Salute to Jill Hutchinson A Pioneer in Coaching Women’s Basketball

“You don’t have to be a victim of your environment. You learn that through sports, you learn that through teamwork. You decide who you want to be and then you go pursue that. “ I learned this key lesson from my college coach, Jill Hutchinson, a legend in women’s basketball. With that mindset, it is no surprise Jill influenced the lives of so many young women in her 28-year tenure as ISU.

She refused to be a victim of gender.

Historically in America, women and sports were incompatible. While at University of New Mexico (1963-1967), Hutchinson was reprimanded for competing in a national tournament in Gallup, NM as part of an AAU state championship team. When a professor, who was then president of the Division of Girls and Women’s Sport (DGWS), announced that women were not suited for team sport, Jill challenged her comment in class.

“She ripped me from one end to the other,” Hutchinson recounted. “I walked out of class in tears.  I remember telling some kids in class that I was going to make sure girls have an opportunity to play.”

Before the time women were recruited, I chose Illinois State University on a gut feeling.  Coach Jill Hutchinson won me over with her enthusiasm for life and the game.

Coach Hutchinson with Coach McKinzie

Coach Hutchinson with Coach McKinzie

Not only were female athletes new, but women coaches were an anomaly.

While Hutchinson racked up championships in her 28-year tenure at Illinois State, she also succeeded at the international level leading the US to a gold at the 1983 World University Games and a silver medal at the 1978 Pan American Games. On the national level, she is known for helping the women’s game grow from obscurity to its current level of popularity.

In spite of the obstacles she confronted, Hutchinson was never bitter. When inducted to the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame Knoxville Tennessee, Jill said, “I am very fortunate to have lived in the time I have. The progress from the time when we could only play three players on each side of the court to where we are today has been a great experience.”

She was a rookie coach, learning the ropes as she went along, yet she never feared asking questions or standing up for what was right. Jill gained ground with class and kindness at time when women met roadblocks. When women athletics moved from McCormack gym to Horton, they were unwelcome. “I brought brownies to the workers and won them over.”

“Her legacy is etched in stone in national basketball archives with 460 wins and an impeccable graduation rate at Illinois State,” said former ISU Athletics Director Rick Greenspan.

She coached numerous professional players and two Olympians, Charlotte Lewis and Cathy Boswell, but what makes her proudest is the fact that every senior athlete she coached earned a degree, even if she came back years later to attain it.

“If you’re willing to win at all costs, if you don’t emphasize the values in sport and the values in learning then I think you, as a coach, sell out to the big entertainment business. I still think if you’re going to be coaching at a collegiate institution you have an obligation to educate your student athletes.”

She had just as great impact off the court as on it due to her leadership on the rules committee. She was the co-founder and first Women’s Basketball Coaches Association President, an honor she held 4 times.

“I have been extremely fortunate in my career,” said Hutchinson.  “I never had to go to work. I got to go to the gym.”

Yet work she did. As a graduate student at ISU, her research shattered the myth that full court 5on 5 basketball would be fatal for women.  She hooked electrodes to basketball players with no ill effects proving a woman’s heart wouldn’t explode by running a fastbreak. This led to a change in rules instead of six-player game to the full court five-player game.

As first generation Title IX athletes, competitive sports for girls was so new that we came into university with raw talent, true grit and a love of the game. We were in awe of Coach Hutchinson. For the first time, we had a female role model. Everyone who played for her wanted to do right by her. Most of us remained in contact with her long after graduation.

When my former Olympian teammate, Charlotte Lewis, died of a heart attack in her early 50s, Jill spoke at her funeral.

Another, incident shows the depth of Jill’s caring. I left the States in 1980 to play basketball in Europe. Three decades later, my Franco-American daughter raised abroad returned to the States to combine sport and academics as part of the DIII program that Hutchinson recommended. My daughter, Nathalie, played for Shirley Egner, another highly acclaimed coach at UW-Stevens Point. Hutchinson attended their match-up at Illinois Wesleyan and stayed afterward to meet Nathalie. Then Jill passed on to my daughter the poem that I had written her, during my senior year at ISU, about a coach’s role shaping athletes into adults.

Coach Hutchinson, coach Egner & Nat

Coach Hutchinson, coach Egner & Nat

Hutchinson was ahead of her time. Long before sports psychology existed, she invited a psychiatrist to teach us progressive, relaxation technique before a big game.

In the day before assistants, Hutchinson was a one-woman show. She thought nothing of driving her team cross country in campus station wagons. She tracked down gyms without GPS, and followed weather reports and speed trap warnings from truckers on CB radios. She fielded winning teams on shoe-string budgets, fighting for practice space, athletic equipment and opportunities to compete. She planned practices, organized travel, scouted opponents, and fought on national committees for women’s rights. She mimeographed handwritten scouting reports detailing game strategy and opponent players’ strengths and weaknesses. Every game she scrawled individual notes to each player. Hutch had an uncanny ability to motivate players and that motivation never left us.

Her legacy lives on in the hundreds of players whose lives she influenced and in their daughters, who never doubted their right to succeed in any arena!

Posted in education, inspiration, social view, sport.

15 Comments

  1. Hey Pat,
    This is so great. I was reading an issue of Newsweek where the President reflects on the impact of Title lX and speaks of Pat Summitt, who received the presidential Medal of Freedom….seems Coach Hutchinson is as deserving in paving the way for women in basketball.
    best,
    Clara.

    • Yes, Clara, I agree. Coach Hutchinson ranks right up there with the greats of women’s basketball, yet she was always so humble and unassuming. She contributed so much behind the scenes to help other women reach their goals.

