Nine of the 16 inductees to be honored Saturday night are female
One evening 20plus years ago during study hour, Coatesville teacher and girls’ basketball coach Renee Talley decided it was a good time to impart a history lesson on her teenage players.
“I said, ‘Do you girls understand what we did to get to this point?’” Talley recalled. “‘We went to court and we fought for all of this. I didn’t start out with equal pay. I had to go to court to get equal pay.’
“They were looking at me in disbelief, like I was some kind of a dinosaur. ‘What do you mean there was no middle school sports, that we had to share locker rooms and only had one set of hand-medown uniforms?’” she added.
At that time, in the early 1990s, it had been two decades since the landmark passage of Title IX, a bill that became law in 1972. The law expanded educational access for women and resulted in increased athletic opportunities. Next summer will mark the 45th anniversary of Title IX’s enactment, and the gains have been astounding.
“There have been a lot of strides,” said Jen O’Donnell, who doubles as the field hockey coach at West Chester Henderson and is also one of the nation’s top officials in lacrosse.
“I see it in the facilities. I remember back when I was in college, we played on a bumpy grass field with a snow fence around it. Now they play in facilities that are designed specifically for their sport, they are on (artificial) turf, they have their own locker rooms, they have their laundry done for them, the per diems are higher — the whole Title IX thing has brought us far.”
In 1971, just 7 percent of all high school varsity athletes across the country were female. In 2014, of the 7.8 million high school athletes in America, 3.2 million — or 41 percent — were female
Another more localized example involves the current inductees into the Chester County Sports Hall of Fame. For the first time since the organization debuted in 2008, a majority of the incoming class is female, including Talley and O’Donnell. With nine out of 16 inductees, the 2016 class represents the largest group of women — by far — to be so honored.
“Basketball was my childhood passion,” said former West Chester University women’s coach Deirdre Kane, another member of the class of 2016. “Never did I dream it would become a career. Thank you Title IX for enabling that to happen.”
In addition to Kane, Talley and O’Donnell, six other women will be enshrined at the CCSHOF Banquet Saturday night at Downingtown Country Club. The others include local high school basketball stars Tora Suber and Amanda Brown Streeter; Villa Maria swim coach Catherine Walsh Hay; local field hockey standout Maria Whitehead; and Elinor Zimmerman Taylor, who was nationally known for her support of women’s athletics prior to the implementation of Title IX.
Whitehead and Taylor are being inducted posthumously.
The class also includes influential male honorees like football coach Danny Hale, basketball star Ramzee Stanton, triathlete Kenneth Glah, drag racer Bill ‘Grumpy’ Jenkins, diving mentor Ronn Jenkins, steeplechase horse trainer Jonathan Sheppard, and Bishop Shanahan coaching and administrative legend Ted Torrance. In addition, the 1994 Coatesville girls basketball team — which Talley guided to a PIAA Class AAAA state championship — is being honored.
Of the 114 individual members now in the CCSHOF, 85 are male. The 12-person inaugural class in 2008 featured 11 males, but there have been strides in recent years as Title IX’s influence continues to flourish.
“Maybe it’s just that (the CCSHOF) is catching up,” said Kane, who became WCU’s first fulltime basketball coach in 1987, and retired in 2014 with 447 wins, which is No. 2 on the PSAC’s all-time list.
“For me personally, Title IX was huge,” added Talley, who won 332 games at Coatesville. “It impacted everything that we did. It was monumental.
“Once we got our freedom, it was smoother sailing because we could actually do stuff because we were given the chance to do it.”
Talley and Kane remember well what it was like to be a female student-athlete prior to Title IX. Both recalled playing a six-on-six version of basketball designed for girls, where there were two offensive players, two defensive players and two rovers. Only the rovers were allowed to cross midcourt.
“My senior year was the last year we played six-on-six,” said Talley, who graduated from Great Valley High School in 1970.
“They used to say there were two gunners who stood there and shot the ball, two goons who were designated foulers and two athletes that could dribble, pass and shoot and play defense.”
Kane added: “I played six-on-six basketball in grade school. Now, it seems like the stone-age, but it really wasn’t all that long ago.
“I remember times when I would make our players at WCU do it so they could see how far we’ve come and just how frustrating it was for two-thirds of the players on the court being unable to cross midcourt.”
Kane was the first woman to receive and accept a full-ride athletic scholarship to play basketball at the University of Dayton in 1974. Kane studied to become a veterinarian because she never even thought of pursuing a career in athletics.
“If it wasn’t for title IX, I wouldn’t have gotten that scholarship to Dayton, which was a very big deal back then,” she said. “And if I ever had an inkling that it was possible to carve out a career in athletics, I wouldn’t have majored in biology with a minor in chemistry.”
A year after Talley left Great Valley — just prior to Title IX’s implementation — the school dropped six-on-six basketball, and soon after, a smaller basketball was introduced specifically for the women’s game.
