XL Years of Title IX
April 16, 2012
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Joe Pepper was selected to lead the women's basketball team, which posted a 15-9 record during the 1977-78 season. Karen McGinn--a Father Ryan standout who was the first female student-athlete to receive a partial athletic scholarship to Vanderbilt--led the Commodores in scoring that year, averaging 16.5 points per game.
Pepper recruited Sheila Johansson the following year, making her the school's first full scholarship female student-athlete. Johansson would battle injury throughout her career, facing two knee surgeries before averaging 14 points per game as a sophomore in 1979-80. By the fourth year of women's athletics, the women's department was up to 10 staff members, and offices had been appointed in the basement of Memorial Gymnasium (near the current basketball locker rooms).
When the NCAA began incorporating women's sports in the fall of 1981, Harsh made Vanderbilt's women's athletic department a dual member of the NCAA and the AIAW. The move helped members of all five programs reach national postseason play that season. The swimming and diving team placed second at the NCAA Division II championships, and tennis player Jan Maxey earned an at-large bid to NCAA Division I nationals. Cross country and track both were represented in the AIAW Division III championships, while the basketball team earned its spot in the AIAW Division I tournament by winning its region.
The AIAW disbanded the following year, and the Commodore women became full-time members of the NCAA. Vanderbilt would lay claim to its first national championship when Phil Lee's women's basketball squad won the 1984 Women's National Invitation Tournament.
By 1986, Vanderbilt Athletic Director Roy Kramer had folded operation of the women's sports into the greater athletic department and promoted another influential woman, 13-year Commodore veteran June Stewart, to senior women's administrator. Stewart had joined Vanderbilt in 1973 as a secretary for the sports information department and eventually would be named associate director of athletics.
In 1989, Stewart was selected to the NCAA Division I Basketball Committee. She would serve as the first female president of the College Sports Information Directors of America the following year. Seven years after her retirement in 2001, Stewart was part of VU's inaugural Athletic Hall of Fame class.
Under Stewart's watch, Jim Foster's women's basketball team advanced to the NCAA Final Four in 1993, and Ryan Tolbert captured the school's first NCAA championship (400m hurdles) in 1997.
Vanderbilt has expanded its offerings for women three times in the past 16 years--adding lacrosse and bowling while re-establishing swimming to fill out a 10-sport roster.
Within the past decade, women's sports at Vanderbilt have seen unprecedented success. Basketball--certainly the most visible sport thanks to the ESPNs of the world--has made the NCAA Tournament every year since 2000 and stands second in the Southeastern Conference with a total of six league tournament titles, winning the event four times from 2002 to 2009.
Coach Greg Allen's golf team has finished in the Top 10 of the NCAA National Championship field in each of the past two seasons and will play host to the event this spring at the Vanderbilt Legends Club in Franklin.
The cross country squad won the SEC championship this year before placing sixth in the NCAA National Championship in the school's first appearance at the event. With the distance runners excelling, Coach Steve Keith has now turned his attention to the track and field program.
Two of the youngest programs--lacrosse and bowling--have had great runs in their short lives. The lacrosse team has made six NCAA Tournament trips since 2002, becoming the first team from outside the eastern time zone to the reach the NCAA Final Four in 2004. That same year the bowling program started, and in just their third season the bowlers claimed VU's first NCAA national team championship. The bowlers returned to the championship match a year ago.
Since Title IX was established 40 years ago, Vanderbilt has methodically built an exemplary portfolio of women's teams, helping female student-athletes succeed on the court, as well as in the classroom.
"The opportunities have expanded," Associate Vice Chancellor Patricia Marett said. "Our challenge now is to get sports fans to realize how exciting these teams are. You go to a women's basketball game, those women are phenomenal. I think if people have the opportunity to see that, they'll really begin to become serious fans."
While Vice Chancellor David Williams is the public face of Vanderbilt Student Athletics, the department relies on a great number of people behind the scenes to run smoothly. At the top of that list is Patricia Marett, Williams' Chief of Staff.
"Patricia Marett is literally the chief financial officer of our $50 million business," Williams said. "This is a complex and ever-changing enterprise; it's not as though we can set a plan in place and put it on autopilot the rest of the month or year. Things can change quickly in athletics, and it's invaluable to have someone with Patricia's expertise handling the vast challenges in our budget--facilities, scholarships, travel, various incomes, salaries, unexpected expenses...."
Marett has worked at Vanderbilt for nearly 19 years, starting as the business manager for microbiology and immunology at the Vanderbilt Medical School. Marett was the associate vice chancellor and chief of staff for the Division of Student Life and University Affairs in 2003 when Vanderbilt re-structured its athletic department, adding the financial and administrative operations of the athletic department to her other duties.
An Atlanta native with degrees from Mercer and the University of Georgia, Marett believes her perspective as an athletics outsider has helped her make tough decisions.
"This is another line of business," Marett said. "It's really interesting and I love the kids, but it wasn't that I was in love with the product and didn't have the ability to come in, look at it critically and say, `This makes sense; this makes no business sense.'"
Marett uses this critical approach to steer the Commodores in the right direction, but she is not without emotional ties to athletics. The quarterback of her Chi Omega powder puff football team in college, Marett is fully invested in the success of every Commodore student-athlete.
"I would watch our kids play anything."
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