Unveiling of statues honors roots of UTM women’s hoops
Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 13:10
Pat Head Summitt achieved legendary status long before she won her 1,098 game with the team she had coached for nearly forty years. That icy blue stare could be seen by many on television as she coached her players to perfection. However, there were two people she would never turn that stare on out of respect.
Bettye Giles and Nadine Gearin were Summitt’s women’s athletics director and coach respectively. At a time where men and women were not considered equal in the regards of sports, these two women were the driving force behind fair treatment of female sports players.
Bettye Giles received her undergraduate at Austin Peay State University and then went to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville for her graduate degree. After graduating in 1952, she came to UTM as a professor in health and physical education. She brought with her the love of sports. After five years, she was acquainted with a new teacher in the same department. She served as the cheerleader sponsor from 1952-1973 as well as beginning the tennis program in 1952. She served as the head coach for eight years.
Nadine Gearin was a graduate of Austin Peay State University and earned her graduate degree before coming to UTM. According to Giles, whenever there was a meeting, Gearin would never speak. She would always have someone else do it for her instead.
At the time, women were expected to stay home and were looked down upon for running up and down a court in shorts. The dynamic duo was of Giles and Gearin were on a mission to change the course of women’s athletics. This was not only for UTM, but for the entire state and even the country.
UTM’s first women’s basketball team was formed in 1969. Giles was the women’s athletics director and Gearin was the coach. They were only allowed to play intramurals, but the ladies were ready to face other teams.
In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, UTM female athletes were granted extra-murals. They could now play other teams instead of just teams inside the school.
According to Joe Lofaro, Sports Information Director and author of the article “The Lady is a Champ” on the UTM website, if the ladies weren’t hosting, they were traveling. The other schools would bring whatever team they had, and they would make a day out of playing sports. If the ladies were traveling, they would sleep in sleeping bags in the host school’s locker rooms.
Considering there wasn’t a budget, the ladies had to pay for everything themselves. They would either play in gym clothes or if they had jerseys, they had to sew their own numbers on to their jerseys. They had to carpool everywhere they went since the school wasn’t going to provide a bus.
In 1972, President Richard Nixon passed a bill known as Title IX. It prohibited the discrimination of athletes of any stature, whether they were male or female. Title IX didn’t go into effect until 1976 but that didn’t deter the women athletes of UTM. They kept on pushing for their goals.
In the early ‘70s, Giles and Gearin saw the early career of Pat Head Summitt as she came through UTM. She played volleyball and basketball under these two wonderful ladies. It was at Giles’ request that Summitt went to University of Tennessee Knoxville for her graduate degree. A star player at UTM, Summitt would go on to be the winningest coach in NCAA basketball history.
If Bettye Giles and Nadine Gearin hadn’t been such advocates for allowing women the equal opportunity to play sports, there could be a possibility that Pat Head Summitt would never have become the big success she is today.
Unfortunately, in 2009, UTM lost the second half of its dynamic duo when Nadine Gearin passed away after struggling with an illness. According to utsports.com, Summitt said Gearin was more than a coach to her, she was also a great friend who taught her so many things including how important it was to keep life-long ties to your teammates.
UTM’s connection to Pat Head Summitt, Bettye Giles and the late Nadine Gearin have been set in bronze. On Saturday, Oct. 6, the unveiling of three bronze statues in the likeness of these great women brought out a crowd on the morning of homecoming weekend.