Like so many of her fellow inductees — such as Hale, Stanton, Walsh Hay, Jenkins and Zimmerman Taylor – Talley enrolled at West Chester because she had a keen interest in athletics and was thinking about a career in physical education. She failed to make the cut with the West Chester women’s basketball team (coach by 2012 CCSHOF inductee Carol Eckman), but got into coaching a few years later.
“I was a junior, sitting around feeling sorry for myself, and my old high school coach, Kitty Caldwell, became the coach at West Chester,” Talley explained. “She took me under her wing and I ended up coaching the second team at West Chester. It was my initiation in coaching.”
It was an entirely different world decades later for high school basketball superstars like Suber and Brown Streeter. After leading Downingtown High School to two state championships and accepting a full-ride to Virginia, Suber was drafted into the WNBA and played professionally for four seasons. Brown Streeter went to Penn State after leaving Unionville as the school’s all-time leading scorer, was drafted into the WNBA and also played professionally in Europe.
“There were never any thoughts of professional basketball for women back in the 1970s, that’s for sure,” Talley said.
“Back in my day, there was no such thing as the WNBA, or any pro team sports for women,” Kane added. “We never dreamed of playing professionally.”
O’Donnell acknowledges the vast impact of Title IX, but also pointed out this area has long been a hotbed for women’s athletics because West Chester University’s historic role in educating, developing and training women well before Title IX.
“In this area when I was growing up, West Chester University was huge in women’s athletics,” O’Donnell pointed out. “And because of that, Chester County is a great area for women’s athletics. The emphasis was there, whether you played, got into officiating or into coaching.
“When I started officiating, this was the best area to be in because you could learn from a Jackie Hufnell (CCSHOF Class of 2014), a Joan Wagner (2015), a Judy Wolstenholme (2014). The best officials came from here and they were great teachers, they wanted to groom you for the future and just provide support.”
The daughter of local coaching icon Harold Zimmerman (class of 2011), Zimmerman Taylor was a 1943 graduate of West Chester State College, and became a health professor at her alma mater and later Dean of Admissions. She wound up having a big impact in transforming West Chester into one of the national hotbeds of women’s athletics by demanding women’s teams be taken as seriously as the men’s, which was a truly radical idea prior to the implementation of Title IX.
“(Zimmerman Taylor) had gone on to politics by the time I got to West Chester, but everybody knew her and knew how much she was an advocate for women’s athletics dating back before Title IX,” O’Donnell said.
“Jackie Hufnell is my mentor and we are very good friends. (Taylor) was Jackie’s college professor and mentor, and she always called her ‘Zimmy.’ Every generation there are people who are impactful, and we’ve benefitted from their efforts and persistence. Zimmy was one who, if it hadn’t been for her being an early advocate, we might not be where we are today.”
O’Donnell is the first to admit, however, that there are many obstacles yet to clear.
“We are still not even,” she said. “I see that sometimes in the officiating world, because we are not paid as much as the men, depending on the conference. We’ve made great strides and that will continue, but we have to continue to stand up for ourselves and each other.”
And that’s a warning going forward. Much like Talley felt in the early 1990s, there remains a frustration when generations of girls and women still lack appreciation — or in some cases any knowledge — for all of the struggles that have paved the way for those who have followed.
“It’s like any minority that has been discriminated against in any way,” Talley said. “They take for granted what people before them have fought for. They just don’t realize there have been struggles to get where we are.” JONATHAN SHEPPARD
Is the all-time leading steeplechase trainer in America with over 1,000 wins and over $20 million in earnings. Won the yearly earnings title 24 times. Has over 3,000 wins as a flat trainer. Has trained horses that have won 12 Eclipse Awards.
Has trained the winner of four Breeder’s Cup Grand National Steeplechase events.
Was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1990. ELINOR ZIMMERMAN TAYLOR
A 1958 graduate of West Chester, she became the school’s Dean of Student Affairs and later Dean of Admissions.
Became longest serving woman in Pennsylvania House of Representatives (1976-2006).
Nationally known for her support of women’s athletics prior to the implementation of Title IX.
Died in 2010.
Began teaching at Bishop Shanahan when it opened in 1957, and retired after serving for a half century. Served as baseball coach for 20 years. Over a six-year period as cross country coach, the Eagles went 128-6-1 and went unbeaten in 62 meets.
Began served as Athletic Director at Bishop Shanahan in 1998.
Became director of the West Chester Adult Baseball League 1980 and later field director, and served until 2009.
Becomes third former staffer at the Daily Local News to be inducted.
1993-94 COATESVILLE HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS BASKETBALL TEAM
Won the PIAA Class AAAA state championship. Beat Altoona, 68-58 in final.
Went 29-1 overall during 1993-94 season.
None of the five starters – center Courtney Joseph, forwards Aesha McGiboney and Jennifer Worthington, and guards Aja Anderson and LaToya Brickus – were seniors.
Won District 1 crown as well as the school’s only girls state crown.