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Honoring a Texas Pioneer in Women's Athletics: Jody Conradt
"No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance..."
That's a snippet of Title IX, the national legislation that provided a mandate for creation and funding for women's collegiate sports programs, and changed the face of Texas Longhorn basketball. Jody Conradt fostered a program that didn't just let women play, but encouraged them to flourish.
Tonight Conradt was honored with the first "Title IX Legacy Award." UT Track and Field Coach Bev Kearney presented former Coach Conradt with the award at 6:30 in the Belo Center for New Media.
Conradt's accolades make a long list. She has 900 career wins. She coached the first women’s college basketball team that went undefeated, and she took the Longhorns to three Final Fours and seven Elite Eights. Under Conradt, UT finished in the top ten nationally 11 times – And Conradt did all this while her players boasted a 99 percent graduation rate.
Her career, however, isn't reducible to numbers. Fran Harris is one of the many Longhorns Conradt prepared for the WNBA. "I had an interesting career at the University of Texas," Harris says. She came from a Dallas high school that had gone to the state championships two of the three years Harris was in school, and won one of those years. "I was one of the top players in the state as a basketball player, and when I got here I was a little fish in a very big pond," Harris says, "and I thought I was a lot better than I was, and Coach Conradt helped me become a different kind of player. She really focused on me becoming a complete player."
Harris says Conradt preached academic rigor from the first time they met. "I came here with the understanding that I was not just getting a first class athletic experience, but a first class education - and that was something that we talked about on my recruiting visit," Harris says. "It wasn’t about how wonderful I was as a basketball player. It was about, 'we mean it when we say you’re a student athlete.' That’s not rhetoric. It’s not jargon, its our creed at the UT, if that seems good to you, this may be a good fit."
Harris remembers something else about that talk: "When I came for my visit, we had gone to get food, but afterwards they had ice cream, and I said, oh that looks good, and coach goes, 'Would you like a lick?'"
Conradt's program also focused on friendship, knowing all of one's teammates, whether they be black or white. "She started the conversations about inclusions, acceptance," Harris says. "We go to battle with these women, you need to know more than just their name."
Conradt herself remembers the women she played with in high school as incredibly dedicated and in love with the sport. "So many things early are like they are today, namely the players and how passionate they were about playing," Conradt says, "but they played with no scholarships and no travel money. They played because they loved the sport and because they wanted to be a part of a team."
"And that’s the good part, the part I hope we never lose."
Conradt says Title IX didn't just open doors for women interested in athletics, but gave women opportunities across the field. "Students today have a hard time grasping that because with the passage of title IX, it was the encouragement for women to believe that they could be anything that they wanted to be," Conradt says, "and it was really the dream maker that many of us needed in our lives."
And Conradt says women haven't stopped dreaming. "I am so impressed when I walk across this campus and see the students and their academic ability," Conradt says, "but more than that their motivation and their ability to just be and dream about so many things."
"I think this is a generation just like early ones that is going to move us forward and they’re going to make sure the opportunities we had to fight for early aren’t going to go away."
The University of Texas is honoring Conradt with a statue in her likeness to be unveiled tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. on the concourse of the Frank Erwin Center.