With the Indiana Fever a few games into their season - and with a perfect record as of press time - it's worth taking a look at the foundation for the WNBA: namely, women's high school and college basketball programs that grew exponentially in the years following the passing of Title IX. A recent book by Dick Denny, whose 55-year journalism career included stints at the Muncie Star, Chicago Tribune, Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette and Indianapolis Star and News, tells that story, exploring the 35-year history of women's basketball in Indiana through interviews with major figures, supplemented by Denny's firsthand knowledge of the sport.
We Lived the Game: Legends of Indiana Women's Basketball, particularly caught my attention because of my own connections with interscholastic girls' basketball during my high school years in a small community in upstate New York. After reading the book, I was even more intrigued by Denny's style, which takes an "up close and personal" to covering players and coaches.
I spoke to Denny before the close of the women's high school basketball season, but he was already thinking about the Fever: "You only have to look at the Fever to know Indiana women's basketball is making an impact on the pro game. Stephanie White, who led Purdue to an NCAA title in 1999, played four years for the Fever and is now an assistant coach with the team. Katie Douglas of Indianapolis Perry Meridian also was a member of that Purdue championship team in '99 and is a standout starter for the Fever. Shyra Ely, 2001 Miss Basketball from Ben Davis, is a member of the Fever. Indiana is well represented in that show of shows, so Hoosiers, male and female, should be proud."
Along with the book's 29 interviews, Denny provides stats 1976-present and a listing of girls basketball camps. Anyone interested in the sport will find We Lived the Game, published by Blue River Press and available at local bookstores and cardinalpub.com, worthy of attention. Here's more of my talk with Denny.
NUVO: Why did you choose these particular interviewees?
Dick Denny: When I considered writing a book about Indiana women's basketball, I learned that April McDivitt, 1999 Miss Basketball from Connersville, had joined Ed Schilling's Champions Academy in Zionsville as women's director. She later became an assistant to Schilling as head boys basketball coach at Park Tudor High School in Indianapolis. She helped Park Tudor win a second Class 2A state championship this year.
April, who played collegiate basketball at Tennessee and the University of California-Santa Barbara, became my first interviewee and convinced me it would be a worthwhile project to write about the female version of Hoosier Hysteria. All of my interviewees were my choices. Eleven of them were Miss Basketballs. And I tried to cover as many bases as possible, including administrators (Pat Roy, Theresia Wynns, Sue Donohoe), referees (Wynns and Patty Broderick) and coaches (Rick Risinger, Janice Soyez,, Mike Armstrong, Stan Benge, Lin Dunn and Pat McKee who did the forward for the book).
NUVO: What most impressed you about the content of the interviews?
Denny: First, the amazing story of Dr. Amy Metheny, who helped Indianapolis Southport High win the 1980 state championship and became the mental attitude recipient and a member of the Indiana All-Star team. She also helped Indiana University win the Big Ten title in 1983, but didn't return for a final season because she wanted to become a pediatrician. Amy has overcome more obstacles than you can imagine.
Second, 4-foot-11 Jenny Young, who was inducted into the Butler Athletic Hall of Fame in 2000 and who earned 12 letters in basketball, volleyball, tennis and track and field from Speedway High School.
What impressed me most about my interviewees was their drive to succeed. One of the major themes that emerged in the book is how far the women's game has progressed in a much shorter time frame there has been for a women's state tournament than the men's state tournament. Title IX has been a major factor. There also have been big changes in the rules (the women's game used to be six-player, with three on offense only and three on defense only), the style of play (more fast-breaking) and most important the skill level.
NUVO: Are you particularly surprised by any of the interviewee's 'revelations'?
Denny: I marveled at the expertise and honesty expressed by all interviewees. Women in the sports world don't get near the coverage bestowed on males. But the people I talked with were open and candid. Jan Conner, who guided Martinsvlle to two successive state championships, said she could have talked all night, and almost did. She relishes her role now as director of the annual Indiana Women's Basketball Hall of Fame banquet.
NUVO: Are there any Indiana High Schools without a women's basketball team?
Denny: Jason Wille, sports information director for the IHSAA, reports there were 401 schools with teams in the boys state tournament this year and 398 girls teams. Indianapolis Math and Science Academy, Baptist Academy of Indianapolis and Evansville Day School all entered boys teams, but did not enter girls teams.
The IHSAA has been very supportive of Indiana women's high school basketball since the state tournament began in 1976. Crowds for girls games don't equal those for boys games, but they are increasing and ESPN is doing a fine job covering the NCAA women's Division I tournament.