By Sarah Jane Clifford
The recent declaration of bankruptcy by Eastman Kodak Company caused us to begin reflecting on some of the many things this company has accomplished over the years. One such accomplishment was its pioneer sponsorship of women’s college basketball.
In particular the company was behind the creation of the Kodak Women’s All-America Basketball Team through the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) in 1975. The AIAW itself only came into existence in 1972. The AIAW was created because the National Collegiate Basketball Association (NCAA) would not accept women teams.
In 1979, four years after Kodak got involved, Title IX was finally established providing female athletes a huge step toward achieving their goals. It also meant the end of the AIAW. With passage of Title IX came funding for women sports. Suddenly women athletics were more than a game. They were profitable sports.
The NCAA began to make serious offers to AIAW about merging. The AIAW refused. The NCAA then indicated if a school’s men’s basketball program was part of their organization, and most were, a school’s women’s basketball program could join free for a year. This proved very successful and the AIAW sued the NCAA. The suit was unsuccessful. The AIAW and the NCAA then conducted parallel championships in 1981-82 after which the AIAW folded.
This left Kodak without an organization to work with concerning the Kodak All-America Team. Two Kodak employees, Hunter Low and Greg DiNovis, noted that women’s basketball coaches did not have a formal organization like men’s basketball coaches; i.e., the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC). These two gentlemen got together with several key women basketball coaches and had Kodak lawyers draw up a constitution. This resulted in the creation of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) with Betty Jaynes named as chief executive officer.
Kodak then worked with the WBCA to select and announce the Kodak Women’s All-America Basketball Team beginning in 1983. In fact, the Kodak Team was expanded to not only cover NCAA Division I, but NCAA Division II/NAIA, NCAA Division III and Junior/Community Colleges. That lasted until Kodak’s problems resulted in their name being totally removed from the team in 2008. By then the Kodak Teams had gained enormous stature.
Over the years such legendary players as Ann Meyers, Lusia Harris, Nancy Lieberman, Lynette Woodard, Cheryl Miller and many others made the team. All who were not on an NCAA Final Four Team were brought to the Ladies Final Four Tournament to be honored at Kodak expense.
For many years the Kodak Team Press Conference was part of the NCAA Official Schedule. Kodak was the only company that was not an official sponsor of the NCAA allowed this privilege.
“When a coach saw that one of his or her players didn’t make the Kodak Team, the trouble began because it was so prestigious, said Beth Bass, the current chief executive officer of the WBCA. “It was the Better Housekeeping ‘Seal of Approva’l in our world. When that list came out, people were waiting with bated breath. They wanted to know if their student-athlete made it.”
Until he retired in 1991, Hunter Low was synonymous with the Kodak Teams and in fact he became known as the “Father of the All-America Team.” He was inducted in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2005 and passed away in 2008.Such was the glory of Kodak in year’s past.
If you have information, ideas, comments or suggestions for “World Of Women Sports,” please contact Sarah Jane Clifford at 585/388-8686. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. Clifford owns and operates The Gymnastics Training Center of Rochester, Inc., 2051 Fairport Nine Mile Point Rd., Penfield, NY 14526