Vanderbilt Athletics

VU Black Girl Magic

Feb. 19, 2018

“VU Black Girl Magic” is an event jointly hosted by Vanderbilt Athletics and the Black Cultural Center, culminating at Sunday’s women’s basketball game against Arkansas (2 p.m. CT SEC Network+). In recognition of Black History Month, the event is part of a national initiative and aims to celebrate and empower African-American female students, faculty and staff. “VU Black Girl Magic” includes several events on campus at Vanderbilt University, including a photo shoot and empowerment workshop hosted by Vanderbilt women’s basketball legend Chantelle Anderson. Vanderbilt Athletics will highlight specific trailblazers who broke barriers within Vanderbilt’s athletic programs, and will spotlight those individuals this week as a lead-in to the weekend.

Women’s Tennis: Erica Robertson (2008-09)
Erica Robertson arrived at Vanderbilt following a 20-6 spring season and a top-10 ranking for head coach Geoff Macdonald’s Commodores in 2008. The Watertown, Mass. native had been the top-ranked recruit in the state of Massachusetts and a top-60 recruit in the nation. At Vanderbilt, she became the school’s first female African-American tennis student-athlete.

Robertson went 7-4 in singles during her first fall season in 2008 before a wrist injury limited her to just one dual match in the spring. She played No. 5 singles and No. 2 doubles against Middle Tennessee. As a sophomore the next year, Robertson went 9-8 in singles , including 3-1 in dual play.

With Robertson in tow, Vanderbilt never finished ranked lower than fifth in the SEC during her career.

Lacrosse: Brandi Byner (2011)
The first African-American student-athlete in Vanderbilt lacrosse history hailed from just down the road in Nashville. Brandi Byner arrived on West End as a freshman in 2011 from nearby Ensworth High School, where she was a standout for 2005 Vanderbilt lacrosse graduate Meg Freeman.

Byner was born in Fairfax, Va. but played her final two high school seasons at Ensworth. She went on to become one of the fiercest defenders to play under head coach Cathy Swezey, leading the team in caused turnovers during both of her final two seasons in 2013-14. Byner was selected to play in the 2014 Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association North-South All-Star Game but was unable to participate due to a knee injury. In all, Byner started 62 games in her Vanderbilt career.

Byner’s aggressive style of play mirrored that of her father, former NFL running back Earnest Byner. The elder Byner played 14 seasons in the NFL, made two Pro Bowls and helped the Washington Redskins to a 37-24 win over the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVI.

Bowling: Ashleigh Beamer, Brittany Jackson, Kim Simpson, Kristen Walker, Tywanquila Walker (2004-05)
Vanderbilt’s first bowling team featured five African-American members on the inaugural roster under head coach John Williamson: Ashleigh Beamer, Brittany Jackson, Kim Simpson, Kristen Walker and Tywanquila Walker.

Both Walkers and Jackson were seniors who graduated after the bowling team’s first season. Simpson left the team after one year, as well, but Beamer remained with the Commodores for four years. She helped the squad claim the 2007 NCAA championship, Vanderbilt’s first-ever national title in any sport.

Those five student-athletes helped the fledgling Commodores to a 12-69 record in 2004-05. But that season served as a foundation for what would become a collegiate bowling powerhouse in years to come.

Women's Golf: Nakia Davis (1992-93)
Nakia Davis was a golf star long before she arrived at Vanderbilt in 1993. As a high school golfer in New Orleans, Davis became a four-time winner of the Louisiana Girls State Championship. She earned the 1991 Minority Golfers Honor and won the 1992 Sugar Bowl Amateur Athlete of the Month.

But Davis truly cemented her legacy when she became a student-athlete at Vanderbilt. As a member of the Commodores’ golf program, Davis became the first African-American golfer in the Southeastern Conference.

During Davis’ groundbreaking career at Vanderbilt, she led the Commodores in six tournaments. She finished as the Dores’ top scorer five times during the 1992-93 season, including at the SEC Championships. Along with her SEC finish, she paced Vanderbilt in the Tennessee Tech/Vanderbilt Tournament, Memphis State Invitational, Beacon Woods Invitational, UNC-Wilmington Invitational and Lady Kat Invitational. Davis graduated from Vanderbilt in 1996 with a degree in economics and went on to earn her MBA and law degrees ahead of a legal career.

