While the Lady Raider athletic program has enjoyed recent success winning several conference titles and advancing to the NCAA tournament in all sports, the former players who helped pave the way were honored at halftime Thursday during the game against Xavier.
Former MTSU female student-athletes watched as the women’s basketball team played a tough non-conference opponent, the Xavier Musketeers from the Atlantic 10 Conference. The game was played in front of 3,227 fans with many of them being pioneers who helped bring the women’s athletic program up from nothing.
For the current Lady Raider basketball players, it was an honor to play in front of the pioneers who played both before and after Title IX was created 40 years ago.
“It’s was definitely an honor to win in front of them for all of the support they have given us,” junior forward Ebony Rowe said after the team’s 63-48 win against Xavier.
As for the standard bearers, it was a chance to remember the past.
For two of the former greats on the hardwood, Faye Brandon and Mary Secrest, it was their first chance meeting each other. Both of them played a significant part in Lady Raider basketball history.
Brandon played during a time, when it was a club sport on campus back in the 1940s. At the time, the rules were very different: It was six-on-six. Also, the team played for the love of the game because they had to take care of most travel expenses and other items like uniforms and equipment.
“We did not have a lot of practice time, and we did not get the recognition when we played before the men,” Brandon said.
Today, Brandon attends most of the games and calls herself the oldest Blue Raider on campus.
Next up on history annuals was Secrest, who was given the childhood nickname “Beanie” because she enjoyed eating beans as a child.
She came to MTSU in 1970 as the first African-American to play on the women’s basketball team and graduated in 1974.
For the guard and other women athletes, Title IX has had a huge impact on her both on and off the court.
“Title IX has brought about the equal rights of women,” Secrest said. “Just wanting to play sports, which is what it has done. You can have any sport you want, they just need to be treated the same way as the men, and I would love to see that. Put money into women’s athletics because you are now finding out in the business sector that woman who play sports are hired in upper management.”
Title IX is an amendment to the Civil Rights Act that forbids discrimination based on gender in educational institutions. Its biggest impact has been seen in collegiate sports, where women have seen more opportunities to participate in sports.
In fact, one 2006 study found the number of women in high school sports had increased by a factor of nine, while the number of women in college sports had increased by more than 450 percent since Title IX was enacted in 1972.
Even though Title IX gave Secrest the opportunity to play, she was not awarded an athletic scholarship; that did not start for the athletic programs until 1975.
That honor went to former Blue Raider tennis great and first female athlete to receive one, Sandy Neal.
She played for the school’s tennis team from 1972-76. She later led the Blue Raider tennis team. Today, she teaches in the health and human performance department. As one of the first female coaches on campus, Neal turned into a mentor role, which continues today in the classroom.
All three former Lady Raider stars agree the women’s athletic program has grown greatly since each of them made their mark.
“People are supporting athletics now,” Secrest said about the spectators. “And we are sitting up in the stands going, wow there are more than 25 people here. It has changed a lot.”
During the halftime ceremony, a short documentary aired on the Murphy Center video board about the history of women’s sports on campus.
Also, current Lady Raider student-athletes read out the Title IX law, and all of them were also honored at halftime. For each of them, it was a special way to be honored for their contributions.
“It’s so hard to put into words,” Neal said. “I was right there in college when Title IX happened. Because of those opportunities, my career went in a different path, including going into the coaching field. That would have never happened without Title IX.”
Since the passage of Title IX, the Lady Raider basketball team has won 20 conference titles in three different conferences, Tennessee Colleges for Women, the Ohio Valley and the Sun Belt.
Head coach Rick Insell, who is three wins away from being the winningest coach in Lady Raider history, has enjoyed much success coaching both women’s high school and college basketball.
Insell led Shelbyville Central High School to 10 Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association state championships and two USA Today national championships before coming to MTSU before the 2005-06 season.
Being both a girl’s high school and women’s college coach, Title IX has also had an impact on his career.
“I’m very proud of being part of the Title IX program,” Insell said after the win. “The state of Tennessee has always given women’s basketball its due.”
As for the three former players, they give the law credit for helping improve women’s sports.
“It has given a lot of girls an education who might not have had a chance to get one,” Brandon said. “I think it has been wonderful.”