MARTIN, Tenn. – Before Bettye Giles began her career as a health and physical education teacher and an athletic administrator she was active, always participating in some type of fitness class or taking part in a learned physical activity such as badminton, tennis, golf, volleyball or tennis. Her tennis serve was tougher to return than her backhand, but it was her work as a graduate assistant at Tennessee for the golf team that helped the first UT Martin women’s athletics director earn her master’s degree.
Unlike many female athletic administrators, Giles did not play intercollegiate athletics. It’s not because she didn’t want to or because she couldn’t handle the strenuous activity. She didn’t play because collegiate conference level women’s athletics did not exist.
“I remember seeing the AAHPERD (American Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance) Code of Ethics on all the bulletin boards,” Giles, who is now 83 years old, said. “That code said college age females should participate in health and fitness activities – intramural type activities. That code of ethics also stated we should discourage varsity athletics because they were too strenuous (during prime child-bearing years), they were too stressful, and it took time away from academics.”
What the code did not state, but what Giles said the implied message was, “varsity athletics was probably not lady-like.”
“Before the 1960s they pacified me and once I became a teacher we pacified people with good extra-mural teams,” Giles said. An extra-mural team was a squad made up of above average intramural players, from whatever the sport, who were allowed to go to other schools and compete. “We, the physical education teachers, took them in our own cars,” Giles said. “The players bought their own food and, if we stayed overnight, we slept on the floor in our sleeping bags in the opponents locker rooms. I can remember we would stop at the grocery store and buy bologna, bread and cokes.”
UT Martin would travel to sport days or play days across the state. If UT Martin wasn’t traveling they were hosting. “We would invite a school here and they would bring their basketball team, the volleyball team, whatever they had,” Giles said. “We would start playing at 9 o’clock in the morning and that evening we would all get together for a picnic. The people in the community would have a cookout for us. It was a social occasion,” Giles said with a smile on her face and another story to tell with her next breath. “You kept score!”
THIS IS HOW IT STARTED
In October, 1968, during the annual meeting of the Tennessee College Physical Education Association (TCPEA) held at Montgomery Bell State Park in Dickson, Giles and other female physical education teachers, coaches of extra-mural teams and graduate students met to consider forming an organization to promote intercollegiate competition and provide state championships in a variety of sports for women. The pacifying was about to stop. Specific policies of this new organization were not defined because of time limitations, but it was unanimous, this new organization was a go. Giles acted as the spokesperson and was asked to publicize and plan another meeting.
At the Southern District Association of Health, Physical Education and Recreation Convention on Feb. 22, 1969, in Memphis, the Tennessee College Women’s Sports Federation (TCWSF) was formed. Among the organization’s earlier leaders Elma Roane, Jane Hooker, Patricia Bonner, Jo Hobson, Anna Ley Ingraham, Carolyn Landreth, Nancy McIntosh and Giles. This new group of leaders had to come up with a constitution and by-laws and survey the status of intercollegiate sports for women in Tennessee colleges. The group was also asked to address the future needs of women’s athletics.
On May 9, 1969, a brief meeting was held in Nashville and the results of the survey were discussed; State tennis and volleyball tournaments were planned. Final revisions of the constitution were made and approved and the Tennessee College Women’s Sports Federation was officially born on Jan. 31, 1970, in Cookeville. Giles was the first chairman and Bonner, from Milligan College, was elected the first secretary –treasurer. Sports policies in volleyball, tennis, badminton and basketball were drawn up. A state tournament schedule was approved and a rotation schedule for the tournament sites was implemented.
Among the charter institutions were Austin Peay, Columbia State Junior College, David Lipscomb College, East Tennessee State, Jackson State Community College, Lane College, Lambuth College, Martin College, Maryville College, Memphis State, MTSU, Milligan College, George Peabody, Tennessee Tech, Tusculum College, UT Chattanooga, UT Knoxville and UT Martin. The TCWSF went from 18 to 31 colleges and universities in 12 years.
