IX at 50: KU softball legend Tracy Bunge transforms program from player to coach

Published: Aug. 12, 2021 at 10:59 PM CDT
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June 23, 1972, President Nixon signed Title IX into law, prohibiting sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding. Every Thursday at 10:00 p.m. leading up to the 50th anniversary of the law’s passing, 13 Sports will honor the women who changed the game in the last half century — the Trailblazers of Women’s Sports in Kansas.

“IX at 50: The Trailblazers of Women’s Sports in Kansas”

LAWRENCE, Kan. (WIBW) - Tracy Bunge’s No. 24 jersey hangs retired at KU’s Rock Chalk Park, overlooking a state-of-the-art facility complete with an 11,000 square-foot indoor training facility, clubhouses and batting cages — just for the softball team.

But it wasn’t always this way.

“I definitely was fighting the fight,” Bunge said. “And it felt like it was a fight many days.”

Bunge began her playing career at Kansas in 1982: the same year the NCAA started sponsoring softball.

A decade removed from Title IX’s passing, Bunge says things were not equal.

“You watch the men walk around and they’ve got coats and they’ve got travel gear and they’ve got this and they’ve got that,” she remembered. “We got one pair of sweats and one pair of shoes. They didn’t buy our gloves for us. They didn’t buy our bats for us.”

Facilities were also a problem. Bunge’s freshman year, they didn’t have one of their own. The team played at nearby Holcomb City Park.

“My junior year they built a field for us on campus,” she said. “We were so excited to have a field on campus. It didn’t matter that there was a lot of problems with the field. They slapped the field on the ground, and boom — we had a field.”

Lack of resources aside, Bunge became one of the most decorated athletes in KU history.

The Kansas Sports and KU Athletics Hall of Famer sits tied for first in career earned run average, and is the Jayhawks’ single-season ERA record holder.

After being selected an NCAA First-Team All-American her senior year, she made coaching stops at Iowa State, Yale and Ohio before returning to her alma mater in 1997.

A decade later though, not much had changed.

“The facility that I was so proud of when I was a student-athlete and we were just so happy to have, when I came back as a coach, it was the same facility,” Bunge said. “The facility is the face of the program. So it was, ‘We’re going to get it done and we’re going to get it done in five years.’ And five years later, it’s not done. So it was a constant battle.”

Finally, eight years later, they got approval to break ground on renovations.

The problem was, six weeks ahead of the start, the team found out they would get half of the budget they originally expected.

“All we really did was redo the field, the playing surface, the dugouts, et cetera, and the practice areas around it,” she said. “We still didn’t have a bathroom. We still didn’t have a press box. We still didn’t have any of those things.”

She says requests to continue fundraising were shot down.

“Having to clear people out of porta-potties so the players can go during the middle of the game, and that’s where they have to run out. because there’s no bathroom in the dugout got old,” Bunge said. “It’s frustrating. But again, we did the best with what we had, because that’s what you had to do.”

The team eventually upgraded to a portable trailer. Bunge says it stayed that way until 2014.

Despite inequities in facilities and equipment, Bunge looks back on her playing and coaching careers at KU with love.

“KU has always been a part of my life since I’ve been what, 18 years old,” she said. “I’m just very honored to have gone through that and been blessed that way.”

When you love something, you want it to be the best it can be — and Bunge says equality in sports has a long way to go.

“We’re celebrating 50 years of Title IX, and we’re still not in full compliance across the country,” she said. “Which is one of the saddest things, if you think about that — that it’s 50 years later and it’s not equal. It’s better. It’s much better, but it’s not equal.”

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