Saturday, February 9, 2019

Trailblazing Hoops Team Celebrates 50th Reunion

UGA Sports Communications

Perhaps it’s only fitting that, as the University of Georgia celebrates its first century of coeducation this year, another group of female pioneers on campus gets a measure of recognition, as well.

The UGA women’s basketball team from 1968-69 will celebrate its 50th anniversary in events revolving around the current Lady Dawgs’ SEC clash with Florida on Sunday. Twelve members of the team, including head coach Jean Dowell, are gathering this weekend, some seeing each other for the first time since they played together.

The 1969 women’s team is significant for multiple reasons. Primarily, these ladies organized a team where before there was none. They weren’t the first women to play basketball at UGA; a team was thought to have existed on campus as early as the 1920s. But not before 1968 had a program operated with any tangible support from the University. Additionally, the team organized before the enactment of the Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, which brought sweeping change to the landscape of collegiate athletics.

Dowell, a native North Carolinian and a graduate of Western Carolina University, came to Athens to pursue her Master’s degree. She had carved a similar path in Cullowhee, where she helped organized the first women’s team and excelled as a high-scoring guard for the Catamounts.

‘’In terms of starting the program at Georgia, I don’t know who I thought I was, going down there,’’ Dowell said. ‘’I was intent on that school starting a basketball program. So I talked to department chairs, the deans, and the vice presidents. It was a long process, but the gist of my argument was, ‘how could this great university, whose entire existence is based upon social justice and opportunity for all, exclude an entire gender from one of its programs that it spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on?’ One day I got a call to go to the Physical Education office. The department head told me, ‘Jean, we wanted you to be one of the first to know that the University has decided to sponsor women’s basketball, and we’d be very pleased if you would be the coach.’ It was a ‘Wow’ moment for me, but I will say that they interpreted the word ‘sponsor’ very loosely.’’

Indeed, the women that comprised that first team played their games in the Women’s P.E. gym, not the 5-year-old Georgia Coliseum. They paid for much of their own equipment and transportation to and from games. Still, the team played four games in that inaugural season. It dropped a pair of games to Tennessee and Appalachian State in a tournament at Winthrop College before ending the season on a winning note, defeating North Georgia and Lander College at home.

Dowell eventually became the head coach and athletic director at Mount St. Joseph University in Ohio. She has now gained induction into the Ohio Basketball, Mount St. Joseph and Western Carolina athletic Halls of Fame. Dowell will reunite this weekend with 11 of her players from the 1969 squad. They include Teresa Allen; Rachel Benator; Gwyned Bius; Margeret Bostick; Nancy Brewster; Sally Chastain; Connie Ellsworth; Pam Haynes; Gail Johnson; Neena Knight; Ginger Wilson.

These ladies will be recognized on court Sunday during Georgia’s contest against Florida. Tipoff time is set for 12 Noon.

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