Back in the 1960s, tall, smart and athletic, I slouched through school with 3 strikes against me, ridiculed for my passion to play “boy’s ball games.” Then in 1972 Title IX, a controversial bill, passed as a part of the Civil Rights Amendment and opened doors that had slammed closed in my face.

For the first time ever, laws mandated equal opportunity on America’s playing fields. Though early on we weren’t welcomed there, we kept fighting. As a first generation Title IXer, I, unknowingly, became a pioneer in women’s basketball. I received the first athletic scholarship to Illinois State. No one recruited back then, I was lucky to be at the right place at right time.

Illinois State University - 1978

Illinois State University – 1978

“The majority of our staff opposed scholarships. It was a real struggle deciding if we were going to do it or not. In the end, we awarded Illinois State’s first basketball scholarship in 1978 to Pat McKinzie.”

– Jill Hutchinson,
Illinois State Coach1st President and Co-founder
Women’s Basketball Coaches Association
 

I played with an All Star cast of Illinois’ finest ball players who made me look good. The late Cyndi Ellis, late Charlotte Lewis, 1976 silver Olympic medalist, Vonnie Tomich, All Pro WBL, Cyndi Slayton and others like Annette Rutt (1967) who came before me paving the way including coach Jill Hutchinson.

On selection teams, try out camps, and in my brief stint in the short-lived, premier Women’s Pro League, WBL, I met other unsung heroes blazing trails in their home states. We had no idea we were making history; we just wanted a chance to dance on the hardwood.

Now 40 years later, I salute old rivals and teammates who helped pave the way for generations of young girls across the continent. These are but a few of the scholarship recipients (1975-79) that I was able to track down through the wonderful wacky worldwide web.

A teammate from the pros, Cathy Shoemaker, first scholarship recipient at University North Carolina and WBL Dallas Diamonds (1979-81) All Star, is now a physical therapist in South Carolina. She helped her team to advance to the AIAW regionals as a three-time AIAW All-State.

One of my college archrivals, who befriended me at Athletes in Action training camp in Colorado, was Betty Booker, the first athletic scholarship recipient at Memphis State University. She went onto become an award winning high school coach and later an assistant principal at Whitehaven High School in Tennessee.

Out west, one of the first scholarship recipients at the University Wyoming was another point guard, Cindy Bower, my teammate with the Washington D.C. Metros. Her young coach, Margie McDonald, also a groundbreaker, was a scholarship recipient at Wayland Baptist, Texas. Cindy went onto become a highly respected businesswoman, founder and CEO of Calibre Management Inc.

One of the biggest name player at that time period, Ann Meyers Drysdale was the first 4-year athletic scholarship at UCLA, 4-time All-American, the only woman to sign a contract with the NBA, Indiana Pacers, and first woman drafted in the first women’s professional league New Jersey Gems in1979. She became a successful sportscaster.

During the 1970s, my “full ride” felt like drawing the winning lottery ticket and helped my parents afford to put four children five years apart through college on teachers’ salaries. In turn, I gave back to the game, coaching high school players from around the globe at international schools in Europe, including one 6’2″ blue-eyed, dark-haired Franco American named Nathalie.

UWSP's Nathalie Lechault - 2007

UWSP’s Nathalie Lechault – 2007

Years later, my daughter, returned to the States to combine academics and education. She played in a DIII Final Four at UW-Stevens Point under the tutelage of another pioneer, my former rival at UW-Lacrosse, Shirley Egner, the most decorated coach in the competitive Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

Nathalie became the first MD in the family on either side of the Atlantic. Raise the roof for the young women of the 21st century, who never doubted their right to rise to the top.

Tall, smart, athletic…today you look up to shake hands with Dr. Lechault.

In your face, world! Who’s laughing now?