That Scholarship Changed My Life Forever

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s part of WNBA.com's celebration of the 40th anniversary of Title IX, we've featured a women sports pioneer, a politician instrumental in the passage of the landmark legislation, an early beneficiary of the law from the Ivy League, athletic icons from sports other than basketball and current WNBA stars who grew up in a world with female sports role models and with the opportunity to play in an American professional sports league.

In our latest installment, Teresa Edwards, winner of five Olympic basketball medals, more than any other American -- man or woman -- sheds some light on the time period between the establishment of Title IX and the birth of the Women's National Basketball Association.

EdwardsTeresa Edwards, Minnesota Lynx
"First of all, I want go on the record with one thing: I totally capitalized on Title IX, directly benefited from it, and for that I will always be grateful," said Edwards, who has been busy in her role as Chef de Mission of Team USA for the London 2012 Olympic Games. "I was in school when it passed, and by the time I was in high school, it was something very real to me, that there would be increased opportunities for me, a female athlete, to be able to actually go to college and play the sport I love, while also getting a great education."

As a star basketball player at Cairo High School in Georgia, Edwards led the Syrupmakers to a 58-3 record in her four-year career, which piqued the interest of college coaches that now had incentives inspired by Title IX to offer young female athletes.

"Scholarships were in place for girls and I was highly sought after, but it was all so new to me and others of my generation," said Edwards, who eventually opted for her home state Georgia Bulldogs. "Sports for girls at that time, was like a hobby, entertainment. But that scholarship changed my life forever. I was the first in my family to go to college and there is no doubt that Title IX and the opportunity it gave me to go to Georgia was the key factor, along with my ability to play."

Edwards could indeed play, leading the Lady Bulldogs to the Final Four in both 1983 and 1985 during her All-American career, which caught the eye of the U.S. Olympic Committee, resulting in yet another first, as Edwards made her first of five Olympic appearances in the 1984 Los Angeles Games. The youngest player on the squad at 20-years-old, Edwards earned a gold medal, along with veteran teammates Cheryl Miller, Lynette Woodard and Anne Donovan. Los Angeles was the first of Edwards' four basketball gold medals, a feat equaled only by Lisa Leslie, Edwards' teammate during the 1996 Atlanta and 2000 Sydney Games, who also struck gold in 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing. In Barcelona in 1992, Edwards earned a bronze medal.

But that scholarship changed my life forever. I was the first in my family to go to college and there is no doubt that Title IX and the opportunity it gave me to go to Georgia was the key factor,

"My Olympic experience has been a wonderful dream, a wonderful journey for me," said Edwards. "To represent your country is a very high honor and I'm very proud of what my teammates and I have achieved for our country and I'm very proud of all our Team USA participants, medalists or not, over the years."

Unlike current Team USA stars Tamika Catchings, Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird, two-time gold medalists shooting for a third this Summer in London, Edwards didn't have the option of graduating from college, playing in the Olympics AND playing professionally for the WNBA, as the league didn't exist in the early 80's. According to Edwards, the access to domestic professional leagues like the WNBA is another opportunity that can trace its beginnings to Title IX.

"I feel strongly that every young player should be educated on Title IX, because it's not an issue of sports, it's an issue of civil rights and that is something that needs to be treasured and protected," said Edwards. "We have great young players who have just come out of college and are moving right into the WNBA now, who when they were girls had the chance to look up to Lisa Leslie or who saw [Diana] Taurasi playing on TV, and that is great. But we need to remember that wasn't always the case. I never saw any women basketball players, so my favorite player was Dr. J!"

After playing nine professional seasons abroad, in Italy, Japan, Spain and France, Edwards did eventually get the opportunity to play pro ball in the United States, first with the ABL and later with the Minnesota Lynx in the WNBA.

I'm real excited about where we are today, with the WNBA as something for young girls to aspire to achieve.

"It was tough at the time, seeing the men players go right from college and into the NBA, and not having that same chance to play at home, but we did what we had to do and playing overseas was a great experience," said Edwards. "But I'm real excited about where we are today, with the WNBA as something for young girls to aspire to achieve. It's a great thing, and much of that is directly as a result of Title IX, which we should never forget. The sky is the limit now and we need to keep pushing."

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