Commentary

Five decades of fighting for equality

Lin Dunn to be inducted into Women's Basketball HOF on Saturday

Updated: August 28, 2014, 12:46 PM ET
By Lin Dunn | Special to espnW.com

Editor's note: Indiana's Lin Dunn is in her 44th and final season of coaching. Throughout her career, Dunn has fought for equality and change. Denied the opportunity to play college basketball because a women's program didn't exist when she was at Tennessee-Martin in the late 1960s, Dunn began coaching at Austin Peay in 1970, prior to Title IX legislation. Dunn coached Purdue to the 1994 Final Four, has coached in the Olympics and world championships and won a WNBA title with the Fever in 2012. One of the most accomplished women's basketball coaches in history and a pioneer for women in sports, Dunn reflects on her career for espnW.com just days before her induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. Part 2 was published Friday.

I am honored to enter the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame with Charlotte West, Yolanda Griffith, Michelle Edwards, Mimi Griffin and Jazmina Perazic. All have made major contributions to our game. As I enter the Hall, I am accompanied by all of my current and former players and assistant coaches, my current and former support staffs, my mentors, my family, my partner and my close friends. Without them, this moment would not be possible.

I am also grateful for the coaches who taught me how to coach. I copied you, John Wooden, Bobby Knight, Gene Keady, Dean Smith, Jack Ramsay and Red Auerbach. I thank you.

As I coach my last season, I have taken time to look back on my career. What follows is the first of a two-part reflection: THEN and NOW.

Then

There would be no NOW if it hadn't been for my family's constant reinforcement that I could do, or be, anything I wanted to be. I grew up in the 1950s and '60s. Discrimination against girls and women in sport was firm! NO little league, NO peewee football, NO elementary or junior high teams for girls! he more I heard "no," the more stubborn I became, the more I was determined to compete!

I coached for 26 years in college, and there was always one constant -- discrimination of women's teams. We survived and thrived, not because of that discrimination, but in spite of it. I, of course, learned to "stir the pot." How else could a woman survive in sports?! If I didn't "rock the boat," how would change occur?

[+] EnlargeLin Dunn
Ron Hoskins/Getty ImagesIndiana's Lin Dunn has more playoff victories than any other female coach in WNBA history.

What would I do differently? What would I change? I should have done more. Yes, whether I was at UT-Martin or Austin Peay or Miami or Mississippi or Purdue, I pushed and prodded and was a pain in the ass. But I wish I'd done more -- for Title IX implementation, more equity, more resources. And I wish I had done more for inclusion. I wish I had fought harder for addressing LGBT discrimination in sports. I realize now the powerful platform leaders in sport have, to make a difference in so many ways!

I have always loved sports! All sports: tennis, swimming, gymnastics, softball, archery, golf, badminton, volleyball, basketball. You name it, I played it! Thanks to my father, a marine and an SEC champion in the high hurdles at Vanderbilt, my brother and I competed in everything each evening in our backyard. We even had a pole vaulting pit. I cried when my brother played Little League baseball and girls were banned (even though I was 10 times better!).

Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to play intercollegiate basketball. Prior to the passing and implementation of Title IX, college opportunities to compete in basketball were slim and none! I actually spent my junior high and first two years of high school in Florence, Alabama, where it was against the law for girls to compete in interscholastic basketball!

My junior high coach, Noona Kennard, an early mentor, kept my competitive spirit alive. Fortunately for me, my family moved to West Tennessee (Dresden) after my sophomore year in high school and I got to compete in basketball for two years! I loved it! It was the old half-court, 6-on-6 game, but it was competition! My coach, Buddy Viniard, was tough and demanding and I'm sure he has influenced my coaching style.

I always thought I was a better player than coach; a better shooter than teacher. I played my two short years of high school basketball with a passion I often wish I could ignite in some of my pro players today. I treasured every second of every minute of every game.

By the time I entered college, college competition consisted of "play days." There were some volleyball matches, some badminton tournaments and intercollegiate tennis. Basketball was only played in intramurals. I'm sure Bettye Giles, the women's athletics director and my tennis coach, got weary of me driving her crazy about starting a women's intercollegiate basketball team! In the '60s, there was still that stigma that it was too rough, too un-ladylike to compete in team sports like basketball or softball. My team in college was my sorority, Chi Omega. We competed against the other sororities on campus in everything from academics to athletics.

Dunn I pushed and prodded and was a pain in the ass. But I wish I'd done more -- for Title IX implementation, more equity, more resources.

After I finished my master's degree at Tennessee in 1970, I was hired at Austin Peay, in Clarksville, Tennessee, as a physical education instructor and supervisor of the cheerleaders who cheered for men's football and basketball only. The AD who hired me was the classic "good ole boy" former football coach who believed a woman's place was only in the kitchen! I drove him nuts! When I went for the interview in May, I wore a dress and a blonde wig! I got the job. But when I reported for work in September, he asked, "Who in the hell are you??"

