A Standard of Excellence: The W Athletics Hall of Fame’s inaugural induction class announced
With its long and storied history in athletics – especially as it relates to women’s intercollegiate competition – the Mississippi University for Women Athletics Department is proud to announce its Class of 2023 for induction into its inaugural The W Athletics Hall of Fame. The HOF ceremony will take place on Saturday, April 1, as a part of the Homecoming Week festivities at The W.
The W Athletics Hall of Fame announcement is being made in conjunction with the 37th annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day(Feb. 1). A vibrant movement celebrated annually, NGWSD honors the achievements of girls and women in sports and continues to “Lead Her Forward” by acknowledging the power of sports to unlock her limitless potential.
The W’s announcement is a perfect homage to the accomplishments of women in intercollegiate athletics and beyond.
“I am very pleased and excited about the ‘Class of 2023’ as our inaugural inductees for The W Athletics Hall of Fame,” The W President Nora Miller said. “These initial honorees exemplify their award categories. I congratulate them for their outstanding achievements.”
In recognizing the honor of being the first-ever induction class, The W’s Athletics Hall of Fame selection committee has put together what it feels is the ‘gold standard’ in each of the four categories for induction. The HOF committee included Jennifer Claybrook (The W Director of Athletics and Campus Recreation), Dr. Chad Murphy (Faculty Athletics Representative), Madison Crosby (Student-Athlete Advisory Committee President), Bobby Harper (Renasant Bank, Senior Vice-President), Anna Ogburn (Director of Alumni Relations & Donor Engagement), and Dave Beyer (Director of Athletics Communications/ex officio member).
The categories, followed by the inductee(s) set to be enshrined, include the following:
STUDENT-ATHLETE: Dot Easterwood (women’s basketball, 1970-74)
Dot Easterwood (now Murphy) – a native of Starkville- is the most decorated women’s basketball player in the long history of the program. She joined the squad in 1970-71 out of Starkville High School and immediately became a key cog in the team’s run to the National Invitational Women’s Intercollegiate Basketball Tournament (forerunner to the AIAW) national championship that year. The following season (1971-72), Easterwood helped The W to a fourth-place finish in the first-ever AIAW tournament.
At The W, she was the first player to eclipse 1,000 career points scored. Easterwood averaged better than 22.0 points per game for her four-year career at The W.
Easterwood earned a spot on the United States’ first-ever women’s entry in the World University Games in the summer of 1973 in Moscow. With The W coach Jill Upton at the helm, the USA won a silver medal. While playing for the USA team in 1973, she was not just a teammate, but a roommate, with the soon-to-become legendary Pat Summitt, who was also on the squad.
Easterwood collected numerous all-tournament accolades and national honors during her time in Columbus. Among her awards were a 1971 NIT all-star, 3x All-American (1972, ’73, ’74) and three MAIAW all-tournament awards. She was recognized as one of the “Outstanding College Athletes in America” in 1974. She also succeeded Upton as head coach for The W, a position she held from 1977-82.
After leaving The W, Easterwood had another landmark moment for women in athletics. Easterwood was hired by Hinds Junior College as its wide receivers coach in 1984, becoming the first-ever female football coach in JUCO history. She joined her husband, Gene Murphy, on the HJC staff.
Easterwood was also elected to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 1999.
COACH / ADMINISTRATOR: Jill Upton (head coach, women’s basketball, 1968-75; 1976-77)
Jill Upton was a leader in the women’s basketball coaching community and brought great distinction to The W during her tenure (1968-75, 1976-77). In addition to her eight seasons guiding The W, Upton was also selected to coach the United States in its first-ever entry in the World University Games in the summer of 1973.
Among Upton’s accomplishments while in Columbus, was a women’s NIT national championship in 1971. Upton’s team also finished fourth in the nation in the first-ever AIAW tournament the following season (1971-72), the year Title IX was enacted.
