Wide-Ranging Influence Shaped by Title IX Opportunities

By Marissa Johnson | June 18, 2012

• She was the first high school basketball player, male or female, to make a U.S. National Team. She won a silver medal on the women’s basketball team in the 1976 Olympics, the first year women’s basketball was introduced to the Games.
• She received the first four-year scholarship for women’s basketball from UCLA where she won the AIAW Championship her senior year. She also competed in track and field and volleyball, where she won another title. She is UCLA’s only four-time All-American in basketball.
• She was the first woman to sign a contract with an NBA team, the Indiana Pacers, in 1979.
• She has been inducted into five different halls of fame: Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame, Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, the International Basketball Federation Hall of Fame and the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame.
• She affectionately calls John Wooden “Papa” and her three children do the same.
• She married Los Angeles Dodgers hall of fame pitcher Don Drysdale, to become the first couple inducted into their respective sports’ hall of fame.
• She was taken under the wing of broadcasting great Tom Harmon, a 1940 Heisman winner and father of actor Mark Harmon. He helped convince her to become a sports broadcaster.
• She is one of the first women to break into sports broadcasting. She was the first female to call an NBA game on radio and later the first woman to announce an NBA game on network television.
• In broadcasting, she has worked with the likes of Keith Jackson, Robin Roberts, Dick Enberg, Chick Hearn, Mike Breen, Barry Tompkins, Ross Porter, Mark Jones and Terry Gannon.
• Included among her role models and friends are baseball executive Buzzie Bavasi, legendary college football coach and broadcaster Lou Holtz and Dick Heckmann, entrepreneur and part owner of the Phoenix Suns.

She is Ann Meyers Drysdale.

Her list of accomplishments is longer than most people’s bucket lists. Meyers is one of the great female athletes in U.S. history and has helped pave the way for generations of female athletes.

In the fourth grade, Meyers read a book about “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias, one of her idols along with Billy Jean King, Wilma Rudolph and Bill Russell. She said the book inspired her to become an Olympian.

The biggest of Meyers’ role models growing up however, was her oldest sister Patty. Patty was the oldest of 11 kids and, in Ann’s opinion, the best athlete. This is saying something considering Ann’s own resume; the fact that her father, Bob, was a star basketball player at Marquette and later for a professional team in Milwaukee; David, one of her five brothers, played for John Wooden at UCLA and later for the Milwaukee Bucks; several of her brothers and sisters earned athletic scholarships; and the family has four college basketball national championships in total.

One of those four basketball championships was Patty’s. She won the AIAW National Championship when she was at Cal State Fullerton in 1970. (The Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women governed college sports prior to being adopted by the NCAA.)

Patty started participating in sports before Title IX was enacted as part of the Higher Education Act of 1972, and was not able benefit from it in the ways that Ann did. Before Title IX, only one in 27 girls played sports. Today, that number is close to one in every two or three girls participating in sports, with over 3 million girls that benefit from the passing of Title IX legislation.

Meyers credits her sister for how she learned to play the game.

“There was nothing like watching her play, it was exciting. The crowds maybe weren’t big, but they appreciated how those women played the game and it was always fun to see because they played so hard and with such passion.”

She says that Patty and women like her were really the ones that paved the way for Title IX and for gender equality in sports.

“Those women are the ones that opened the doors,” Meyers said. “Just because the media wasn’t recognizing them didn’t mean that there weren’t women out there fighting.”

During a time when sports were still widely considered to be a man’s world, Meyers’ parents never discouraged any of their children from playing sports. She grew up always playing with her brothers and their friends.

“I didn’t see the challenges that everyone else saw,” Meyers said. “Sure, eventually there were people that said you shouldn’t do this and you can’t do that, but never in my family.”

Her brothers and sisters played field hockey, badminton, basketball, softball, volleyball, tennis, ran track and one sister even played Little League baseball. Meyers played seven sports in high school, but it was not always easy.

“In 5th and 6th grade the elementary had an after-school sports program only for the boys and my parents went and fought for me to play,” Meyers said. “So, at an early age my parents were already fighting for me and not just for me, for all of us.”

Not just her family supported her. One of her chief supporters was John Wooden, himself, while her older brother, David, played for the legendary basketball player and coach hailing from Martinsville, Ind. Wooden won an Indiana high school championship before attending Purdue and leading the Boilermakers to a national championship in 1932. “The Wizard of Westwood” later guided UCLA to an unprecedented 10 NCAA championships in his 27 years as coach.

The Meyers family all became very close to Wooden and his family. Meyers’ mother, Pat, befriended Wooden’s wife, Nellie and daughter Nan. Meyers’ sister, Cathy, is godmother to two of Wooden’s great-grandchildren. And Meyer’s own children have been mistaken as part of the Wooden family while a part of photographs with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

While coach at UCLA, Wooden would let Meyers watch the team’s closed practices. He frequently had conversations and spent time with her when she would visit his office to say “hi.”

“For whatever reason he took me under his wing and treated me like another grandchild,” Meyers said. “When you’re with him you just don’t want to leave, but when you do you leave a better person.

“I am just blessed that he came into my life, in more than just basketball.”

Despite the support of family and friends like Wooden, adversity followed Meyers through her career, especially when she earned the tryout with the Pacers. She grew up hearing people talk about her on the playground and courts, and it continued throughout her adult life.

“You can’t get beat by a girl,” she heard frequently.

During her Pacers’ tryout she was the only woman in a male-dominated atmosphere, but often felt the men received more pressure than she did.

“If they blocked my shot I heard ‘no big deal, she’s just a girl,’” Meyers said. “But if I made a shot it was, ‘you just got beat by a girl?’”

This is what inspired the title to her book, You Let Some Girl Beat You? “I was a tomboy growing up, and it is a phrase that has followed me throughout my career.”

She recognizes that everyone faces adversity in life, but because of Title IX girls no longer face the adversity and stigmatism that comes with playing sports. Title IX has brought an acceptance of young girls playing sports. Men participate with daughters, wives, mothers and sisters and there are more role models in not only sports, but also more opportunities for education and careers. Many young girls today do not realize the progress that had to be made to get to this point.

“Young women don’t know what Title IX is about, but it is a plus, in a way, because it shows that they have opportunities and they expect them,” Meyers said. “A child born today doesn’t know anything but, ‘hey, I have a chance to play in the WNBA, to do what I love, to follow my dreams.’

“I hope that players don’t lose sight of the history of our game, and those players that helped make this league what it is today.”

Looking back on her career and her life and all her successes, one has to ask the question, “could Ann Meyers have possibly achieved all that she has without the passing of Title IX?”

Part II of the Ann Meyers Drysdale feature, posting on FeverBasketball.com on Tuesday, June 19, examines more of her influence, her family and her career as a broadcaster and sports executive.

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