I volunteered to coach the women's volleyball, basketball and tennis teams. No budget and no support, no resources and limited access to the facilities. I could write a novel about my experiences at Austin Peay from 1970-76. If you have read Pat Summitt's last book by Sally Jenkins, it mentions in an early chapter that I "lifted, took, pilfered" old items from the men's locker room so we could have warmups; a trainers kit, etc. -- that was one way we survived!

When I reflect on that time in my life, I do fondly remember coaching young women who sacrificed for the opportunity to play on a team. With such limited support, they truly played because they loved the game. I became a student of the game while at Austin Peay. I hadn't played 5-on-5 full-court basketball, so I worked hard at learning the game. I sat in on every men's practice that I could, watching a great strategist, Lake Kelly. I attended every clinic I could find, often the only woman in attendance. I bought every book that I could afford on a $7,000-per-year salary! And I watched the Celtics, the Lakers and the Pistons. I studied ... and I learned ...

By 1976, I was worn out from coaching three sports with no help (I was the assistant, the trainer and the manager), while teaching eight different PE classes each quarter, and driving those damn cheerleaders all over the Ohio Valley Conference! Once, the Governor mascot was sick, so I donned the costume for a basketball game! Boy, was that thing HOT! Much respect for those mascots!

I was offered the job as head volleyball/head tennis coach for the 1976-77 season at Ole Miss! I jumped at the opportunity to only coach! No more teaching PE classes or driving the cheerleaders.

[+] EnlargeMascot
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyDuring her time at Austin Peay, Lin Dunn had many roles, including PE instructor and supervisor of the cheerleaders. And once, she even filled in as the Governor mascot.

Ole Miss in the late '70s was an interesting situation. Title IX had become the law, but most schools were slow to implement Title IX and provide equal access to resources, facilities and sporting opportunities for women. Ole Miss had decided to fully fund women's volleyball, basketball and tennis. There were only three sports for women even though the men's program had many more ... however it was a big step forward. We were given both full and partial scholarships, and recruiting capability all over the south. I decided the best way to jump start the volleyball team was to sign all six seniors at state champion Bradshaw in Florence, Alabama. Thanks to help from their coach, Noona Kennard, my former junior high PE teacher and mentor, I was able to get the "champs" to sign with Ole Miss! A year later, Ole Miss was competing in the AIAW volleyball nationals!

To get the tennis team going, we signed a great player out of Texas who helped us build that team into a national power. I only coached volleyball and tennis one year before I took over the women's basketball team. Mississippi had long been a hotbed for girls and women's basketball. Mississippi University for Women, and Delta State, were the premiere teams. Delta State was coached by the legendary Margaret Wade and was the three-time AIAW national champion.

I remember it was still difficult when we traveled, as our black athletes were not welcome in all hotels and restaurants in the south. I also remember an "understanding" from our administration that we should limit the number of black athletes we had on our teams and that made me feel uncomfortable. Of course, it was made clear to me that gay athletes were NOT welcome. I think this policy was common in most southern schools in the '70s.

One of the greatest highlights in my coaching career occurred in 1978, when we won at Delta State, 78-77, on a last-second shot to win the AIAW state championship and break its home-court winning streak. Carol Ross and Peggy Gillom were on that team.

After only two years, It was clear to me I needed to work in a more liberal environment -- 1978 was the first time I refused to be a part of discrimination. I chose a different path. NO, I would not remove a player from my team that was perceived as gay! I accepted the head women's basketball position at the University of Miami in 1979. My challenge was to build a program -- give scholarships and do it with no men's basketball and no gym!

1978 was the first time I refused to be a part of discrimination. I chose a different path. No, I would not remove a player from my team that was perceived as gay!

It's a good thing I like a challenge! I also loved the warm weather and more progressive environment of the university and the city of Miami. My women's athletic director, Isabelle Hutchinson, a true pioneer, was supportive and passionate about building a championship program for all the women's sports. I appreciated her commitment, but realized soon that the commitment above her was not as total as I'd hoped.

Coaching at the UM and living in Miami for nine years was an extraordinary experience for me. Great diversity and tolerance, even in the '80s ... and mixtures of different cultures. It was a real education for a southern gal from small town Tennessee!

My two greatest challenges at Miami the first few years were: no gym (we played our games in the Lane Recreation Center while intramurals were played on the other court) and no conference to compete in! We were a true independent and virtually land-locked: travel south, you are in the water; east, in the water; west, the Everglades!

North was our only direction for competition, with only enough resources for a 15-passenger van. We drove all over the state of Florida for competition. Quite often, we drove north, played a game and drove back late that night. I decided the best way to get competition was to host a huge Christmas holiday tournament when most teams are on break. Teams came from all over America to enjoy our winter sunshine and play games! We were able to play 8-10 home games over that two-to-three week period.

