Athletics News
The history of Vanderbilt Athletics part 3

Sept. 9, 2008

History of VU Athletics Part 3 (pdf)  |  History Corner Archive

This is part three of a three-part series on the history of Vanderbilt athletics. To read parts one and two, go to the Commodore History Corner archive linked above.

When the federal government implemented Title IX requiring equal funding for women’s sports, the Vanderbilt administration upgraded the women’s competition. By 1977, the university offered several women’s programs to compete as an intercollegiate varsity sport. These athletic events were track & field, cross-country, basketball, tennis, swimming and field hockey.

The women’s track program has become very competitive. Women’s Vanderbilt teams have produced All-Americans in Michelle Baskin, Stacey Carpenter, Amanda Helberg, Hope McIntosh, Beth Tallent, Leslie Vidmar, Josie Hahn and Ryan Tolbert. In 1997, Tolbert became the first NCAA national champion in Vanderbilt athletics history while competing in the 400-meter hurdles. Vanderbilt’s commitment to the track program was enhanced with the renovation of the Track & Field Complex in 2003. The 1.7 million project was ready when Vanderbilt hosted the 2005 SEC Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

The Vanderbilt women began their modern period of basketball when Joe Pepper (1977-80) was named part-time coach. The 1977-78 women posted a 15-9 record in their inaugural year. Sheila Johansson, Cathy Bender were the first full scholarship players. Teresa Lawrence was selected the school’s first Female Athlete-of-the-Year.

Phil Lee (1980-91) became the first full-time Vanderbilt women’s coach in 1980. His 1981-82 squad captured the first 20-win season while appearing in the AIAW National Tournament. Harriet Brumfield is the first woman from Vanderbilt to be named All-SEC. The Vanderbilt women won the Women’s NIT championship in 1984. The Dores made their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament in 1986 while finishing the season ranked No. 20.

The Vanderbilt women soon became one of the top SEC teams and are consistently ranked nationally. Lee is responsible for recruiting All-Americans Wendy Scholtens and Heidi Gillingham. Other greats at this time were Karen Booker, Deborah Denton, Barbara Brackman, Jackie Cowen, Carolyn Peck, and Donna Atkinson.

Coach Jim Foster (1992-2002) brought the Vandy women to new heights and national prominence with his hiring. Vanderbilt advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament in eight of his 11 seasons. In 1994, the Commodores advanced to the Final Four before falling in a semi-final contest. Vanderbilt achieved a No.1 ranking in the poll taken before the tournament. Foster’s teams also won three SEC Tournaments (1993, 1995, 2002).

Prominent players in the Foster era including Gillingham are Sheri Sam (All-American) Chantelle Anderson (Two-Time All-American), Angela Gorsica, Mara Cunningham. Ashley McElhiney, Zuzi Klimesova and Na‘Sheemon Hillmon. Anderson is Vanderbilt’s only SEC Player-of-the-Year (2002) and all-time career leading scorer with 2,604 points.

 
  Caroline Williams, Carla Thomas, Melanie Balcomb and Dee Davis

Melanie Balcomb became Vanderbilt’s fourth coach in May 2002. She has taken the Commodores to the NCAA Tournament in each of her six seasons and added SEC Tournament titles in 2004 and 2007. Vanderbilt key players were Jenni Benningfield, Carla Thomas, Ashley Early, Dee Davis, Caroline Williams, Jennifer Risper, Christina Wirth and Liz Sherwood.

The Commodores have an overall record of 648-316 record through the 2007-08 season. Their Memorial Gymnasium all-time mark is an amazing 358-84. The Vanderbilt women have appeared in 21 NCAA Tournaments (third most in the SEC) and 13 Sweet Sixteen appearances.

The baseball program was unremarkable in the modern period until the arrival of coach Larry Schmittou (1968-78). In 1971, the Commodores won their first of four consecutive SEC Eastern titles with a 34-19 record. In 1973 and 1974, the Commodores captured the SEC Championship while Schmittou received Coach-of-the-Year honors. He coached 20 All-SEC players as 14 were taken in the major league draft. Schmittou ranks second all-time in Vanderbilt wins with a mark of 306-252-1.

Commodore players that thrived on the diamond at this time include Rick Duncan, Mike Pike, Jeff Peeples (All-American), Mike Willis, Scotti Madison (All-American), Ted Shipley, Gene Menees, Steve Chandler, Rick Rhodes, and Scott Sanderson.

Roy Mewbourne (1979-2002) would arrive on the Vanderbilt campus to become Vanderbilt’s all-time winningest coach in his 24 years with a 655-608-9 record. The Commodore skipper led Vanderbilt to its third SEC title in 1980. Mewbourne was also honored as Coach-of the-Year.

Mewbourne was a catalyst in the 2002 renovation of the baseball field. Charles Hawkins Field was unveiled as a state-of-the-art facility with over 2,000 chair back seats and a new press box. The final phase of the updates were completed in 2006 with a two-story complex that includes offices, locker rooms and a weight room. In 2008, permanent bleachers were added to the outfield along with other improvements.

