From Striplin to the Curb Event Center, Belmont College to Belmont University, Rebels/Rebelettes to Bruins and NAIA to the NCAA, it’s been quite a 40-year ride in Belmont’s women’s basketball program.
Women’s basketball’s history and growth were recently celebrated at a Jan. 24 reunion in the Maddox Grand Atrium that found 81 former players from 12 states in attendance along with their families and Belmont’s current team.
Betty Wiseman, assistant athletic director and senior woman administrator, established one of the first women’s basketball programs in the state at Belmont in 1968. At only 23, she entered then-President Herbert Gabhart’s office and pleaded for a women’s basketball program. He not only approved her idea, but he put her in charge. “Thinking now about 40 years, I ask myself, ‘Can it be?’ It is!!”
Wiseman (pictured in the middle of players from Belmont’s first women’s basketball team) and current head coach Tony Cross both entertained the more than 200 individuals at the reunion with stories and highlights from the program’s 40 years. During her 16 seasons as head coach, Wiseman compiled a record of 248-152 and led the team to four consecutive berths in the NWIT from 1973-1977. Wiseman recalled how the early teams ate sack lunches for pre- and post-game meals and traveled in used station wagons. Not all of her memories were humorous, however, as she also noted how one team faced segregation when a restaurant refused to serve the team’s black players. “We all got up and left, didn’t eat and I didn’t pay.”
Cross, who has been at Belmont since 1984 and has more than 500 wins with the program, joked about his own dedication to winning, remembering how one former team feared they might not get dinner after a particularly bad loss. He also talked about the long history and tradition of Belmont’s women’s basketball, praising the alumnae for their role in building such an exceptional program. “Take pride and honor in what you’ve added to this program. Your presence is still being felt.”
Former players enjoyed the reunion as well, mingling with old friends and telling stories from their college days. Dianna Burton Lewis (’71), who brought with her to the reunion the Chuck Taylor athletic shoes from her playing days, said, “What I remember most about Belmont’s first year of women’s basketball is the fun we had! I remember how we got ‘trampled’ by Midwestern in Iowa but then improved so much together as a team that we beat them by three at our place. We didn’t realize then what an important journey we were helping to start. The reunion was wonderful! As I sat in the gym watching the games with friends from Belmont days, I really felt at home.”
Beth Bates (’88), who played under both Coach Wiseman and Coach Cross, said, “I had a wonderful time this past week-end. As I was sitting at the luncheon, I was filled with thankfulness: thankful that I attended Belmont University, thankful for the women who played before and after me and thankful for the opportunity for all of the Rebelettes and Lady Bruins to come together.”
Valerie Bradley-King (‘93) noted, “While each of us were recruited as individuals, Coach Cross did a great job of building not only a talented team that could compete in basketball, but he also developed a family that will always be connected in a special way.”
Tara Montgomery (‘01) added, “I was so excited to get back to Belmont, like a kid at Christmas. It was so good to see the people who meant and still mean so much to me. Hearing Coach Wiseman talk about the first team and the ups and downs, especially the segregation those players faced, really put everything in perspective for me. It helped me to appreciate the opportunity and luxuries I had during my playing days even more. It was quite impressive and a testament to the program to have the first team there, and they looked great!”