Two alums led campus Title IX transition

by Beth Whisman

Phebe Scott and Laurie Mabry were two early Redbird leaders who advocated for women in athletics and education long before Title IX was enacted. Their fight for equality was carried forward at Illinois State by Jill Hutchison, M.S. ’69; and Linda Herman, M.S. ’72, Ed.D. ’83. Both were integral to advancing opportunities for female athletes before the groundbreaking law was truly enforced on college campuses.

Enacted in 1972, Title IX mandates equal opportunities for women and men in academics and athletics at any institution receiving public funds. Hutchison can attest that the law resulted in a time of transition that was tough.

“Cultural change is slow. It’s much slower than you ever want it to be. And that’s what Title IX was—a cultural change, not just for athletics. Females…crossing the gender barrier, that was huge,” Hutchison said.

She experienced the shift from the perspective of a student-athlete to an administrator. Hutchison’s Illinois State legacy spans four decades, as she went from graduate assistant to Hall of Fame coach.

Inspired by her coach, Elivira “Tiny” Vidano ’42, Hutchison played high school ball in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She graduated from the University of New Mexico, then taught and coached at a junior high school before enrolling at Illinois State. As a graduate student she helped disprove the long-held theory that women’s hearts were too weak to play full-court basketball.

“I had gotten interested in telemetry, which is an instrument where you hook electrodes onto someone and monitor their heart rate while they’re active. We hooked electrodes onto two players, and we played five-on-five basketball,” Hutchison said.

“These two student-athletes maintained 180 beats a minute for easily 10 to 12 minutes at a time,” Hutchison said, noting that it was believed that a heart rate exceeding 180 beats a minute was stressful. One of the athletes tested was Illinois State’s head softball coach Melinda Fischer ’72, M.S. ’75.

“Melinda went up to around 210, and she wasn’t even on the floor,” Hutchison said. “Her electrode came off, and at halftime I went down to fix it. She heard the buzzer go off upstairs, meaning the second half was starting, and she wasn’t up there on the court. Her heart rate just started racing!”

Hutchison’s study helped convince the Women’s Rules Committee that a female athlete could literally stand the stress of competition. It was one of many pivotal moments for Hutchison, who was named Illinois State’s head women’s basketball coach in 1970.

That was two years before Title IX became law. The rules wouldn’t be set for several years, and the law faced immediate legal challenges. But in 1972 Illinois State proved to be a leader in women’s athletics once again, as the University organized the nation’s first collegiate basketball championship for women.

The opportunity to direct the tournament opened the door for Hutchison’s career within the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW). She helped establish the regions and the qualifying process for the tournament. “Surprisingly,” she said, “the regions that we set up in 1971-1972 are almost identical to the regions we play in the NCAA now.”

Hutchison left campus to earn her doctorate at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. When she returned, Title IX had officially arrived on campus, challenging the traditional funding equation for sports. President Emeritus David Strand weathered the storm.

“He was the executive officer. He was the man who got caught in the middle, and distributed money for both programs. It was never equitable, but he was trying to do the best he could do without dismantling the men’s program,” Hutchison recalled. “This was before Title IX was being fully enforced.”

When the men’s and women’s programs merged in 1981, the women’s basketball team moved from McCormick Gym to Horton Field House. Hutchison quickly realized there were even more challenges ahead.

“The facility manager hated the fact that women were there taking away the men’s court time,” she said. “I would bring brownies to the field house guys just to thank them for the little things they begrudgingly did for us. They were just as engrained in the system as anybody. You can’t blame them.”

The younger workers eventually became big supporters. She recalls fieldhouse workers gave her a chair embroidered with the season’s record when the 1989 team won the conference, and went on to the second round of the NCAA tournament. That was just one of many spectacular seasons for Hutchison, who is the all-time winningest Redbird basketball coach for both the men’s and women’s programs. Throughout 28 seasons she compiled a 461-323 record.

Hutchison’s teams earned five Gateway Conference titles, seven AIAW state championships, two AIAW national tournaments, seven WNIT appearances, and three NCAA Tournaments. She was a Rawlings Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year in 1985, 1988, and 1996. Most important to Hutchison, every single senior on those teams graduated.

