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IX AT 50: From ESU to Tennessee, Olympian Trish Roberts paves the way in women’s hoops

Published: Oct. 14, 2021 at 10:54 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”

EMPORIA, Kan. (WIBW) - Trish Roberts played a season at North Georgia State College before transferring to Emporia State for two seasons.

In 1976, the Olympics included women’s basketball for the first time. Roberts made the team and won silver.

That’s where she met a teammate who would change her life forever: the late legendary Tennessee head women’s basketball coach, Pat Summitt.

“She sat on the bus next to me and she said, ‘I hear you are thinking about transferring,’” Roberts recalls “I said, ‘Yes.’ ‘Have you thought about the University of Tennessee?’ I said, ‘No. Why would I think about the University of Tennessee?’ She said, ‘I’m the head coach.’ And I just kinda looked at her like, ‘How can you be the head coach if you’re playing on the Olympic team?’”

Summitt pulled a photo of her team out of an envelope on that bus.

A year later, Roberts was in the picture, too.

“It was the best move that I ever made as far as my basketball career was concerned,” Roberts said.

The Lady Vols finished third in the AIAW Tournament that season, falling to the eventual champions, Delta State, in the semis.

Roberts played just one season with Tennessee, yet she holds nine program records to this day including points in a season, rebounds in a season, and points in a game.

“It seemed that I was the missing piece to the puzzle,” Roberts said. “They had great guards, great shooters. They just didn’t have a consistent or a big enough post player.”

Roberts’ playing career took place in Title IX’s infancy.

Even though she was an Olympian, an All-American and an eventual Hall of Famer, she didn’t have a scholarship.

She worked her way through school, even bussing tables at the local dining hall to help with her student loans.

“How embarrassing do you think that was for me, knowing I was the superstar of the basketball team? My teammates are in the dining hall eating, and I’m bussing tables,” Roberts said. “I had to put my pride to the side, you know, and I had to remember why I was at school. Number one, to get an education. In getting that education, I got to do what I love to do, and that’s play basketball.”

Roberts was the first black player to play for Summitt.

After her graduation, Tennessee would go on to win eight NCAA National Championships — teams headlined by young women standing on the foundation Roberts helped build.

“Pat [Summitt] even said it to me. She said, ‘Trish, you really started this tradition,’” Roberts said. “I look back now and I always think, had I not transferred to Tennessee, had I not propelled them to the national spotlight, would there be eight national championship trophies? Would Tennessee be the program that they are today? I hope so. But, you know, sometimes I wonder if it would be.”

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