  2. Upon reading all the accomplishments and struggles that eventually led to the advancement of women rights in intercollegiate sports, it is pleasing to know Jill Hutchinson’s outstanding contribution to womens sports, especially basketball, is being recognized. Women’s basketball has excelled on a national and international level. under her influence and perseverance.
    Jill has played a very supportive role in the development, education and athletic succes of our daughter Cathy Boswell. As a young girl in Junior High School, Jill permitted Cathy to attend her high school basketball camp at Illinois State University. At the age of 16, Cathy enrolled in ISU on a full ride Women’s Basketball Scholarship. She set records in the sport, All American, Graduated in 1983 with a degree in Parks and Recreation Administration, and competed for a spot on the 1984 Olympic Women’s Basketball team. As a pioneer for Women’s sports, we salute you and will be forever grateful for the love and support you showed a little girl of 12 years old that is now coaching in the Canaries Islands, Spain.

    • Thanks Hank and Clarice for your added tribute to a remarkable woman. Jill Hutchinson’s contributions to the game are truly amazing; I feel privileged to have played for her. My only regret is that I wasn’t red shirted my last year, so that I would have one season left to play when Cathy arrived on campus. I knew after seeing her in summer camp, she was destined to be a great player. I can see now, after knowing more about your family history, where she gets her resiliency and courage.

    • Absolutely Carol. We were fortunate to be influenced by strong women not only professionally, but also in the home front by Dian and Lenore.

  3. Excellent article, Pat. In your own way, you will always be a pioneer at Illinois State because you were our first women’s basketball “superstar” and paved the way for many others since. Jill’s impact goes much wider than opportunities for women to play and coach. She has had an influence on both men and women who play, coach, administer and, over the past 10+years, members of the media. I had the honor of working closely with Jill, and her class and commitment influences everyone around her.

    • Thanks Tom. Yes, Jill truly was a trailblazer in so many ways. Back in the late 70s when I played we never knew all the hardships she endured to help us succeed. We had such limited coverage that it is only in retrospect, looking back with the 21st century tool of Internet, that I am beginning to understand how far reaching her efforts. It sounds like she has made the same sort of strides in so many other venues from administration to media. Yet she was always so humble and unassuming that she made it look effortless. I was privileged to have had her as a coach and to have been educated at Illinois State University, an institute that was so far ahead in leveling the playing field for women.

  4. Pat, what a wonderful tribute to Hutch…you captured the real adventures we all had and I have talked about with others over the years!

    The station wagon trips and speed traps or should I say, talking ourselves out of tickets when we got stopped as Hutch got away as the lead car, made me laugh out loud…

    None of us can ever thank or repay Hutch enough, for all that she taught us both on the court and off…

    Well done Pat!

    • Thanks Woody,
      I always knew we were privileged to have played for Jill, but I am only now beginning to understand her contributions to society. I have recently researched Title IX and her name keeps appearing. What would be seen as hardships to athletes today were adventures to us back in the day, when we truly played for the pure love of the game. Oh what a ride it was! Thanks so much for your comment.

  5. Awesome article, Pat! I found myself chuckling as I remembered road trips and so many fun times! My first ever college game was a road trip to William Penn College, highlighted by the station wagons sliding off the road and all of us getting out to push them back onto the highway as the tow trucks sat and watched us! 🙂 The coaches couldn’t help push as they were wearing clogs! 🙂 By the way, I still have all of the little notes and scouting reports that Jill gave me! My four years as a Lady Redbird were the best years ever! Jill will always remain one of the most special and influential persons in my life! My kids love her, too! She makes it to many of their basketball games! I’m thankful that I’m a part of the “Redbird Family” and can still keep in contact with my wonderful coaches and teammates! GO REDBIRDS!

    • Thanks for commenting Beth. People always think I am embellishing the stories of back in the day, so your memories reaffirm what I try to tell people. Women’s athletic opportunities have grown so much over the years, that the young whippersnappers (as Jill would say) could never fathom what it was like to play during Title IX’s early infancy. What would now be deemed cruel and unusual punishment – pushing cars out of ditches, practicing in the ol'”girls’ gym, washing our pinstriped uniforms in the sink – was to us just one fun filled adventure after another. I never for a moment forget how lucky we were to be on the court at Illinois State University under the tutelage of “Hutch.” Like you I remain ever loyal to the Redbird Family that Jill created.

  6. Dear Pat,
    What a fascinating profile in courage you have written! I always feel so pumped up when I read your posts, like I am right there with you in the company of a courageous and inspirational person. I agree with Clara, Coach Hutchinson deserves to be standing right next to Pat Summit and receive her own Presidential Medal of Freedom. Thank you as always, for sharing another heartwarming and powerful post. She refused to play a victim and paved the way for all women. It hits home to me because I got to see my dreams played out through my daughter’s participation in sports from middle school through college. All those skills she learned on the court are serving her well in her life as a wife, mother, teacher and while coaching middle school girl’s basketball. The gift that keeps on giving. Thank you for sharing Coach with us. I’d love to thank her personally for all she has done!

    • Yes, Coach Hutchinson should receive her own medal of honor. Those of us who came before realize what a contribution she made improving and empowering the lives of young women. That was exactly what our coach offered “the gift that keeps on giving,” through the next generations. So glad that your daughter not only experienced the joy of playing competitively, but is now also passing on her love of the game to the next group of hoopsters. Thanks for your acknowledgments.

  7. Sis,
    Well said Pat! Well said! Coach Hutch was one of a kind and well ahead of her time! I treasure my Illinois State Bball camp years and my 1 year playing under Coach Hutchinson cheering on my big sis her Senior year. See you in less than a week~

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