By R.L. Bynum
Today’s Carolina fans couldn’t imagine the humble roots of women’s
basketball on campus, even after Title IX passed, for a program that
has won a national championship and could contend for another
The head coach driving the team to games in station wagons or vans, four players packing into each motel room, fast food road meals, a dangerously small home gym and unflattering and sexist nicknames in short Daily Tar Heel articles — including Tar Babes, UNC Lassies, Tar Heelets and Femme Cagers — marked the early years when games drew little attention and fans didn’t need to buy a ticket.
Official school program records only go back to the 1975 season (it didn’t start until mid-January), but there is evidence of UNC women’s basketball teams as far back as the 1940s and 1950s and seasons of around 10 games with teams playing six-on-six in the 1960s.
Until UNC became a charter member of the North Carolina Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (NCAIAW) in 1971, teams were better described as “clubs” that were more informally organized.
“The students would come to practice if they wanted to,” said Dr. Frances Hogan, a UNC women’s sports pioneer, in a 1991 interview conducted by Mary Jo Festle, a professor at Elon University and UNC alum.
“There was no ‘you have to come.’ Frequently, a girl would come up and say, ‘Mrs. Hogan, I can’t be there. I’ve got a date,’ or something like that.” Hogan said. “But it really was not that bad. And then as we started what we call ‘varsity sports,’ the practices were more organized and students were required to be present.”
Hogan, who passed away at age 86 in 2009, coached women’s tennis for years, became the director of intercollegiate athletics for women and then, under AD John Swofford, associate athletics director.
Hogan was among several women’s basketball coaches in the 1960s, including Mary Louise Cranford. Gail Stacy coached in the early 1970s, followed by Jean Eller, Dr. Virginia Raye Holt and Sue Cannon. When Hogan became director of intercollegiate athletics for women, she was paid a $3,000 stipend a year, then $4,000 in the late 1970s. That supplemented the salary from her full-time teaching duties.
The school’s athletics department finally officially recognized a team for the 1974–75 season, two years after President Richard Nixon signed Title IX. Previously, the teams were a part of the Department of Physical Education, and records from those seasons are hard to find.
Little money came with that recognition, though.
Dr. Angela Lumpkin was the head coach that first season after the transition. She had one assistant coach, Dr. Beth Miller, no athletic trainer (the team shared one with another team her second season), made all the travel arrangements and had to stretch a shoestring budget.
“Sometimes we would go places and we couldn’t afford hotels and you’d bunk out in dorm rooms on rented mattresses and share gang showers and in residence halls,” said Lumpkin, who UNC hired as a tenure-track faculty member in the physical education department after three seasons as an assistant coach at Ohio State. It was only after she arrived in Chapel Hill that she was assigned to coach basketball.
Lumpkin, now a professor and department chair in the Department of Kinesiology and Sports Management at Texas Tech, said that faculty duties at Carolina were “99%” of her job.
“I could recruit but I didn’t have any money to do it,” said Lumpkin, who didn’t have a player on scholarship until her second season. “So, anything that I did on recruiting came 100% out of my pocket.”
Even adjusted for inflation, junior guard Deja Kelly will make much more NIL money this year than the $1,000 annual stipend Lumpkin got to coach basketball. That was an improvement considering no women’s coaches were paid a stipend before the 1973–74 school year.
It was like the model most high schools still follow, where teachers pay their bills with a full teaching load and get a little extra money to coach a team.
“I had to teach. I had to do research. And, oh yeah, you’re the women’s basketball coach. And, for that, we’ll give you a small stipend. That’s how all of us did it,” said Lumpkin, who was also the assistant women’s tennis coach but go no stipend for that.
It’s safe to say that Dean Smith didn’t have to teach PE classes. Coach Courtney Banghart certainly won’t be driving the team bus.
Lumpkin, a sports historian by training, says women share the blame for it taking so long for women’s sports opportunities to be created.
“Women physical educators were the most restrictive about what women could do athletically even more so than men were,” she said. “The males didn’t want to share any of their money or any of their PR. The women wanted women to act like women, and they weren’t very good to themselves. The last thing in the world the women wanted to do was, quote/unquote, ‘be like the man.’ “
Golf was considered “ladylike,” Hogan said in that interview, and that’s the reason that it is the oldest intercollegiate women’s sport and was the first that featured a national championship.
Unrecorded program history
Finding details about UNC women’s basketball before the 1975 season is challenging, given that the athletics department recognized none of those teams and coverage of their games wasn’t usually much more than a few paragraphs in The Daily Tar Heel.
There was an occasional player feature, such as this one on forward Rita Barnes. She averaged 13 points per game for the 1968 team that finished 7–3.
