Another first for women recently occurred in sports. Becky Hammon became an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs. This is the first time that a woman has been named a coach in the National Basketball Association. This column addresses some significant women's accomplishments in sports that involve a ball: tennis, soccer, football, basketball, and golf. I talked about pioneering women in baseball in an earlier blog, A League of Her Own. Match the following women with their accomplishments (answers at the end):
____ 1. In 1950, she was named woman athlete of the half century; she dominated every sport in which she participated.
____ 2. In 1997, she became the first woman referee in the National Basketball Association.
____ 3. In 2009, she became the first woman to officiate at a college football bowl game.
____ 4. In 1957, she became the first African-American to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. She won both tournaments again in 1958 and changed tennis forever.
____ 5. Widely regarded as the best female soccer player in history, she played with the U.S. women's national soccer team for 17 years.
A. Althea Gibson
B. Babe Zaharias
C. Mia Hamm
D. Sarah Thomas
E. Violet Palmer
Named woman athlete of the half century in 1950, Babe Didrikson Zaharias was an all-around athlete who dominated every sport she tried. At a time when women's professional sports did not exist, she fought for the right to have a career in sports. In high school, Zaharias played baseball, basketball, tennis, and volleyball and she swam; although her best sport at the time was basketball. Zaharias excelled in track and field as well, holding American, Olympic or world records in five events between 1930 and 1932. Zaharias won two gold medals and a silver medal in the 1932 Olympics. After the Olympics, she became interested in golf and she began winning tournaments. The Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) did not yet exist; she became one of its founders in 1950. Among her many accolades, Zaharias has been inducted into the Colorado Women's Hall of Fame and the National Women's Hall of Fame.
At age 13, Althea Gibson began playing tennis when she received a tennis racquet. Her immense talent was recognized immediately. In 1957, she became the first African-American to win at Wimbledon and at the U.S. Open. She repeated those same two wins in 1958. An incredibly gifted athlete, after retiring from tennis, like Zaharias, she took up golf and became the first African-American to win an LPGA card. Gibson has been inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.
In 1997, Violet Palmer broke many barriers when she became the first female referee in the National Basketball Association, thereby becoming the first woman referee in any major professional male sports league. Palmer grew up playing basketball. She was a star point guard in high school and her college team won two NCAA Division II National Championships (1985 and 1986). After college, she refereed on the side as she pursued her career as a recreation administrator. She officiated for women's college basketball including five NCAA Final Fours and two Women's National Championships. After completing the NBA's referee training program, she began her NBA officiating career. That career has been successful: she has refereed for playoff games and in the finals.
Generally considered the best female player in soccer history, Mia Hamm began her soccer career at age 15. While she attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, her team won four consecutive U.S. women's soccer championships. She played with the U.S. women's national soccer team for 17 years. Over that long career, the team won the Women's World Cup (1991 and 1999) and gold medals in the Olympics (1996 and 2004). Hamm has received many honors including World Player of the Year in each of 2001 and 2002.
From basketball, to tennis, to golf, to soccer, to football. In 2009, Sarah Thomas became the first woman to officiate at a college football bowl game; earlier she had been the first woman to serve as an official at a major college football game. A gifted athlete, Thomas lettered in softball in high school and went to college on a basketball scholarship. From 1999 to 2006, she officiated for high school football. A college athletic conference football official coordinator asked her to attend officials' camp and, in 2007, she was hired. In 2009, she officiated at a bowl game (Little Caesers Pizza Bowl) and, in 2011, she became the first woman to referee in a Big Ten stadium. Continuing to work her way up the ranks, in 2013, Thomas was a finalist to become a game official for the National Football League.
(answers: 1-B, 2-E, 3-D, 4-A, 5-C)
Learn about more she-roes and celebrate amazing women. These athletes are among the more than 850 women profiled in the book Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America. We salute their accomplishments and are proud to stand on their shoulders.