She has been inducted into the National Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, and a banner honoring her career hangs from Redbird Arena’s rafters. A resident of Normal, Hutchison is a sports broadcaster. She offers analysis on WJBC during Illinois State women’s basketball games, and on Missouri Valley Conference Television.

Hutchison was not alone in moving the campus forward under Title IX. Herman played an equally significant role in the University’s history, as she served as associate director and senior women’s administrator in Athletics from 1982 to 2002.

“I had the double title because the NCAA required a women’s administrator to basically insure that every institution had someone responsible for the oversight of gender equity,” she said.

The biggest challenges were always about finding equitable resources.

“It was really about convincing and influencing people to do the right thing for the right reason,” she said. “You’d like to think some things would happen because they should, but you need legislation and rules to guarantee the opportunities continue to exist.”

Herman grew up in Valparaiso, Indiana, where her father coached her and her brother on a county baseball team. The team’s arrival at a city baseball tournament delivered Herman’s first brush with discrimination in sports.

“My dad was great. He treated me just like my brother. But when we advanced to the city tournament, girls couldn’t play,” Herman said. “We just accepted it, but deep down inside of me I thought something wasn’t right. All the time we were growing up, it stuck in my head.”

One of the only ways Herman could pursue a career in coaching was to teach. She graduated from Indiana State University, and spent three years as a high school coach in Frankfort, Indiana. “I was hired to coach synchronized swimming, but I went on to start the first state high school tennis championship in Indiana. It was all about finding new opportunities for the kids.”

She earned her master’s degree from Illinois State, and became a teacher and coach at Oak Park River Forest High School. She returned to the University two years later. “That’s when I decided to go into full-time coaching,” she said. “I eventually accepted the head volleyball coaching position in 1975.”

Herman’s coaching success resulted in two team appearances in the AIAW national tournament. She finished her coaching career with a 267-112 record, spent seven years on the NCAA Volleyball Committee, and two on the NCAA Softball Committee.

“I coached some wonderful kids, but in my head I knew there was more. So I earned my doctorate at ISU while I coached. It took me seven years,” she said.

In 1982 Herman became the University’s senior associate director of Athletics. “I got out of coaching sooner than I planned, but I didn’t know when that kind of opportunity would come around again.”

There was an obvious lack of unity within the department among men and women at the time. The school was going through painful but necessary transitions under Title IX.

“That’s where I learned that leadership was a big factor. The process was just as important as the final outcome,” Herman said. She recalled that the hardest part “was when we dropped junior varsity teams for both men’s and women’s sports, and decided to no longer sponsor sports like badminton, field hockey, wrestling, and men’s swimming. You get through it by making a decision that’s right for the institution. Those decisions were in the best interest of the long term viability of Illinois State.”

Herman retired in 2002, but she returned to Athletics in 2004 to serve as interim director for the fourth time in her career. She’s among a minority of women who have been at the helm of a Division I program. Today females make up only about nine percent of that group.

In 2003 Herman was inducted into the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s inaugural Hall of Fame class. The school’s annual scholar-athlete award is named after the Redbird pioneer, who resides in Normal.

She and Hutchison remain avid Illinois State fans, and maintain their interest in helping women advance against all obstacles. They know that Title IX was a huge step forward. Despite constant legal challenges, Hutchison has full confidence the law will prevail, creating even more opportunities in all realms for women in the future.

“It’s not just in sports. It’s in elementary school books that show women being doctors and lawyers and architects, instead of limiting us to being nurses and secretaries,” Hutchison said. “It’s much more widespread than sports.”

One thought on “Seasons of Change

  1. Cheryl L Birkhead says:

    Hi! I wanted to download the current interview with Jill and Linda but when I attempted what was downloaded were the ones that I already have!
    (Dr. Scott, Dr. Mabry; and a previous one with Linda) Any suggestions?
    These interviews are priceless to me BTW and I really appreciate your efforts to “Keep the flame going”!