By Diane Ballard
Hard to believe the Lady Vol athletic program is only three decades old. In that short span, the women in orange have given us thrills, chills, and championships. Those women also have gone on to lives of accomplishment, while the program that nurtured them continues to raise the bar for women’s athletics.
Such is the gist of UT Press’s new release In the Footsteps of Champions: The University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers, the First Three Decades. Author is Debby Schriver (Knoxville ’72, ’78).
Schriver says women’s athletic director Joan Cronan granted her unlimited access to Lady Vol teams and coaches. Schriver took full advantage, hanging out in the training room, taking to the water with the rowers, and delving into the everyday business of managing and marketing a top-tier NCAA women’s athletics program. She interviewed former Lady Vols from all sports, capturing not only their recollections of collegiate days but also successes they’ve gone on to realize in their professional and personal lives.
The book serves as one of the first accounts of the effects of Title IX, federal legislation that made gender discrimination in athletics unlawful. Tennessee, Schriver says, was ahead of the pack when it came to giving women equal opportunities. UT established its women’s athletics department and hired Gloria Ray as its first director of women’s intercollegiate athletics in 1976.
“Universities had to be in compliance with Title IX by 1978,” Schriver says. “UT had the structure and commitment already in place. Tennessee was very forward-thinking.”
The results of those early efforts have been nothing short of spectacular. The eight-time national championship Lady Vol basketball team is the best known of UT’s winning women’s sports, but the university’s first women’s national championship actually was in track and field in 1981 under Coach (and UT alumna) Terry Crawford.
The strong leadership of the department has inspired student-athletes for three decades, particularly early on, when opportunities for women were rare. Joetta Clark, a member of the 1981 track and field national championship team, said, “I gained so much from being a Lady Vol. Seeing women in power [Gloria Ray, Pat Summitt, sports information director Debby Jennings, Terry Crawford]—that was the first time I had seen women working in the sports world, outside my mother. The athletic directors and coaches I had known were all men. Now I could envision the different careers you could have in the sport.”
Schriver, a former associate dean at UT Knoxville, wrote the book as a gift to the university. Profits from sales will go to the Lady Vol scholarship fund.
“I wanted to capture the story of the development of the women’s athletic programs before we lose the voices from the early days,” Schriver says. “This is a unique moment in time when we still have the early fans, coaches, and players who can tell their stories.” In the Footsteps of Champions contains the largest collection ever of UT women’s athletics photographs.
Soccer great Mia Hamm wrote the book’s foreword. Schriver says she wanted someone not connected with UT to lend credibility. But Hamm, a University of North Carolina graduate, joins the chorus of praise for Tennessee:
“The University of Tennessee has set the standard for women’s athletics programs. The Lady Volunteer story stirs my sense of pride in our collective history and my belief in a positive future for all young women who strive to find their passions.”