Swimming: Sarah Lynch (2009-10)
Sarah Lynch became the first African-American female swimmer in Vanderbilt history when she signed with the Commodores ahead of the 2009-10 season. Fresh off three state Virginia state championships in the 400-free relay for Lake Braddock High, Lynch became a standout in freestyle and breaststroke events at Vanderbilt.

Lynch went on to set personal bests in in the 100 (1:04.99) and 200 breaststroke (2:19.37), both of which she secured at SEC Championships as a senior in 2012-13. That same year, the Burke, Va. native set school records as a member of Vanderbilt’s 200 medley relay and 200 free relay teams.

Women's Basketball: Teresa Lawrence (1977-78)
As a member of the Vanderbilt women’s basketball team from 1977-80, Phillips became the first female African-American student-athlete to suit up for a Commodore program. Phillips garnered the university’s first-ever Lady Commodore Athlete of the Year award in 1979, and following her graduation she became the first woman ever to coach a Division-I men’s basketball team.

For the past 15 years, Phillips has served as director of athletics at Tennessee State University in Nashville. Prior to her current role, she spent 11 seasons as head coach of the Lady Tigers basketball program, helping TSU win its first Ohio Valley Conference title and reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in team history. Phillips also coached at Fisk University for four seasons, winning WIAC Coach of the Year twice.

In 2003, Phillips became a pioneer when she coached the Tennessee State men’s basketball team in a matchup against Austin Peay. Phillips had dismissed the Tigers’ head coach, Nolan Richardson III, earlier that season and suspended interim coach Hosea Lewis for that game. Thus, the veteran Phillips opted to stand in as head coach for one game – which ended up making history.

Soccer: Donna Harris (1989-90)
Harris arrived at Vanderbilt in 1989 from nearby Father Ryan High in Nashville, where she was a four-time All-District and All-Regional honoree on the soccer field and earned All-State recognition as a senior. Though Harris would play just one season with the Commodores’ soccer team, earning Most Valuable Player honors in the Quincy Tournament, she secured her spot in history as the program’s first African-American student-athlete.

But Harris’ Vanderbilt legacy wasn’t limited to soccer. She went on to score 1,400 career points and start 86 games as a four-year member of the Dores’ women’s basketball team. She ranks No. 17 all-time in career scoring as one of Vanderbilt’s better 3-point shooters; Harris’ career 3-point percentage (.394.) remains ninth in program history.

Women’s Track & Field/Cross Country: Nancy Perry, Pam Pitts (1977-78)

'VU Black Girl Magic' to honor female African-American student-athletes

By Zac Ellis

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Candice Storey Lee has spent her entire professional career at Vanderbilt, earning three degrees from the university including a doctorate in higher education administration in 2012. Currently, Lee serves as Vanderbilt’s Deputy Athletics Director and Associate Vice Chancellor for University Affairs, the most recent in a host of roles Lee has embodied in more than two decades on West End.

But Lee’s infatuation with Vanderbilt truly began as a member of the Commodores’ women’s basketball team. She played an injury-extended six seasons for former coach Jim Foster, eventually serving as team captain. Now, Lee credits her stint as a female African-American student-athlete as a launching point for her athletics career.

“You learn things as a student-athlete that are transferrable to other phases of life,” Lee said. “You learn how to be part of a team, form healthy relationships, how to communicate. At Vanderbilt, we try to create a well-rounded experience for our kids. Athletics can be a platform to the next step, and that’s been my experience.”

That’s the idea behind the “VU Black Girl Magic” event jointly hosted by Vanderbilt Athletics and the Black Cultural Center this upcoming weekend, including Sunday’s women’s basketball game against Arkansas (2 p.m. CT SEC Network+). In recognition of Black History Month, the event is part of a national initiative and aims to celebrate and empower African-American female students, faculty and staff. “VU Black Girl Magic” includes several events on campus at Vanderbilt University, including a photo shoot and empowerment workshop hosted by Vanderbilt women’s basketball legend Chantelle Anderson.

During Sunday’s game, the Commodores will highlight specific trailblazers who broke barriers within Vanderbilt’s athletic programs. will spotlight those individuals this week as a lead-in to the weekend.