Before Holt, who passed away at age 88 last year, began the intercollegiate sports program for women in 1971, there was generally what was called a “play day” competition. They were considered more informal, with multiple teams sometimes converging at one site for games.
“Colleges would just go to each other’s campuses, and have these informal competitions that would get set up by the coaches,” said Susan Shackelford, a UNC graduate who became the first woman DTH sports editor in 1973 and is the co-author of Shattering The Glass: The Remarkable History of Women’s Basketball. “They were kind of loosely organized, they usually had refreshments. It was as much a social occasion as an athletic occasion.”
Because of distance restrictions, most games were played within the state. For years, they had to play all games within 50 miles of campus because of school rules that only applied to women’s teams. The season couldn’t last more than 12 weeks and, in the 1950s, teams practiced only twice a week. In 1968, UNC played Peace College five times. Teams could play only five games initially, then seven, before finally being able to play 10 in the 1960s.
“I remember that there were two to three graduate students who drove their cars to transport us,” said Linda Woodard, who played only as a freshman during the 1966–67 season. “We wore our own clothes — shorts, shirts, shoes — mostly Converse All-Stars, and were responsible for our own laundry. For identification purposes, we were provided with garments called pennies or pinnies on top of our own shirts.”
Each team had six players on the court at all times, with two rovers playing full court, two guards playing only defense and two forwards playing only offense. Unlike today’s game that includes a smaller basketball, games were played with the same basketball used for men’s games.
“Prior to having rovers, no one could cross the half-court line and a player could not dribble more than three times in sequence,” said Johnna Everett, who played from 1965 to 1969. “So then, each team had three offensive players and three defensive players and they had to stay on their own end of the court. If the defense rebounded an offensive miss, then the defensive player had to get the ball to the offensive end in no more than three dribbles.”
The dangerously tiny confines of Women’s Gymnasium
Until the 1971–72 season, games were played in the cozy Women’s Gymnasium, a facility nestled behind Woollen Gymnasium and next to the Kessing Pool. The building was repurposed in 2010 and is now the Stallings-Evans Sports Medicine Center.
Although the basketball court wasn’t regulation size, the gym was so small that it was a hazard to players. The brick wall with no padding was wall 58 inches away from the baseline, according to DTH reports, although some say it was around a yard away.
With little space for spectators, fans often sat in the windows to watch.
“I remember Frank McGuire came down to see the girls play basketball, especially one girl,” Hogan said in that 1991 interview about the 1957 men’s national championship team coach. “She was good. Coach McGuire said if she were a boy, he would have signed her up.”
That player was Catherine Bolton, who was East Carolina’s women’s basketball coach for its first nine seasons, beginning in 1969–70. Her Pirates teams beat UNC 47–41 in 1972 and lost to the Tar Heels 55–51 in 1974 and 69–50 in 1975.
The U.S. Navy built Women’s Gymnasium in 1942 to accommodate 200 women students at a time when there were 728 women on campus. By 1975, there were about 6,000 women students. On most days, there were around five women to a locker.
Until Title IX, women weren’t allowed to use Woollen Gymnasium or the intramural fields and only had access to Women’s Gymnasium and the Bowman Gray Memorial Pool.
“Back up until Title IX, students just didn’t know any [better],” Hogan said. “I mean, they just were so accustomed to being treated that way or having such poor facilities that it just didn’t seem to matter. And then once they had a little taste of it …”
Women’s Gymnasium was, as Hogan said in that interview, “probably the hottest, most humid building on campus,” “a dangerous place” and difficult to find.
Even after Carmichael Auditorium opened in 1966, all women’s basketball practices and home games were in Women’s Gymnasium until games finally shifted to Carmichael for the 1971–72 season.
That was the freshman season for Dr. Marsha Mann Lake (top photo), known as Marsha Mann when she became the program’s first All-American. That was the first school year there was an intercollegiate program for women at UNC that provided some funding.
“It was just one of those old gyms,” Lake said. “We always made sure that under the basket — where there was a door that led to outside — we opened those doors up because if you were doing a layup, if you didn’t stop, you were gonna smash into the wall. We had to open the doors so that people wouldn’t smash into the walls.”
It’s hard to imagine Kennedy Todd-Williams or Alyssa Ustby being forced to deal with such conditions.
“When you look at it now, and you even think about women’s basketball playing in a small facility like that, you think, ‘Well, that was crazy,’ ” Miller said. “The men were playing in Carmichael, why weren’t the women? At the time, that’s what it was.
“I ended up being the head volleyball coach for nine years,” said Miller, who became associate athletic director for non-revenue sports when Hogan retired in 1985. Miller retired in 2015 as senior associate athletics director/senior woman administrator.