In the last tournament we held in the mid-1980s, more than 50 different teams participated! I think we hold the record for the largest women's collegiate basketball tourney ever held! I coached 12 years before I was able to hire my first full-time assistant basketball coach. Pat Coyle, who had just won the AIAW national championship at Rutgers, was my choice. Coaching at the University of Miami in the late '70s and '80s, I was surrounded by championship teams and their great coaches; Greg Louganis was an Olympic diver; Kelly, Kosar and Testaverde were All-America quarterbacks; Howard Schnellenberger and Jimmy Johnson won national titles; women's golf and tennis were top three in the nation and Ron Fraser might have been the best college baseball coach ever. They were great experiences for a young coach.

While I was coaching at Miami, I became a member of the WBCA. I was honored to serve as the WBCA president in 1984 and work with longtime friend Betty Jaynes, who was the executive director. Many thanks, too, to my friend Cheryl Holt, currently an AD at Austin Peay, who shared so many of my experiences at Austin Peay, Ole Miss and Miami.

[+] EnlargeLin Dunn
Michael Hickey/Getty ImagesLin Dunn, who had recruited Stephanie White to Purdue, hired White as an assistant coach for the Fever in 2011.

After nine years at Miami, I really wanted the opportunity to coach a team in a conference and in an area that loved BASKETBALL. I jumped at the chance to build the program at Purdue, in West Lafayette, Indiana, in 1986.

I'm sure George King and Carol Mertler, the ADs at Purdue who hired me, had no idea what they had gotten themselves into!

From the very beginning we talked about winning championships, connecting with the community, selling tickets and giving back. Building the program at Purdue was a true labor of love. I had already learned to be a tireless worker during my time at Austin Peay and Miami. At Purdue, I had two full-time assistants, a graduate assistant, a secretary, a trainer, a strength coach and a sports information director -- I didn't know what to do with all the help!

Our number one priority from day one was, "ALL the best players in Indiana WILL go to Purdue!" If we lose a player, she must go to a national championship program like Tennessee or Stanford. Second, we will go get the best in the Midwest -- Illinois, Michigan, Ohio. Third, we will get out in the community 24/7 and sell this program.

I had two great assistants help me build the program. Gail Goestenkors and Tom Collen, I thank you!

At our first game in 1986-87, we had about 500 people in attendance, counting the ushers. By the time I coached my last game in Mackey Arena, there was a crowd of 9,000!

We used Ohio State (coached by Nancy Darsch, led by Katie Smith) and Iowa (Vivian Stringer, Michelle Edwards) as our role models. They were the best in the Big Ten. We wanted to be as good or better. We had some unbelievable games with Iowa and Ohio State during my time at Purdue. Coaching and playing against the best always made us better!

I am proud of the NCAA championship Purdue won in 1999, led by current Fever associate head coach Stephanie White. I might not have been on the sideline for that game, but I know I helped build the foundation for that championship. When I signed Stephanie to a scholarship to Purdue, I promised her she would win a championship. I'm so glad that promise was kept!

One of the best ways I grew my knowledge as a coach was through my involvement in USA Basketball. In 1986, I served as an assistant coach to Jody Conradt for the gold-medal winning USA team in the Pan Am Games. Over an eight-year period, I worked with Chris Weller, Theresa Grentz, Jim Foster and Linda Hargrove, and traveled all over the world competing internationally. There is no greater coaching experience than representing your country. In 1990, we won the gold medal in the world championships in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and the gold medal at the Goodwill Games in Seattle.

At our first game [at Purdue] in 1986-87, we had about 500 people in attendance, counting the ushers. By the time I coached my last game in Mackey Arena, there was a crowd of 9,000!

The only disappointing experience I had with USA Basketball was in 1992 as an assistant for the Olympic team. It was the first time America was represented in the Olympics by professional basketball players -- The Dream Team, an unbelievable collection of male athletes: Bird, Magic, Jordan, Barkley, Pippen, Stockton, Malone. It was the first time USA Basketball decided to treat the two teams differently. It was also the LAST time!

The difference in accommodations was ridiculous. We stayed in the Olympic Village in Barcelona with no air conditioning. The men were downtown in a 5-star hotel. Once again, I was reminded that if you were a woman in sports, you were treated differently.

There were many memorable moments during my time at Purdue: the first Big Ten championship, the first Big Ten Player of the Year, the first Kodak All-American and the first trip to the Final Four. There is only ONE first time and I was honored to be a part of building those.

I was fortunate to build the Purdue program around two great players: Joy Holmes (mother of Michigan State star Gary Harris) and MaChelle Joseph (current head coach at Georgia Tech). I'm sure I wore out my welcome at Purdue with constant bitching about inequities in resources and facility access, and my relentless desire for better. I was always thinking out of the box and trying to stay ahead of the competition with innovative ideas.

When I look back at my time at Purdue, I still wonder why what we built wasn't valued more. I remember a year or two after I was gone, Carolyn Peck, who had joined the coaching staff in '96 and a year later became the head coach who led the Boilermakers to an NCAA championship, said she found one of my paycheck stubs in the back of a desk drawer in my old office.

"How could you be paid so little, when you had accomplished so much?," she asked me. Good question! I am just thankful, at least, that I KNOW I helped create positive change for the women that followed me.

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.


ALSO SEE