The Mewbourne era would produce such talents as All-Americans Vee Hightower, Hunter Bledsoe (1999 SEC Player-of-the-Year), Joey Cora, Boomer Whipple and Clinton Johnson. More Vanderbilt players that donned a Commodore uniform for Mewbourne were Karl Nonemaker, Jim Schifman, Josh Paul, Greg Thomas, Greg Smith, Nick Morrow, Jim Gibbs and Kyle Balch.

Tim Corbin (2003-present) has taken the baseball program into national rankings with players like Jeremy Sowers, David Price, Casey Weathers, Pedro Alvarez, Dominic de la Osa, Alex Feinberg, Ryan Flaherty, Brett Jacobson and Mike Minor. In 2004, the Commodores were two games away from their first-ever College World Series, but lost in the Super Regionals. In 2006, Vanderbilt was invited to the NCAA Tournament, but lost in the first round.

Corbin’s 2007 club was a record breaker. The club finished the season 54-13 with a new victories record to go along with a SEC regular season and SEC Tournament crowns. Ranked No. 1 in the country for several weeks, the Commodores lost at home to Michigan in the Regionals. Price was the No. 1 selection in the 2007 Major League draft and Weathers was taken as the eighth overall pick.

In the 2008 major league baseball draft, Alvarez was selected No. 2 overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Weathers was a member of the USA Olympic Baseball team that won the silver medal in 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China.

 
  Tennis great Joe Davis

Joe Davis (1939-41) was one of the first great tennis players in Vanderbilt history. In his three seasons on the court, Davis was the No.1 SEC singles champion each year. In 2001, the women’s tennis team lost in the finals of the NCAA Championship. This was the first time a Vanderbilt athletic team, men or women, played in the finals for an NCAA national championship.

Brandt Snedeker has made national headlines on the golf course. The former Commodore was the 2007 PGA Tour Rookie-of-Year. He led the first three rounds of the 2007 Buick Invitational, but finished in third place. Snedeker picked up his only PGA Tour victory in the 2007 Wyndham Championship. In 2008, Snedeker finished in a third place tie in The Masters and ninth place in the U. S. Open.

Under the leadership of Coach John Williamson, the Vanderbilt women’s bowling team won the 2007 NCAA National Championship. In the university’s long athletic history that’s the only team to win a national championship in any sport—men or women. The title earned the team a visit to The White House to greet President George W. Bush. Commodore Josie Earnest was named the 2008 Division I Player-of-the-Year.

Fred Russell was a legendary sports writer for the Nashville Banner (1929-98) and a friend to Vanderbilt athletics. He was highly respected and became an authority on sports locally, regionally and nationally. Russell was a Vanderbilt graduate earning a baseball letter in 1927. The Vanderbilt football and baseball press boxes carry his name in tribute.

In Fred Russell’s book published in 1938, “Fifty Years of Vanderbilt Football,” it states that the nickname “Commodores” was first applied by William E. Beard in 1897 as a member of the Nashville Banner’s editorial staff. Beard was a Vanderbilt quarterback on the 1892 football team.

When Vanderbilt athletes storm onto the field or the basketball court, they are inspired by the official fight song, Dynamite. Francis Craig, who wrote catchy tune, was a local composer and orchestra leader whose band performed regularly on WSM radio. Craig was a Vanderbilt graduate (1924) and composer of many nationally known songs.

In September of 2003, Chancellor E. Gordon Gee presented his unique vision of the student-athlete by restructuring Commodore athletics to achieve a goal that would integrate student-athletes into the daily life around campus.

Although Vanderbilt athletics operates without an athletics director, David Williams II is in his fifth year overseeing the programs as the Vice-Chancellor of University Affairs and Student Athletics. Nicholas S. Zeppos, who is in his first full year as Chancellor, has endorsed a plan for athletics capital improvements to surpass $50 million in the coming years. This includes upgrades and additions to Memorial Gymnasium, Vanderbilt Stadium and Charles Hawkins Field, which began in 2008.

In 2008, Vanderbilt University announced it’s inaugural group of Sports Hall of Fame members. They include: Chantelle Anderson (basketball); Peggy Brady (golf); John Hall (football); Roy Kramer (administration); Clyde Lee (basketball); Dan McGugin (football); John Rich (football and baseball); Fred Russell (sports writer); June Stewart (administration); Ryan Tolbert Jackson (track); Bill Wade (football) and Perry Wallace (basketball).

In the 21st century, Vanderbilt athletics are thriving with several national ranked teams. The men compete in football, baseball, basketball, tennis, golf and cross-country. The women of Vanderbilt are also competitive in basketball, tennis, golf, lacrosse, bowling, track & field, cross-country, soccer and swimming.

This concludes the three-part series on the history of Vanderbilt athletics. If you have any comments or questions you can contact Bill Traughber via e-mail WLTraughber@aol.com.

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