“In those first few years, we had the women’s basketball team and the volleyball team sharing uniforms,” Miller said. “The volleyball team would wear them in the fall and then when that season was over, they just hand them over, and the basketball team would wear them in the winter during their season. Same thing with travel bags or warm-ups and but, again at the time, we were just happy to have uniforms for our players and be able to give them that recognition.”
Lumpkin said that there was no uniform sharing during her tenure.
Even though the women’s team played home games in Carmichael starting in the 1971–72 season, it still had to practice in Women’s Gymnasium and that was the expectation as Lumpkin, who called the facility a “cracker box,” began a three-year stint as head coach in 1975 season.
Since it was primarily a volleyball facility, her team had to schedule practices around volleyball games and practices. All of that changed after star 5–11 center Joan Leggett broke a wrist in November 1975.
Leggett was chasing a long pass from teammate Gay Scott during practice, according to the DTH, when she crashed full speed into the wall and tried to cushion the blow with her palms. She missed the entire season with a broken navicular bone.
“I refused to practice in there anymore because she wasn’t the only one who ran into the wall, she was just the first one who broke her wrist,” Lumpkin said.
In a DTH commentary after Leggett’s injury, Shackelford called Women’s Gymnasium “a pitiful excuse as a facility for women students” and a “steamy sardine can.”
Transition to Carmichael
After that, Lumpkin conducted practices in Carmichael right after the men’s team was done with its 4 p.m. practices “and not a minute before.
It didn’t always work out. On one occasion, Lumpkin reserved Carmichael for a Sunday afternoon practice because her team had a rare Monday game.
“I did exactly what the university required,” Lumpkin said of reserving the court. “We were already warming up and a couple of [men’s] players started straggling in and Coach [Bill] Guthridge, who was an assistant at the time, came up to me and they said, ‘What are you doing here?’ And I said, ‘Well, I reserved it; we have a practice and have a game tomorrow.’ ‘No, you don’t. We have the court. It’s our court.’ “
Although Lumpkin says that she didn’t have much of a relationship with Smith, he graciously allowed her to attend his closed practices and, one day, let her dad watch as well.
“I learned a lot, just watching his games and watching his practices, of things I could do better in my own coaching,” Lumpkin said. “So, in that sense, we had a collegial relationship. But, other than that, he wasn’t anything other than probably apathetic about the women. He had a job to do. And he did it very well.”
Smith helped the program, though, when he saw what the women’s team had to deal with during one home game.
He saw the women’s team gathering on the steps near the men’s locker room on the south side of Carmichael at halftime during its first season at the arena. They did that because they used the PE locker rooms and there wasn’t time to go there.
“So, we’re sitting there on the steps, right beside the men’s locker room for our halftime, sweaty, and Dean Smith walked out,” said Lake, whose daughter is Vanderbilt women’s basketball coach and former Connecticut star Shea Ralph. “He’s putting on his tie and his jacket because he showered. Our mouths had dropped to our shins because there’s Dean Smith walking out the door.
“And he goes, ‘What are ya’ll doing here?’ ” Lake remembers. “And we said, ‘We’re having halftime’ and he said, ‘Why aren’t you in your locker room and having halftime?’ And we said, ‘Because we don’t have a locker room.’ And I don’t remember his response but it’s something like, ‘I’ll get back to you.’ And, after that, we were allowed to use the little first room you walk into. It was the men’s locker room in Carmichael for halftime. We thought we had gone to Blue Heaven!”
The Tar Heels wore jersey tops with sleeves that covered the top of their shorts, with their numbers either on the lower-right or lower-left part of the front of their jerseys, although there were variations.
“The only people pretty much that went to our games were our friends and roommates and hallmates,” Lake said, adding that some of her professors sometimes also attended games.
Lake scored 35 points in the last home game of the 1973–74 season, her junior season, a 68–42 victory over Meredith. That team finished 13–4 and was the first UNC women’s basketball team to play a postseason game. The Tar Heels finished third in the NCAIAW state tournament after beating Appalachian State by 23 in the semifinals and losing 66–64 to UNCG.
That team finally got better DTH coverage from Shackelford, who covered all eight women’s sports for the newspaper a year before becoming sports editor. Those aforementioned unflattering nicknames disappeared from the pages of the student newspaper.
“I feel like they really, when you look back on it, laid the foundation for what became a really strong, established women’s basketball program,” Shackelford said. “They enjoyed it. They worked hard. They played hard. I was very impressed by it. It wasn’t a ‘show up and just play a little bit.’ They were a serious team.”
