35th Anniversary - Feature 4
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|Wall Street Journal Feature on Wells' dunk|
Title IX was enacted in 1972 by the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education and sought to equal the playing field for women and minorities for any program receiving Federal assistance, including college athletics. The Atlantic 10 Conference was quick to comply, as the league's first Commissioner Leland Byrd added five sports for female student-athletes - basketball, gymnastics, softball, tennis, and volleyball - in 1982-83.
Women's sports not only balanced the Conference championship slate, but enhanced an already thriving A-10, while helping the league garner even more recognition on the national level. The first year of women's basketball in the A-10 produced two nationally-ranked teams in Penn State and Rutgers along with a pair of postseason contenders in the Nittany Lions and Temple Owls. Penn State advanced to the Eastern Regional of the NCAA Tournament with wins over N.C. State and Cheyney State, while Temple, led by A-10 Player of the Year Marilyn Stephens, competed in the WNIT and went head-to-head with Weber State, Texas Tech and Hawaii.
The success of women's basketball in the A-10 was immediate. The 1983-84 and 1984-85 seasons produced at least six teams with a winning percentage of .600 or better. In 1985-86 three conference teams - Penn State, Rutgers and Saint Joseph's - earned bids to the NCAA Tournament, with Rutgers advancing all the way to the Elite Eight.
|Jack Kvancz, George Washington AD, on|
the impact of women's athletics on the A-10
With a trio of NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament participants in its back pocket, the A-10 knew it had a great product on its hands - and so did the fans. The 1987 A-10 Women's Basketball Championship attracted a crowd of nearly 14,000 to the Louis Brown Athletic Center in Piscataway, N.J. The championship game between Rutgers and Saint Joseph's drew the second largest crowd in the country at the time, as 5,337 fans converged upon the Scarlet Knights' campus. The following year, the A-10 Women's Basketball Championship grew even bigger, as 5,512 fans attended the nationally-televised game between Rutgers and Saint Joseph's.
|Judy Rose, Charlotte 49ers AD, on|
her role as a female administrator in the A-10
In addition to the league's postseason accomplishments, one of the most notable achievements that came out of the first few years of A-10 Women's Basketball and has stood as a building block for the sport itself, came in the form of Georgeann Wells. Wells, a 6-7 center at West Virginia - then a member of the A-10 - became the first woman to register a dunk in an official NCAA intercollegiate basketball game. Her feat occurred on December 21, 1984, against the University of Charleston (WV) at the Randolph County Armory in Elkins, W.Va. Yet the two-time All-American's historic accomplishment went questioned for nearly 25 years, until recently when the Wall Street Journal uncovered the elusive footage following the passing of Charleston head coach Bud Francis.
A-10 women's basketball was certainly making a splash on the national scene. Over the course of the first five years of women's hoops in the league (1982-87), a dozen teams advanced to the postseason, including 10 to the NCAA Tournament and by the early 1990's the league had bragging rights to an impressive string of six consecutive years with a least three teams qualifying for the NCAA Tournament.
By the late 1980's both men's and women's basketball in the Atlantic 10 were flourishing. During the 1986-87 season, men's basketball teams appeared on major television networks such as ESPN, CBS and NBC, while Temple spent the entire campaign ranked among the Top 10 teams nationally. Three men's squads also advanced to the postseason that year, including Temple, West Virginia and Rhode Island, marking the fifth consecutive year the league set a trio of teams to either the NCAA or NIT Tournaments.
Following in the footsteps of men's and women's basketball, the four other women's sports - softball, tennis, volleyball and gymnastics -- enjoyed early success as well. Penn State ranked among the nation's top women's volleyball teams in 1983 and went on to claim the A-10 Volleyball Championship. That year, the Nittany Lions started their streak of dominance rattling off eight straight league titles, while posting an impressive 41-0 record in Conference play.
Perennial powerhouse Massachusetts began building its softball empire upon introduction into the A-10. Under the direction of head coach Elaine Sortino, who has been at the helm of the UMass program since 1980, the Minutewomen captured three of the league's first seven softball crowns and advanced to their first of 20 NCAA Softball Tournaments in 1986. Catcher Jackie Gaw collected back-to-back first team NFCA All-American citations in 1982 and 1983, was a three-time All-New England selection and was twice named to the NFCA Northeast All-Region team.
|Penn State's Ellen Hensler, 1985|
A-10 Volleyball Tournament MVP
Under Sortino's direction, UMass has accumulated 22 Atlantic 10 Conference titles and has never suffered a losing season. A 10-time A-10 Coach of the Year, Sortino was inducted into the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2004 and that same year, the NFCA also named UMass the 34th-best softball program of all-time. Sortino has proven her ability to produce exceptional talent during her 31-years at the helm, coaching 27 All-Americans, 13 A-10 Players of the Year, 16 A-10 Pitcher of the Year picks, eight A-10 Rookie of the Year honorees and 116 all-conference selections. The pinnacle of individual achievement for the UMass softball program occurred in the spring of 1999 as Danielle Henderson received the Honda Award, recognizing the nation's top softball player. Henderson went on to win a gold medal with the United States softball team at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.
|Massachusetts' Elaine Sortino|
10-time A-10 Softball Coach of the Year
In addition to Sortino, Charlotte Director of Athletics Judy Rose has also paved the way for women in college athletics. As a former student-athlete, coach, and current administrator, Rose has experienced first-hand the development of women's athletics and the growth in opportunities for women in sport. At the time of her appointment in 1990, Rose was just the third female to hold the position of Athletics Director at a Division I program. She also went on to become the first female to serve on the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee. Rose has overseen the 49ers growth into a fully-funded program at the NCAA level and has helped develop nearly $50 million worth of athletic facilities on Charlotte's campus.
Women's sports in the A-10 have flourished since their inception in the league during the 1982-83 season. Women's teams have impacted the league tremendously - with several postseason runs, ranking among the nation's top programs and enhancing the overall reputation of the A-10. Visionary administrators like Judy Rose have fostered the idea of a broad-based league and coaches like Elaine Sortino have empowered female student-athletes on the field and in the classroom. It is what makes the Atlantic 10 Conference what it is today.
Scroll through and click the icons below for the membership history of each institution.