In addition to being home to Music City USA, our Volunteer State has carved out a permanent position in sports history in terms of women’s basketball accomplishments.
Though many have contributed, two names quickly jump to the front: University of Tennessee women’s coach Pat Head-Summitt, and MTSU women’s coach Ricky Insell.
In addition to being the all-time winningest coach in NCAA basketball history, among men or women and in any college division, Summitt – having served as the Lady Vols head coach since 1974 – has won eight NCAA titles and has been named “NCAA Coach of the Year” seven times. The remainder of Summitt’s awards/accomplishments is far too many to list here.
Ricky Insell, a native of Cannon County and a graduate of MTSU, took his coaching talents and passion for winning up the road to Shelbyville Central High School.
As is the case with Summitt, Insell’s total accomplishments at Shelbyville are too numerous to list, but here are a few highlights:
• From 1986 through 2004, Insell led the Shelbyville girls’ team, “Golden Eaglettes,” to 10 AAA state championship titles (four consecutive);
• Two USA Today national championships (1989 and 1991);
• Insell was twice named “National High School Coach of the Year” (1989 and 1991);
• He was elected to the National High School Hall of Fame in February 2007.
Insell left Shelbyville and took over as the Blue Raiders women’s coach during the 2005-2006 season.
With his winning tradition, attendance has increased tremendously, and the program now has national respect and great promise.
So, women’s basketball fans, I haven’t told you much you didn’t already know, have I?
Well, read further, and there might be something even you hardcore basketball aficionados are unaware of.
I was rummaging through my archives (deciding what to keep or throw away) and happened to stumble upon a March 16, 1952 edition of The Tennessean’s Magazine that featured a front-page photo of two lady basketball players, basketballs in hands, with a caption at the bottom of the page that said: “World Capital of Women’s Basketball.”
(NOTE: This March 16, 1952 issue was a Sunday edition, and, back in those days, The Tennessean had a special Magazine insert in the Sunday editions.)
Back in the 1940s and 1950s, the National Amateur Athletic Union/NAAU, better known as the “AAU,” was a big deal in terms of sports.
Though it probably would be incorrect to say that women’s college basketball didn’t exist, at all, during this time frame, it would be correct to say that support and enthusiasm for the same were virtually nonexistent.
And the concept of a professional women’s basketball league (WBL) was further away than man walking on the moon.
According to The Tennessean’s Magazine, here’s a bit of what was happening in Nashville with the women’s basketball scene: Under Coach Billy Hudson, the Nashville-based “Vultee Bomberettes” won the women’s AAU title in 1944 and 1945.
Having changed sponsors, “Cook’s Goldblumes,” still under coach Hudson, won AAU titles in 1946 and 1948, losing to the Atlanta-based “Sports Arena Blues” in 1947.
With Leo Long replacing Hudson as head coach, Cook’s Goldblumes repeated as AAU champs in 1949.
A particular point of local interest is that Cook’s Goldblumes defeated “Nashville Business College” 35-17 for the 1949 AAU championship.
Ironically, Nashville Business College defeated Cook’s Goldblumes 29 to 28 for the 1950 championship.
Stated in the article: “Women’s basketball has contributed to Middle Tennessee more All-Americans than all other sports combined. It has presented to Nashville six national championships. No other sport comes close to that record. Nashville has been acclaimed as the ‘World Capital of Women’s basketball.’”
And the seed that was planted back in the ’40s and ’50s continues to be fruitful.
Go, Lady Raiders! Go, Lady Vols!