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First Belmont women’s basketball team reunites at Friday morning convo

Members of Belmont’s first women’s basketball team returned to campus Friday morning to share memories of the successes and obstacles faced during their inaugural season and to celebrate the 50th year of women’s sports at Belmont.

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The women credited most of their fond memories to Betty Wiseman, the woman who started the team.

Wiseman was a first year professor at Belmont when she got the idea to start the team. She said she was surprised there were no women’s sports on campus since women’s intramural teams were popular.

She approached Herbert Gabhart — the university president at the time — about starting a women’s basketball team.

“For a college president to listen to a female, 24 years old, in the 60s, is unheard of,” said Wiseman.

The Lady Rebels — Belmont’s nickname wouldn’t be the Bruins until 1995 — were formed, but spent most of the first year in the shadow of the men’s team.

The women practiced after the men’s team finished around 9 or 10 p.m. At the time, women were also not allowed to wear shorts on campus. They had to wear pants to the gym. When leaving campus, the women were not allowed to wear pants at all — they had to wear dresses.

“We were behind them in everything else, but we had an opportunity, and that was the whole point,” Wiseman said in a video that played during the convocation.

“If we were suffering, we didn’t know we were suffering,” Sherry Cunningham said. “We were just having fun.”

The first team also talked about the adversity faced from racism in the South during the 1960s.

Once, on a trip for a game against Mississippi University for Women, Alfreta “Pete” Johnson and Mattie Yokley — Belmont’s first two African-American female players — were denied a pre-game meal by a cook who used the N-word and refused to serve them.

Wiseman told the cooks this was wrong, then left the restaurant with the entire team without paying.

“After that, I think we went back to the van and cried,” she said.

The Lady Rebels showed up to the game determined to win and left Mississippi with a victory.

The Lady Rebels went on to be coaches, teachers, tenured professors, mothers and grandmothers. They’ve traded their Chuck Taylors, jerseys and shorts for blouses and blazers.

But they all spent Friday morning — speaking to a crowd of mostly Belmont’s female athletes — giving advice.

“You’re never going to forget Belmont, ever,” Yokley said. “The experiences you have here will be with you forever.”

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This article written by Sarah Everett. Photo courtesy of Belmont Athletics and Belmont Women’s Basketball. 

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