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IX at 50: Claflin’s Jackie Stiles shatters NCAA record books

Published: Aug. 26, 2021 at 9:54 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. Title IX has largely been considered the springboard for collegiate women’s sports to get where they are today — but the fight for equality is far from over. Every Thursday night 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 for girls’ and women’s sports in Kansas.

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

CLAFLIN, Kan. (WIBW) - Jackie Stiles fell in love with basketball around the courts at Claflin High, where her dad coached the boys’ team.

“I just remember being addicted even at that young of age and just wanting to be around it,” Stiles said. “I remember wanting to go to coaching clinics with him and sitting there. What second grader wants to sit through a coaching clinic?”

It quickly became obvious: Jackie had a gift.

“I just had that vision at a young age that basketball was what I was meant to do,” she said.

But her sophomore year of high school, she broke her right wrist early in the season.

“It was very difficult living through it at the time because I had never had an injury, never missed a practice or a game,” she said. “I think my world is coming to an end.”

She taught herself to shoot left-handed for four weeks, spent the next four playing in a soft cast, and was finally cleared for a full return just in time for the State semifinals.

“I was four out of 21 from the field and we lost only by a couple points,” she remembers. “I was just crushed and devastated. I felt like I really let my team down. At that point it would have been really easy to say, ‘You know what? I’m going to walk away from basketball. I’m not going to put this time into it.’ But I was like, ‘No, I want to be even better than before this injury.’ I vowed to actually make a thousand shots a day.”

That’s four hours every day. Two, if she could bribe her younger siblings into rebounding.

“I did four sports. I did cross country, tennis, basketball and track. So the difficulty was I’d get done with track practice and I’d go home and eat, and I’d go to the gym maybe six or seven,” she said. “It’s four hours — I’m done at 11 or midnight. I had keys to the gym, very fortunate. I would start that process over again the next day. So it was very challenging at times because the hours it took, but worth it. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Her dominance reached a whole new level. The next fall, she scored 61 points in 17 minutes in the season opener.

“I definitely know I would not have reached the level I did if it wasn’t for that adversity and choosing to turn it into a positive and raising my work ethic,” she said.

With a slate of Division I offers, she landed at Southern Missouri State — now known as just Missouri State.

“I just knew in my heart it was where I was meant to be,” she said. “It ended up being the best four years of my life.”

The 5-foot-7 scoring machine soon became a household name as she chased the Division I scoring record.

“I’m at Wichita State and all of a sudden it’s after the game and there’s this guy with like an ear piece, and he’s standing by me and waving people off. And I’m like, ‘What in the world is going on here?’” Stiles laughed. “They had hired a professional bodyguard from that point on. Let me tell you, that went over real well with my teammates.”

The Lady Bears took over the 2001 NCAA Tournament as the mid-major Cinderella.

Jackie scored 41 points over top-seeded Duke in the Sweet Sixteen, then 32 against Washington as they punched their ticket to the Final Four.

The team arrived back home at the Springfield airport to a seas of fans.

“It took us over two hours to get through the crowd,” she remembers. “People were trampling other people to get our autographs, to get our picture. I mean, it was a scene I’ll never forget — and just something so special for women’s basketball.”

Jackie finished her career as the all-time leading scorer in DI women’s basketball with 3,393 points — a record that stood until 2017.

Her career was so dominant, the Missouri Valley Conference now calls its top honor the “Jackie Stiles MVC Player of the Year” award.

From college, Jackie heard her name called fourth overall in the WNBA Draft to the Portland Fire.

“I’m like, ‘Wow, this is real life. I am really getting paid to play basketball, to do something I absolutely love and be able to learn a living from it,’” she said.

Jackie was named 2001 WNBA Rookie of the Year. She played 53 games in the league before a series of injuries and 13 surgeries cut her pro career short.

But she wasn’t done with basketball. She started her own training program and served as an assistant for her alma mater and Oklahoma.

“I just think our greatest legacy is every human life we impact for the better,” she said. “So when somebody says I impacted their daughter or I helped them by words of encouragement, that is the best compliment you could ever give me.”

She credits it all to her small-town start — rising to break records, fill airports, and put women’s basketball on the map.

“I know I wouldn’t be sitting here today if it wasn’t for growing up in the great state of Kansas,” she said.

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