In the fall of 1974, two years after the passage of federal Title IX legislation, the door to Sallie Beard’s office swung open, as several women on the Missouri Southern State University campus sought to start a basketball team.
Suddenly, the teacher who had a bias against athletics – those were her own words – would soon find herself championing them.
And what a champion she became, which is why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame is proud to induct Beard with the Class of 2017, with her enshrinement part of the Women’s Sports Luncheon presented by the Bee Payne-Stewart Foundation. It’s set for 11 a.m. on Thursday, March 30 at the University Plaza Hotel & Convention Center in Springfield.
In her four decades on the Joplin campus, Beard created the university’s first women’s sports teams, and then served 25 years as Women’s Athletic Director and eight as Athletic Director (2001 -2009) – the first woman A.D. in the history of the tradition-rich, Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association.
Fortunately, her legacy is beyond a historical footnote. You see, Beard initially began with a $2,000 budget for the university’s first three women’s sports (basketball, softball and tennis) and yet led the growth of women’s athletics into a multi-million dollar operation. Along the way, she also had a major role in updating Title IX language.
In other words, be ready when the door to the sports world swings wide open.
“That’s when it all began,” Beard recalled of the fall of 1974. “I had no idea of the chain of events and what a life-changing moment that would be.”
Beard assumed her career would be spent in the rank and file as a public school teacher. Growing up, her high school didn’t offer sports for girls, and neither did Missouri Southern when she was a student.
However, after the university president offered her a position before graduation, Beard enthusiastically threw her whole support behind women’s athletics.
“It was a realization on my part that it was something that was going to last,” Beard said. “From that point on, after the passage of Title IX in 1972, the landscape had really changed. I felt like I was in on the very beginning of something that had a tremendous opportunity for growth and I could influence it.”
As a coach, Beard was twice named NAIA District 16 Coach of the Year, including in 1983 when Southern won the District Outdoor championship. From 1979 to 1983, she served on the games committees of the prestigious NAIA Indoor and Outdoor Championships.
Those led to time as a coach for the U.S. in both the 1981 World University Games, which featured Carl Lewis and Jackie Joyner-Kersey, and the 1983 National Olympic Festival, where the men’s and women’s 100 meter dash records were broken. The World University Games were held in Bucharest, Romania, a military-influenced European country where locals were forced to hand over food from their own local markets to provide for the athletes attending the Games.
“I came away from that experience with a new appreciation for the United States,” Beard said, “and it made me keenly aware of my obligation to be an engaged citizen.”
In her time as Women’s Athletic Director, Beard had great influence locally and nationally.
A little-known way she influenced women’s sports was by authoring new interpretive Title IX language creating a definition of sport (requiring structured schedules, standardize scoring and so forth). The Office of Civil Rights uses this definition to determine the Title IX status of such activities as cheerleading, dance, shooting, equestrian, etc.
As Women’s Athletic Director, scholarships for women athletes also rose, from three in 1975 to achieving scholarship equity in the early 2000s.
“It was a steady campaign,” Beard said. “We had to lobby constantly to achieve it.”
Beard continued her success when promoted to Athletic Director in 2001.
But look what greeted Beard upon her promotion to A.D. – a need for football facility upgrades, particularly a new artificial turf surface to head off player concussions. In simple terms, it meant Beard would have to steer a fundraising effort on the heels of the 1999 opening of the multi-million dollar Leggett & Platt Athletic Center, the new home for basketball and indoor track.
Turned out, Beard and a committee not only pulled together private funding for the football field’s new artificial turf, but also raised enough money to resurface the eight-lane track and install new field lights.
Overall, what a career it was.
“I feel very fortunate that I was in the right place at the right time,” Beard said. “I feel very grateful that I was, in some way, a champion and change-maker.”
Women’s Sports Luncheon presented by the Bee Payne-Stewart Foundation
When: 11 a.m. March 30
Where: University Plaza Hotel & Convention Center, Springfield
Inductees: All American Red Heads Basketball Program, former Missouri Southern State University Athletic Director Sallie Beard, two basketball coaches – Evangel University’s Leon Neal and the University of Missouri’s Joann Rutherford – along with former Lockwood High School volleyball coach Cheryl Shores.
President’s Award: Longtime Springfield-Greene County Park Board leader Jodie Adams
Wynn Awards: Tara Bailes (Springfield Catholic High School/Missouri State soccer), Teresa Baird Beshore (Springfield Catholic High School/University of Tulsa tennis & basketball), Chelsea Taylor Corp (Sarcoxie High School/Missouri State-West Plains volleyball), Aleah Hayes (Ozark High School/Texas Tech University/Columbia College volleyball), Tonya Choate McCall (Mount Vernon High School/Drury University/Cactus Tour golf), Amanda Newton Plotner (Republic High School/Drury University basketball), Melissa Hoffmeister Sanders (Joplin High School/University of Arkansas tennis) and Sophie Cox Stagner (Rolla High School/University of Tennessee-Martin soccer).
For Tickets: Call 417-889-3100. A sponsorship table of eight is $400 and includes recognition in the printed program and an autographed print. An individual ticket is $40, while a head table ticket is $100. Numerous other sponsorships, including congratulatory ads, also are available.