Apple Day speaker recalls advances in women's athletics
April 14, 2009 12:00AM
In photo, clockwise from left: Timothy, Randi, Nikki, Cody, Sunny, and John Pierce.
I am so proud of where we are in women’s programs. I am proud that I still get to be a part of it.
~ Sunny Pierce, former PSU athlete and keynote speaker of Apple Day 2009.
s="MsoNormal">As the Pittsburg State University women’s basketball team prepares to begin MIAA tournament play this week, the university is also celebrating 35 years of women’s intercollegiate athletics. In a nod to that milestone, the keynote speaker for PSU’s Apple Day celebration on Thursday, March 5, will be Sunny Pierce, a member of the women’s basketball team during the early years and a long-time teacher and coach at Girard High School.
Pierce will speak at 3 p.m. in McCray Recital Hall. The event is free and open to the public.
As keynote speaker, Pierce will recall the landmark Title IX legislation, which laid the foundation for the organization of the first women’s intercollegiate athletics teams at PSU in 1974.
For Pierce, who loved to play sports as a child, Title IX had an immediate impact.
“When I was growing up and pictured myself playing a sport, it didn’t even occur to me that it would be on a women’s team. I just assumed I would fill in for someone on the boy’s team,” said Pierce, whose brothers teased that her first words must have been, ‘Let me play!’ After the legislation passed her sophomore year of high school, she played on the school’s first girl’s basketball team.
Pierce said she remembers that the struggle for equality didn’t end with the passage of the legislation.
“There was a time when one of our games was canceled because the men’s team wanted to use the gym to practice,” said Pierce, who was named First Team All-State her senior year. “But I felt so fortunate to have the opportunity to play. If things had happened a year later, it would have changed the course of my life.”
Pierce went to NEO on a basketball scholarship before transferring to PSU, where she was a member of the women’s basketball team from 1977-79. At PSU, Pierce accrued honors such as being named First Team All CSIC Conference, scoring leader for the CSIC Conference, and PSU team MVP. She is still the record-holder for the most points scored in a single game. In 1994, she was inducted into the PSU Athletic Hall of Fame.
“I was surrounded by women who had that fight in them for equality,” she said. “Looking back, I realize there were probably some heated conversations at the time about funding and who got what. But I was innocent to it at that time. I had a joyful playing experience and got to enjoy the benefits of what had happened.”
Pierce graduated from PSU in 1979 and accepted a position as a physical education teacher at Girard High School in Girard, Kan. During most of her 29 years with the school, she has coached varsity girl’s basketball, volleyball, track and field, and cross country. Her husband, John Pierce, is a football coach for PSU.
As much as she benefitted from Title IX, Pierce believes today’s young women play sports in an entirely different realm. They are “bigger, faster, stronger,” she says, and are often driven by scholarships and athletic opportunity. What they are able to enjoy today, she says, is something she hopes they remember to appreciate.
“Sometimes you wonder if they realize what happened with Title IX and how things changed,” she said. “Not everyone’s going to have the same passion and enthusiasm, but I am so proud of where we are in women’s programs. I am proud that I still get to be a part of it.”