TV report helps players
The players and coaches had to get by with what little money the school allocated to the program and there were many challenges. Few people outside of the program knew about them because the team got little publicity.
That changed after Lake went to the Soviet Union and helped the United States team win the silver medal at the 1973 World University Games (legendary Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt, then known as Pat Head, was a teammate) and made headlines.
Don Shea, the longtime sports anchor at WTVD, interviewed her and asked how things were with the UNC program in light of Title IX. She gave him an honest answer.
” ‘Well, we’re on our own when we’re here and when we travel, which is by station wagon, we get 50 cents for away games,’ ” Lake remembers telling Shea. ” ‘That’s our meal money. So, when we stopped at Hardee’s, you can get a hamburger but you can’t get a drink unless you pay for it.’ That was OK. I mean, I thought I was queen because they were giving me money. And then he would say something on the air that night about it. And then the next day I get a call from the athletics director.”
Homer Rice, who was UNC’s athletics director from 1969 to 1975, wasn’t happy that this information was made public and made that clear to Lake. Lake explained that she didn’t necessarily volunteer anything and was only answering the question.
“It was like, ‘I really don’t want you to say that,’ ” Lake said Rice told her. Her response? “Well, why don’t you fix it!”
Not everything got “fixed” but Lake said that things started changing.
“All of the sudden, we had enough basketballs for everyone,” Lake said. “We had sweatsuits. We still rode in the station wagons to away games unless the men’s team was not using the bus. And then we got to use the bus, which we thought was awesome.”
Road meal money, Shackelford reported in The DTH, soon doubled to $1. Perhaps those road meals could include a hamburger, French fries and a drink at that point!
Lake’s No. 44 is one of 13 honored jerseys, with only Charlotte Smith’s No. 23 and Ivory Latta’s No. 12 retired. Lake and Atlantic 10 Conference commissioner Bernadette McGlade (No. 14, 1977–80) are the only players from the 1970s among the 15 whose jerseys hang from the Carmichael Arena rafters.
Lake got so much publicity that some men challenged her to one-on-one games. She beat former UNC sports information director Rick Brewer and former Durham Morning Herald sports editor Keith Drum in a couple of light-hearted games.
There was another challenge after a Durham Morning Herald writer and UNC graduate Dean Gerdes wrote a column saying that he was a pretty good high school player and “there’s no way a girl of any caliber” could beat him, Lake remembers him writing.
He challenged Lake to a one-on-one game, which Lake remembers being played at halftime of a UNC game, which she believes was at Duke. After Lake beat him handily, there was a second column.
“He was very pompous in the first article,” Lake said. “He threw out the gauntlet and I’m like, ‘OK, I’ll play you.’ So he’s all blustery about how great he was. And then I beat him, and then there was a mea culpa article.”
Lake’s senior night bought a surprise: A pep band and cheerleaders were at the game for the first time.
“I just had a fit because we had never had the pep band and cheerleaders and that was just really special for us,” Lake said, who retired as a math professor at Eastern Florida State College on Aug. 1 after teaching for 44 years.
No other nationally prominent Carolina women’s player started her career quite like Lake. She wasn’t recruited, but showed up on campus and tried out for the team after she saw that there would be tryouts. Despite being valedictorian of her Dunn High School senior class and later earning a Ph.D. in math, she didn’t get any academic or athletic scholarship money. More on the latter later.
“She was a senior in academics,” Lumpkin said of her only season coaching Lake. “Back when I coached that was the only thing that mattered. You came in to get a college education. You didn’t come into play basketball.”
Official Athletics Department recognition but probation
When the Athletics Department took over oversight of basketball and seven other women’s sports in 1974, there were some changes. For starters, the results of the games and the records and statistics were finally kept since it was now considered an “official” sport. Administration of the sport went from Dr. Carl Blyth, the head of the Physical Education Department, to Rice.
“I don’t remember much difference,” said Lake, who had already played three seasons and led the team in scoring and rebounding the season before.
Out of the athletics department’s $1.5-million budget, only $25,000 was allocated to the eight women’s sports involving 120 athletes, Shackelford reported in The DTH.
There are no official records of any season before that. Since Duke recognized its women’s basketball team two seasons earlier, it credits the Tar Heels with 55 wins over the Blue Devils while UNC’s records only have them with only 52. Carolina took 47–22 and 58–35 wins in 1973 and a 70–33 victory in 1974, but the 85–54 victory in 1976 (when Duke went 0–14) is the first that appears in UNC’s records.
After earning her master’s and Ph.D. at Ohio State, Lumpkin arrived in Chapel Hill to begin her faculty position and was “thrilled” to coach women’s basketball. She was not so excited to discover that she inherited a team that the NCAIAW put on one year’s probation.
