The women of Belmont’s first women’s sports team returned to campus last week to discuss their experiences with students following their attendance at the 2017 Belmont Athletics Hall of Fame induction ceremony where they were honored as the University’s third-ever Legendary Team. The panel included Mattie Spicer Yokley, Alfreta Peterson Johnson, Cinda Haddon, Sherry Chandler-Cunningham, Dianna Burton Lewis and Coach Betty Wiseman. The women, who played on Belmont’s first women’s basketball team in 1968, recounted their adventures and offered advice to the current team.
Betty Wiseman, who founded the women’s sports program and taught at Belmont from 1966-2006, described what it was like to be a group of women in sports in 1968. As a trailblazer in women’s sports and the founder of one of the first women’s sports programs in the Southeast region, her team was given the smallest budget and the last practice slot in the gym. She recalled the girls trudging to late-night practices, which prohibited them from wearing shorts and instead allowed only long sweatpants. “We were behind on everything else, but we had an opportunity,” she said.
Even 50 years later, the ladies interacted with each other as if no time had passed. They described their relationship with the team, Wiseman and Belmont as an extension of family. Yokley recounted her love for Belmont and its community. She grew up around athletics, playing softball with her mom, and now all of the children in her family are athletes. “You don’t get any better than Belmont,” said Yokley. “There is no place on the planet like this school… This is heaven.”
Haddon agreed, adding, “It was an honor and a blessing – I am so proud to be in this family, always a family.” Haddon tore a cartilage in her first year, and, just as the team was taking off, she thought she would be permanently benched. Wiseman helped her through recovery and trained her for success. Alfreta Peterson Johnson, “Pete,” remarked about Wiseman, “it was rewarding to know that we had somebody who had our back… We were all very proud of her, appreciative of her… She was a blessing.” And Sherry Chandler-Cunningham recalled “how infectious [Wiseman’s] enthusiasm was.”
In their closing remarks, the ladies looked to the current team. “You live the dream, you are the dream. We look to you, be the best you can be,” said Haddon. Johnson reminded the current Bruins that, “Everything you experience in life, you can take it and grow from it, or you can take it and wallow in it, but as long as you know who you are and whose you are, these things don’t touch you.” And Cunningham said simply, “I’m so thankful for you all to get to be a part of this.”