“We want to connect the past with the present and make sure our kids understand just how many people came before them and paved the way,” Lee said. In 1977-78, Teresa Lawrence (Phillips) broke the glass ceiling by becoming Vanderbilt’s first female African-American student-athlete as a member of the Dores’ basketball team. One season later, Mt. Juliet native Cathy Bender joined the Vanderbilt women’s basketball program as its first female African-American scholarship student-athlete.

Those two figures directly influenced Carolyn Peck’s decision to play college basketball at Vanderbilt. Lawrence was an assistant with the Commodores when Peck, a Jefferson City, Tenn. product, arrived on West End ahead of the 1984-85 season. Bender’s story, meanwhile, piqued Peck’s interest. Peck went on to author a Hall of Fame career as a player at Vanderbilt and later as a coach and executive in the WNBA and college basketball.

Today, Peck is back at her alma mater as the Commodores’ associate head coach, and she hasn’t forgotten those who blazed trails before her.

“It’s really amazing to see how far women’s basketball has come and the influence of what African American females have made on the game,” Peck said. “When you look at the work that Vivian Stringer and Marianna Freeman and Marian Washington did to break down barriers and give someone like me, an African-American young female at the age of 32, the chance to be the head coach at a Big Ten school like Purdue, it was because of women like that who fought not only for Title IX, but also the example for African-American women of what could be done when the opportunity presented itself.”

Added Lee: “I don’t get the chance to play basketball at Vanderbilt if not for Teresa Phillips and Cathy Bender and all the people who came before me.”

“VU Black Girl Magic” originated with a partnership between Vanderbilt athletics and Vanderbilt University’s Black Cultural Center. The Center’s director, Dr. Rosevelt E. Noble, spearheaded the “VU Black Girl Magic” initiative on campus.

“The purpose of the collaboration with athletics on the Black Girl Magic series is to help celebrate the collective strength of those who identify as black and female, while at the same time highlighting each person's uniqueness and individualized black identity,” Noble said. 

In the years following Lawrence and Bender, female African-American student-athletes shattered more barriers at Vanderbilt. In 1992, the Commodores’ Nakia Davis became the first female African-American golfer in SEC history. Donna Harris played four seasons for the Dores’ basketball squad but arrived at Vanderbilt as the school’s first African-American member of the women’s soccer team during the 1989-90 season.

But not all firsts are etched in the distant past. Brandi Byner (lacrosse, 2011) and Sarah Lynch (swimming, 2009-10) are among those who made history with their respective programs within the last decade.

That gradual progression remains in the mind for Simone Charley, a senior who starred for both Vanderbilt soccer and track & field from 2013-17. While she recalls plenty of diversity in track meets, Charley said she grew up as the lone African-American on her youth soccer teams. That, she says, reminds her of the work yet to be done.

“After games, little kids will come talk to you on the field, and so many times little black girls will come up and say, ‘I want to be just like you!’” Charley said. “I never forget stuff like that… Obviously, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for those who worked hard and had the courage to stand up for what they believe in.”

Charley saw proof of that history in her family tree. Her cousin, Christina (Penn) Charley, attended Vanderbilt on a track & field scholarship in the mid-90s. In 2016, Simone Charley set a school record in her event of choice, the triple jump (44’) – breaking a record set by her cousin Christina 20 years before.

Now the older Charley says she has witnessed the progress for female African-American student-athletes in the years since her Vanderbilt career. But it remains important to feel a sense of belonging, she said.

“I think it’s really important for black student-athletes to come to the school knowing they have an incredible opportunity,” Christina Charley said. “If they’re here, they were meant to be here, and there’s a purpose and a role that only they can play. To walk on this campus knowing that you’re supposed to be here and be bold, go all out, be 100 percent, don’t hold back. You have a special gift to give to this school, and you make a difference here.”

While the wheels of progress often turn slowly, Vanderbilt’s “VU Black Girl Magic” weekend strives to spotlight those who have already paved the way for female African-Americans in college athletics.

“It’s important to recognize that we have work to do,” Lee said, “but it’s equally important to celebrate how far we’ve come. That’s what Black Girl Magic is all about.”

Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.
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