The AIAW oversaw women’s college athletics before control gradually shifted to the NCAA in the early 1980s.
“I graduated, I worked a summer job and then I showed up in Chapel Hill,” said Lumpkin, who arrived in August. “Not until I arrived did I know I had a team on probation. Great way to start your career.”
Cannon was the head coach and Holt was her assistant for the 1973–74 Tar Heels. The NCAIAW ruled that they began practice on Oct. 22. Teams weren’t allowed to practice until Nov. 12 and the governing body forbid UNC from playing in any postseason AIAW event, such as the Southern Region II Championship or the national AIAW tournament.
In that 1991 interview, Hogan contended that Holt and Cannon were simply sitting in the stands but an October 1974 appeal before the NCAIAW Ethics Committee was denied. Hogan said that a woman on UNC’s physical education staff reported the early practice to the NCAIAW.
“They were not conducting the practice. But the ethics committee of the NCAIAW declared that it was an organized practice because the facility had been scheduled,” Hogan said.
Holt was a faculty member but Lumpkin said that because she didn’t have much coaching experience, Cannon, Holt’s friend, who wasn’t otherwise affiliated with UNC, coached the team.
Undeterred, the Tar Heels won their first 13 games under Lumpkin before Elon avenged an earlier loss in UNC’s regular-season finale.
“I think we just had a good nucleus of players,” said Miller, who was Appalachian State’s head coach for its first two seasons from 1970 to 1972. “We had some pretty good players, including Marsha Mann, who was already there. So I think that’s really helped us be successful early and we dominated because we already had some talent there.”
Unable to participate in the more-recognized AIAW tournaments, Lumpkin secured a spot in the National Women’s Invitational Tournament in Amarillo, Texas, played during spring break.
After playing every regular-season game in North Carolina, with the longest road trip to Appalachian State, the tournament marked the first plane trip by a UNC women’s basketball team.
It didn’t go smoothly. The team missed flights in Birmingham, Ala., and Dallas because of bad weather. UNC played three close games, losing 76–75 to Belmont, beating Mississippi College 76–75 (behind 24 rebounds from Lake) and falling to John F. Kennedy College (which closed in 1975) 69–67 to finish sixth in the eight-team event.
“We got a lot of time in airports and we missed that dinner the night before the tournament started,” Lumpkin said. “It was quite an experience and then we didn’t play very well. And, you know, we had the consummate jetlag and didn’t know what we were getting into.”
Scholarships didn’t come right away
The AIAW didn’t allow women’s college programs to award scholarships until 1974, after Title IX passed and under legal pressure. Tennis player Camey Timberlake Dillon became the first woman athlete at UNC to earn a scholarship.
Holt lobbied for Lake, entering her senior season, to be the first woman athlete to earn a scholarship at Carolina but school officials wanted to give one to an athlete who wasn’t already on campus and Dillon was an incoming freshman.
The first scholarship for a women’s basketball player at UNC came a year later and went to Cathy Shoemaker, who played from 1975 to 1979 and finished with 1,316 career points. She was part of the first two UNC teams to advance to the AIAW regional tournament and later played two seasons with the Dallas Diamonds of the Women’s Basketball League.
The women’s basketball program finally integrated its varsity team when Rachel Small-Toney, a Black player from Wilmington known as Rachel Small in college, moved up from the junior varsity team for the 1977–78 season as a walk-on. That was 10 years after men’s basketball player Charlie Scott became the first Black scholarship athlete at UNC.
That was the first season under Coach Jennifer Alley, who was the program’s first full-time coach. Alley coached nine seasons before Hall of Fame coach Sylvia Hatchell took over for the 1986–87 season and led Carolina to the 1994 NCAA title during her legendary career. Alley succeeded Lumpkin, who stayed on the UNC faculty.
Alley, who made $18,500 compared to $43,000 for Smith, led UNC to its first ACC title and its first four NCAA tournament appearances.
It wasn’t until Alley’s third season, 1979–80, that the women’s basketball team had its first Black scholarship players in Kathy Crawford, Henrietta Wells and Deanna Thomas. That was UNC’s first 20-win season at 21–15.
The program that once practiced and played in the cramped Women’s Gymnasium will soon have a modern practice facility, which is being built within the Woollen Gymnasium footprint, and has a dynamic and talented coach in Banghart. The program that once spent halftime on the steps outside of the men’s dressing room in Carmichael will soon have renovated locker rooms.
Today’s coaches and players have the pioneers of the program to thank for getting it started on the trajectory that put it on the road to being the national program that it is today.
Photos courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications unless otherwise noted