Part 1 of a 6 part series on South Carolina's first female scholarship student-athletes.
Click here for the full First 18 Digital Presentation with new stories appearing each day this week.
Before female athletes were household names, they struggled not only for equality, but for basic equipment and even a place to compete. With the prominence of women's athletics today, both at the professional and intercollegiate level, it's hard to imagine things were a lot different, not that long ago. South Carolina athletics is honoring the 40th anniversary of the first 18 female scholarship student-athletes at the university this year, and over the course of the next week, we'll be bringing you several video and written features about some of these extraordinary women.
I am 45 years old and have been fortunate to work in intercollegiate athletics as a broadcaster, administrator, and writer for half of my life. As the voice of South Carolina women's basketball on the radio, as well as Gamecock women's soccer and softball for SEC Network+, I obviously have a strong interest in women's athletics. I'll be the first to admit, it wasn't always that way for me, and it is my sincere hope that by reading and watching some of these stories about the "First 18," you'll have a better understanding and appreciation of how far intercollegiate athletics has come in the last 40 years as well as the significance of creating a level playing field for female student-athletes.
If you have ever heard me on the radio, you probably know that I love women's college basketball, and it's not just because we have a great coach and team here at South Carolina. The first women's basketball game I ever worked as a broadcaster was also the first women's basketball game I ever watched. True story.
No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.Title IX
To back track a little bit, I had gone to an all-boys private high school in Connecticut, so there were no girls' games to watch at my school. I attended South Carolina and went to football, basketball and baseball games and played rugby, but never went to a women's game of any sort. To be honest, I don't even remember seeing much publicity for any other sports back then, but I was in my own little world anyway.
Fast-forward to my first women's game. I was 23 years old and was the new play-by-play voice for women's basketball of a NCAA Division II school, Georgia College. Since most of the games were doubleheaders with the men's team, I also served as the color analyst on the men's basketball broadcasts.
I can't tell you who won that first game, but what I do remember is being blown away by how hard both teams played and how talented the young women were. I was hooked. I called those games for 13 years. My broadcast partner, who did the play-by-play for the men's games and was my analyst for the women's games, and I used to be competitive as to whose team was having the better year. The coach of the team, who recently retired, became one of my best friends, and he taught me a ton about the game of basketball.
I've never tried to "sell" people on watching sports that are important to me, but I do suggest they try it to see if they come away with the same feelings I had after my first game all those years ago. I'm a fan of college athletics, and women's athletics in particular. As I begin my ninth year broadcasting South Carolina women's basketball, it's my hope that by learning more about the history of women's college athletics at the university, you'll be as thrilled and amazed as I am, even if you don't make it to a game.
My wife and six year old son come to many of the games I work, and we go as a family to football, baseball and other games that I don't have to work. He loves any game we go to where the Gamecocks are playing. There is no difference to him, as long as he can get popcorn. Oh, how far we've come.
A Brief history - How It Happened
Intercollegiate athletics at the University of South Carolina were transformed 40 years ago when the first scholarships were awarded to female student-athletes. Title IX, which was part of the United States Education Amendments of 1972, stated (in part):
"No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."
Colleges and universities around the country were given three years to comply with the rules of Title IX. While the legislation covered a lot of issues, as it pertains to college athletics, it meant that women deserved an equal opportunity to be a student-athlete and have an equal experience as males. This included equipment, supplies, travel, and scholarships. The money for these scholarships came from the Gamecock Club, which was the same source that provided scholarships for male student-athletes. In 1975 South Carolina had 18 scholarships available for female student-athletes, with three going to each of the six sports (Women's golf was the seventh sport, but was dropped from the program that year).
Women's athletics teams at South Carolina officially became part of the athletics department in January 1974. The total budget for the existing women's programs was $41,000. In March of that year, the nickname "Chicks" was adopted for the female athletics teams. The NCAA did not sponsor women's athletics at the time, so the teams fell under the auspices of the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW).
Several of the women's teams found immediate success. South Carolina won its first state championships in women's basketball and gymnastics that year, and in the softball team competed in the Women's College World Series in 1976.
The scholarship allotment increased to five per team in 1977 and the women's team's nickname was changed to "Lady Gamecocks." The South Carolina women's programs later dropped "Lady" from the nickname and currently share the same name as the men's teams, "Gamecocks."
As the decades have passed, South Carolina has enjoyed a great history of success in women's athletics. The 2014-2015 academic year was a shining example with the women's basketball team reaching its first NCAA Final Four, the women's soccer team advancing to its first NCAA Elite Eight, and the equestrian team winning its third national championship. It is only fitting that those, and other Gamecock women's programs, continue to rise as the university celebrates the 40th anniversary of the first scholarships offered to female student-athletes.