50 Years of Title IX at Chattanooga

Under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972: No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

When the first UTC women’s basketball team took the court after the passage of Title IX, they were wearing reversible jerseys supplied by the university.

“We bought everything else,” recalls former Chattanooga student-athlete and head coach Sharon Fanning. “We bought our shorts, wanted shoes, socks. Anything else we, we had to buy.”

The team held practice in the auxiliary gym and got onto the main court in Maclellan when it didn’t conflict with the men’s practice. Even a volleyball game didn’t stand a chance.

“That was our agreement,” Fanning said. “We would move because it was time for their practice.”

So the final set was moved to the auxiliary gym and the game completed.

Fanning arrived at UTC in 1971, one year before Title IX. There was no difference between that year and her second after its passage for the basketball team.

The team was under the direction of the physical education department both years led by Sis Morgan and Jean Biddle. However, the lack of adequate funding from the athletics department caused the program to be paused for one year.

It returned in Fanning’s senior year under the direction of part time head coach Grace Keith in the 1974-75 season.

Harold Wilkes appeared at her classroom door at Hixson Elementary School to ask the former high school head coach to step back onto the court at the collegiate level.

She spent her breaks and some class time at Hixson Elementary on the phone games, booking hotel rooms arranging for spending money on trips, reserving a van and recruiting. When school let out, she hustled to the downtown campus for practice at Maclellan Gym.

She didn’t have an office to work out of and the women’s team shared a locker room with the PE department.

“We had designated lockers,” she said. “But we didn’t have our own locker room.”

She had to rush to UTC before the business office closed at 5 pm to pick up the travel check the day before the team headed out for a game.

“The van was always on empty and dirty,” Grace remembered.

Home game situations weren’t much easier.

“I had to arrange for the gym to be set up,” she said. “I had to scrounge around for someone to run the clock and keep score. I also had to schedule the referees and pick up their checks.”

After a few months of getting a team together, Chattanooga’s varsity era opened. Women’s teams competed in the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW). It would be eight more years before the NCAA took over.

For the women, it was an opportunity to compete on the same level as the men’s teams.

“The women were happy,” Grace said of her teams. “They just wanted to play.”

Two years later, the team would become Fanning’s and she became the first full time head coach for a women’s team at UTC. In fact, for her first two seasons, she was also the volleyball head coach.

Despite the protection of the law, there was grumbling from all corners.

“It was difficult for any AD at that particular time because football, maybe men’s basketball, were two sports that generated the revenue,” Fanning said. “It had to carry the load for everyone.

“Now you’re talking about adding women’s sports. It wasn’t an opportunity with Title IX to decrease anything with the men, but it was to provide an opportunity to the women who had not been there.”

However, even with a full time head coach, getting assistants was another hurdle to leap.

“When I started coaching, I had no assistants,” Fanning said. “I don’t know that there were any scholarships the first year, the budget was minimal.

“Then you had one scholarship, then you had two, but you had to break those up and divide them amongst all your players.

“Then there was a graduate assistant that helped or was a part time assistant. Then there was a full time assistant.”

The opportunities would continue to grow for the sport.

In 1976, the Olympics held tryouts for women’s basketball. Fanning recalls the small numbers who earned a look including former student-athlete Denise Powers.

“There might have been 100 girls there and about 30 over 6-foot-3,” she said. “Four years later there were hundreds and maybe 300 or 400 over 6-foot-3 or 4. Now you have kids that are dunking and 6-foot-3 guards handling the ball like 5-7, 5-8 guards.”

Former Mocs head Coach Jim Foster saw Title IX from a few years later, but the struggle was just as great in 1978 when he became the head coach at St. Joseph’s.

When asked when he realized women’s basketball arrived, he thought back to his own experience.

“My moment was when I could give up two or three jobs that I held to be able to do what I wanted to do,” Foster said. “My salary increased to the point where it could actually start to make a living without bartending, resurfacing tennis courts, running a restaurant in Ocean City, NJ for a summer.”

Twenty years after the passage of Title IX, UTC was still working to add women’s sports. The addition of these sports also brought along the addition of support staff.

Senior Woman Administrator and Executive Associate Athletics Director Laura Herron started her career at UTC in 1994 as the first full time female athletic trainer.

“There were graduate assistants before and students that were female, but I was the first full time,” she said.

Softball was added in 1994 and two years later women’s soccer made it’s debut. The women’s golf team returned to the varsity ranks and just recently Chattanooga added beach volleyball.

Mocs head coach Frank Reed came to UTC from Chattanooga State where his first team was comprised of a pitcher and short stop converted to catcher who had fast pitch experience. The rest came from the ranks of the slow pitch game.

“It took years to get it where we are today,” Reed said. “Even the 21 years I’ve been here, fast pitch softball has changed to where just about everyone has a team.”

The future of women’s sports in seeing its continued growth in numbers and in funding.

“We still have some growth to do,” Herron said. “I’d love to see all of our sports fully funded in scholarships and coaching staff. We’d love to lead our conference and make strides nationally.”

From peanut butter sandwiches and three games basketball games in one day, women’s sports have moved beyond the early days to sit down meals, overnight trips and the championship experience.

While steps have been made to give women and girls equal opportunity, we still need to make strides.

Chattanooga fields sports for women in basketball, beach volleyball, cross country, golf, softball, soccer, track and field – indoor and outdoor, tennis and volleyball.

Leave a Comment