.
As Wooden came into the final years of his life, he only saw Trapani play for the Bruins a handful of times.
But it was one play in one game that led the family to believe that the coach, in fact, had been watching all of Tyler’s games.
On Feb. 26, 2011, almost nine months after Wooden had died, with 48 seconds to go in a blowout win over Arizona, Trapani checked into the game at Pauley Pavilion. It was the last home game at UCLA before the fabled arena underwent a massive renovation. Home to eight of Wooden’s 10 national championships – including seven in a row – and UCLA’s 98- game home winning streak, Pauley Pavilion was as much a part of Wooden’s legacy at the school as anything. The court is aptly named for John and his wife Nell.
With Trapani on the court and game in hand, Nan Wooden couldn’t watch. She turned away from the court and hid her eyes, as she always did when Trapani played.
With 27 seconds left, and the starters on the bench yelling for Trapani to score and Howland trying to orchestrate a way to get him the ball, freshman Jack Haley hoisted a 3-pointer. Trapani, a 6-foot guard, watched the trajectory of the ball from the backcourt. He saw it was going to fall short of the basket, and in an uncharacteristic move, bolted for the rim and found himself in prime position for a rebound.
“I don’t know if it was instinct,” he said. “I don’t know why I went under the basket except I knew the shot would be short or long. My normal reaction would be to get back on defense.”
Haley’s shot was an air ball and landed right in Trapani’s hands. Without hesitation, he laid the ball in and ran back on defense.
It was the last basket made in Pauley Pavilion.
Call it fate.
Call it divine intervention.
“I feel my great-grandfather had something to do with it,” Trapani said. To be put in that situation under the basket, especially with me being a guard, I’m not supposed to be rebounding and I thought for some reason it’ll be long or short.
“I took the opportunity that was presented and for that, I was rewarded.”
But the irony of the opponent that day wasn’t lost on Trapani, who almost attended Arizona but would’ve been a team manager.
Nan Wooden, however, was more direct about it.
“We really felt it was divine intervention,” she said. “They all wanted him to get the last shot. They all wanted him to make the last shot.
“I can see dad, he’d probably have a little joke. I’m sure his eyes were twinkling, we just couldn’t see them. He would’ve been very proud. It wasn’t a selfish act. It was just divine intervention.”