Birth of WVU women’s sports remembered

“We picked our battles, and at that point we really had no battle,” Thorn noted. “But Leland was willing to do it, and we all learned together.”

In 1975 Linda Burdette was hired to coach the women’s gymnastics team and Veronica Hammersmith also joined the department the same year to coach volleyball in the fall and softball in the spring; both were also expected to teach a full course load in the physical education school.

And, since Veronica was one of the lowest coaches on the totem pole at the time, her volleyball team usually had the small end of the stick when it came to practice hours in the fall once the basketball season started.

“Men’s basketball was supposed to get 4-7 and women’s basketball 7-9 and us 9-11,” Hammersmith recalled. “PE had the floor until 2 p.m., so there weren’t enough hours to practice before men’s basketball started.”

Hammersmith said the school of physical education paid half his salary and athletics paid the other half, but some of that amount was cut in the early 1980s when the department dropped softball for financial reasons. She took another pay cut in the mid-1980s when her teaching duties were cut.

“I took a big hit (financially) when that happened,” she said. “They decided they wanted them to go their separate ways and as my salary was 50-50 I saw my salary cut in half when I stopped teaching so it was really difficult for me. “

“Money was a big deal back then, even though we didn’t spend a lot,” Blakemore said. “It was always a big chunk of the sporting budget, and we had to be careful and realistic about what we could get – take what you can and go with it.

“I guess I was coming from the old school where you just do what you can do and you work very carefully with it and don’t make a lot of waves,” Blakemore said. “I found that I could get things done a lot faster if I didn’t make a lot of waves, but I was still able to do those things and get through them.”

“Kittie and those guys have done a really good job of getting things off the ground,” Hammersmith added. “That was probably the hardest part of it all, was finding someone to let them have teams.”

Byrd said it didn’t take long for the athletic department to accept the women and, to his knowledge, there were no major issues – or at least big grievances that had been brought to his attention.

“We were very lucky because a lot of schools had problems,” he said.

This week we continue our celebration of the 50th anniversary of Title IX, a landmark decision that allowed ALL students to compete in intercollegiate athletics.

The outlook for women’s sports at the University of West Virginia has never been brighter, thanks to a few pioneering women who, through a lot of hard work, a lot of patience and, yes, a little cunning, have made all this possible.

On Friday, our latest 50th anniversary feature from Title IX recalls the incredible life of Bette Hushla.

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