Upton-coached players garnered national honors along the way, as well. Individuals like Dot Easterwood, Martha Rayburn and Jenny Ladner – to name a few – earned all-America status. The W gained a reputation as a women’s basketball force, thanks to Upton’s schedule versus top teams in the country and The W’s own annual Christmas Tournament (begun by Upton in 1973-74) in Columbus.
As the first head coach for the USA in the World University Games, she mentored Pat Summitt, as well as her own Easterwood, on the silver-medal team. Upton’s team defeated the likes of France, Romania, Bulgaria, Cuba and Mexico (losing only to host Russia in the tourney).
Upton’s niece is Sarah Thomas – the first full-time female NFL official – as well as the first female to officiate a Super Bowl (LV).
TEAM: The 1970-71 Women’s Basketball Team
Before there was the AIAW – and long before the NCAA adopted athletics for women – The W won the 1971 National Invitational Women’s Intercollegiate Basketball Tournament national championship. Just a year before Title IX became the law of the land, the Blues – as the team was known then – rolled through that NIT tourney and left some big-name programs in its wake. On its march to the school’s first national championship in any team sport, The W defeated the likes of defending champion Cal State-Fullerton, East Stroudsburg State, North Carolina-Greensboro, and West Chester State. During the regular season, The W picked up wins over Ole Miss, Texas, Tarleton State, Texas Tech, and Southern Mississippi.
The Blues outscored their opponents by a 1400-to-1073 margin, an average of 13.6 points per game. Its only losses that season were to Ouachita Baptist and Belmont College (twice).
The success of the 1970-71 team, it is largely held, played a key role in The W finally getting a regulation gymnasium – Pohl Gym – realized for the campus.
Team members included: Seniors- Dixie Everett, Martha Rayborn; Juniors- Jane Harrington, Libba Birmingham, Jenny Ladner, Deborah Norwood; Sophomore- Karen Fuller; Freshmen- Brenda Allegrezza, Pat Smith, Jane Gates, Cynthia Shackelford, and Dot Easterwood.
DISTINGUISHED SERVICE: The five authors of “Legacy of the Blues” – the late Dr. Jo Spearman, Dr. Dorothy Burdeshaw, Dr. Joan Thomas, Dr. Martha Wells, and Dr. Barbara Garrett
The current Mississippi University for Women athletics program, as well as those who have been a part of theLong Blue Linebefore, owe a quintet of ladies – the late Dr. Jo Spearman, Dr. Dorothy Burdeshaw, Dr. Joan Thomas, Dr. Martha Wells, and Dr. Barbara Garrett – a debt of gratitude for their love and diligence on behalf of the University.
In November 2002, a tornado ripped through the Columbus campus and destroyed the Physical Education and Assembly Hall. In addition to leveling the structure, gone were the physical archives of the University’s long athletics history and as a leader for women’s intercollegiate competition.
When the school subsequently discontinued athletics in 2003, these five retired Health and Kinesiology faculty members (and former coaches all) felt the call to do something to make sure that the significance of the university’s alumnae and history would not be forever lost. Out of that time of despair, they authored “Legacy of the Blues,” an exhaustive 536-page reconstruction project of The W’s proud athletic heritage.
Without these ladies, it is highly unlikely that The W would have any sort of record of its athletic heritage. Thanks to these five ladies, the rest – as they say – truly is history.
Mississippi University for Women made the decision to christen an Athletics Hall of Fame in the fall of 2022. From that point, nominations were opened to the public and the Committee narrowed the list to the group put forward as the inaugural inductees.
The Class of 2023 for the inaugural The W Athletics Hall of Fame were giants among their peers. But more than that, they were trailblazers and examples worthy of being emulated. As we celebrate National Girls and Women in Sports Day, these ladies stand tall as a reminder of the possibilities for young women by using sports as their vehicle on the road to life’s accomplishments.
Anyone interested in attending the inaugural The W Athletics Hall of Fame Ceremony and Dinner can do so via The W Homecoming Week page: https://longblueline.muw.edu/events/homecoming2023/registration