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How these Hall of Famers changed the game of basketball for women

By Luke Whitehouse

It’s not often that students get the opportunity to be face-to-face with and hear real-life experiences from two basketball legends. On Sept. 9, Basketball Hall of Famers Tamika Catchings and Tina Thompson joined a large group of students and staff members to discuss their upbringing as women playing basketball, the WNBA’s progress and their experiences with Title IX.

The panel, “Legends after Lunch,” included both Catchings and Thompson, alongside Springfield College professor Martin Dobrow and Naomi Graves, the head coach of the Springfield College women’s basketball team. It was one of four events held as part of the college’s “9/9 for Title IX” celebration.

Title IX was first introduced and signed into legislation in 1972 by President Nixon. It prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or activity that receives federal funding. Although the law did not specifically mention sports, it has led to an uptick in opportunities for women throughout the sports landscape.

“To now see so many little girls not just playing basketball, but playing tons of sports in general and it is supported by people like their parents, by their teachers, by the people in their community [is great],” Thompson said.

Catchings and Thompson emphasized that Title IX does not represent a battle between men and women, but instead, a consolidated effort for a better environment for all.

“It’s all of us collectively,” Catchings said. Thompson echoed her sentiments: “Everyone in this room is impacted — your mothers, your sisters, your aunts — you are all affected.”

Crowd of guests listening in on the “Legends After Lunch” panel discussion

Throughout life, one may have one or a few special people who encourage them to be the best version of themselves. For Catchings, that person was her head coach at University of Tennessee, Pat Summitt. Catchings was born with a hearing impairment, which forced her to wear hearing aids. But for several years, she did not wear her hearing aids because she desired to fit in and be “normal.”

However, during Catchings’s freshman season for the Volunteers, she was summoned into her coach’s office. Her immediate thought was, “What did I do wrong?” Coach Summitt simply recommended she wear her hearing aids again, offering a little encouragement.

“One day your story will inspire millions,” said the coach.

And she was right.

“Every single one of us is uniquely made the way that we’re made for specific reasons for a specific purpose on this planet.” Catchings said, explaining how she uses her story to inspire those who have similar struggles.

With the WNBA Finals approaching, it was an appropriate time to look back at the huge strides the league has taken over the years. Thompson was the WNBA’s first-ever draft pick, in 1997, so she was the perfect person to speak about its evolution and pave the way for future female athletes dreaming of playing in the “W,” as it is commonly called.

“I believe we are in a good place,” Thompson said. “When I started, we were actually paying television to broadcast our games… and now, ESPN and NBA TV are actually paying the WNBA to broadcast our games.”

During the past few years, the amount of league revenue has grown exponentially, player pay has gone up and the league itself has been elevated.

“Being able to stay 26 years in, I am very proud of the WNBA and to be an alumni of the WNBA,” Thompson said.

Title IX has had its impact in the WNBA as well. Young girls can now have the experience of growing up with more opportunities and can now dream of playing basketball professionally in the United States, something that Catchings and Thompson didn’t get to do.

Kathy Mangano (middle) posing for a photo with Catchings (left) and Tina Thompson (right).

“We are Title IX and Title IX is us,” said Thompson.

One message was particularly emphasized — women’s rights in sports have come a long way thanks to the implementation, and evolution of Title IX, yet there is still much progress to be made.

“We need everyone,” Graves said.

Photos Courtesy Springfield College

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