“I remember those meetings well,” Giles said. “We would skip some of the sessions so we could talk things through,” Giles said.
During the 1970-71 year, women’s basketball had a $500 budget, Giles said. “James Henson, the athletic director, found the money for us and we were on our way.” Even back then the budget didn’t go far. UT Martin was one of the top 16 teams chosen to play in the first national collegiate basketball tournament and “we didn’t have any warm-ups,” Giles said. “We wore our PE uniforms, just a t-shirt and shorts. I remember Nadine Gearin, the first basketball coach went out and bought some orange felt. Each player got a hunk of that felt and was told to cut out their number and sew it on the back of their shirt. You could really tell what a player thought about themselves by looking at those numbers. Some numbers were very big and some were just big enough for you to see.”
Giles said the budget went from $500 to $4,000 after that first year because “talk surfaced about the Educational Amendment Act (which included Title IX).” Giles remembers getting handshakes after a game from one of the basketball players’ dad. “He had $100 in that handshake. All the men who could help out, financially, did their part. From 1971 until 1994 when I was the women’s athletic director, we always had an increase in our budget.”
UT Martin awarded its first women’s basketball scholarship to Amy Underwood Veazey, in 1976.
TITLE IX MAKES THINGS POSSIBLE
Veazey never ran up and down the length of the basketball court and she never played defense at Henry County High School, but that didn’t stop her from signing the first scholarship to play the game she loved at UT Martin.
Veazey didn’t pay much attention to the news nor did she have a Twitter account in 1972, but she did catch the news about Title IX in June of 1972. However, she didn’t understand it. So, like most things she didn’t understand, she asked her parents. “Will this Title IX thing eventually help me?”
Without hesitation her parents quickly answered. They told the Henry County player this new law that Richard Nixon signed on June 23, 1972, would enable the her to get a scholarship for college and play basketball.
“To me Title IX meant I would have to run up and down the court and play defense,” Veazey said. “I was a rover, they gave me the ball and I would shoot it.”
In August of 1976, Veazey met Bettye Giles and Nadine Gearin from UT Martin. Giles was the woman’s athletic director at the time and Gearin was the head women’s basketball coach.” I still have a powerful respect for Nadine Gearin and Bettye Giles,” Veazey said. “They treated me and all the players like we were their own.”
“We didn’t have a team room or anything like they have now,” Veazey said. “We had a simple and small locker room and we were proud of it.”
Veazey said at 18 years old she didn’t know the ramifications of Title IX. “I knew I wanted to play for Nadine Gearin and there was no doubt I wanted to play at UT Martin.
“I wanted to be a teacher and a coach,” Veazey said. “Going to UT Martin was the perfect place. I didn’t have to go far from home and my friends and family could watch me play. It was a good school, and I was at the right place at the right time.”
Not only was Veazey the first female player to sign a basketball scholarship, she was the first player to earn a graduate assistantship after she completed her eligibility.
Now 40 years later, Veazey, now a middle school principal in Henry County, realizes how important signing of Title IX was.
“As time goes, I realize how monumental Title IX is. I am sure UT Martin does not have all the money it needs, but Title IX has made a difference. Women’s athletics overall at UT Martin is beginning to experience success.
UT MARTIN COMES A LONG WAY
“These players have a lot of nice things that we didn’t have back then, but they deserve everything they get and more,” Veazey said.
Giles said, the TCWSF was born out of a vision of physical educators that the collegiate experience should include organized sports for females. “These pioneer women believed that competition was good for women, could be an educational experience, and should receive recognition and financial support from the administration,” Giles said.
“While the TCWSF was short lived it served a vital role in the establishment of intercollegiate sports for women in Tennessee and the South.”
“It’s been a long haul,” Giles said. “It was a learning experience. I am proud of UT Martin and our involvement and how we conducted ourselves. I have no regrets.”