Teresa Lawrence Phillips selected for Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame
Updated: Apr 3
Former Tennessee State University athletic director and women’s basketball coach Teresa Lawrence Phillips was selected to the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2023 because of her impact on women in athletics.
“She was a lot of ‘firsts’ in her career, but the reason she’s being inducted is because of the longer arc of her entire life,” author and Belmont professor Mary Ellen Pethel said. “She was the first female athlete at Vanderbilt, she was the first woman to actually coach an NCAA men’s basketball game, but it really is the longer arc of her career.”
Phillips said she was surprised with the award at a sponsored event for Pethel’s book “Title IX, Pat Summitt, and Tennessee's Trailblazers: 50 Years, 50 Stories.”
She started her career as a three-sport athlete at Vanderbilt University, winning Lady Commodore Athlete of the Year in 1979.
But her induction is more than just her athletic performance.
Phillips' longtime friend and teammate Cathy Bender, who has also been inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, spoke about the impact Phillips made on her life.
“She’s been very influential in terms of being a coach, and the work with some of the student athletes at TSU. She is an all-in person,” Bender said.
At the beginning of her acceptance speech, Phillips spoke about those who brought her up and the importance of community for any kind of success.
“Don’t you ever think whatever you do and accomplish was not on the backs of somebody before you who made some sacrifice, who stepped out on limbs, who risked being ostracized,” Phillips said.
Even those who have played against Phillips, like Belmont’s Betty Wiseman, praise her and what she did for sports and women.
“She has just gone up the ladder. I’d already started to coach here and we played Vanderbilt after they started a team. I coached against her and I’ve watched her through the years and she’s just climbed the ladder,” Wiseman said.
Phillips said she didn’t anticipate being inducted into the hall.
“Something like the Tennessee Hall of Fame is really big, and at an athletic standpoint I wasn’t that great of an athlete, but sometimes you don’t realize all of these other things you’ve done from a trailblazing standpoint that may be notable to some degree. But you know I don’t go around trying to come up with an award,” Phillips said.
Even with all this work that has been done over the past 50 years with Title IX and the inclusivity of women and women of color, Phillips still encourages others to stand up.
“You can’t drop your guard down because a law has been passed,” Phillips said. “Because people step right over laws and still treat people and still find little loopholes to still hold folks down.”
Bender said the same positive and empowering personality Phillips displays has always impressed her.
“Teresa was so well respected, and she actually came on an academic scholarship. So the fact that she was the only black female and she was leading the team, she was the captain of your team and so she kind of took me under her wing,” Bender said.
Even with the award added onto her list of accomplishments, Phillips said she’s still not content because there is always more life to live.
“You can’t ever be content because all of this is about life, it’s not about reaching that end goal,” Phillips said. “Life never has an endpoint, it’s a journey.”
Phillips’ induction into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame ceremony will be held on July 22 at the Omni Nashville Downtown. — This article was written by Maya Burney