A Texas-Sized Heart
Betty Werner, a key player in providing opportunities for women in college athletics, passed away on Saturday. Services scheduled for Aug. 25.
Aug. 18, 2008
Los Angeles, CA -- Growing up in the heart of Texas, Betty Werner knew from the beginning where her heart was headed. Battling anyone she could find in any sport she could find at a young age, she knew her life was to be spent in athletics. For more than 40 years, Werner has been blazing new trails and taking on new challenges to provide opportunities for women in athletics. And she did it with a heart the size of the state she came from.
Werner, who has been the senior associate athletics director at Loyola Marymount University since 2000, saw her final challenge, a five-month battle with cancer, come to an end on Saturday morning, Aug. 16, as she passed away at her home in Torrance, Calif. She was 59.
"Betty has done so much in establishing opportunities for young people - specifically women," said Athletics Director Dr. William Husak. "Everyone you talk to will tell you she did it with so much love. Betty will be deeply missed. Words do not do justice in describing how wonderful she was to so many."
Werner was hired to oversee all internal operations of the athletics department at LMU in 2000. During her time, the Lions saw unprecedented success, including the program's first conference titles in women's tennis, women's basketball and men's golf, and the first-ever NCAA tournament appearances for men and women's soccer - all sports she supervised.
"I grew to love Betty, appreciate her energy and her genuine willingness to make everything around her better," said Nora Lynn Finch, Associate Commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference and chair of the original NCAA Women's Basketball Championship Committee Werner served on from 1982-86. "She was just a joy to be around. Our teams might be playing at the NCAA tournament together, but I smile at the simple fact that I got to see her."
Prior to LMU, she held similar positions at Arkansas State (1999-00), Eastern Kentucky (1996-99) and Drake University (1974-86). She also worked at the private sector as a director for country clubs in Phoenix, Ariz., and Dallas, Tex., (1987-93) and then as a coordinator of concessions at Coors Field for the Colorado Rockies in Denver, Colo. (1994-96).
"She believed in doing things the right way," said Chris Wyche, a former co-worker of Werner's at Arkansas State and current Vice President of Operations for the Kansas City Wizards. "She would do things to benefit the student-athlete. I have an 11 year-old daughter, and every day my daughter plays soccer, I remind her that it was Betty and those she worked with that blazed the trail for her to play soccer today. So many owe so much to what she has accomplished in her career."
It all began in Dallas, Texas. She was born on Oct. 14, 1948 and as she grew, so did her love for basketball. "Betty really loved basketball growing up," said her father, Gene. "At the time, there were no teams for girls to play on. She would go to the boys' practice, shoot baskets and play."
At Thomas Jefferson High School in Dallas, the women's tennis coach saw her playing at a boys' basketball practice and suggested she play on the tennis team. She did and an athletic career was born. She went on to have a successful career, playing No. 1 singles and doubles, playing the Texas Tennis Circuit and earning the Dallas Tennis Association Sportsmanship Award in 1964. At the same time, she caught the eye of the new boy's basketball coach, Barry Dowd.
"I first saw her play as an 11th grader," said Dowd. "She was a very good tennis player, very smart player. I knew she would have a future." Dowd kept an eye on Werner throughout her career and hired her at Arkansas State when he was hired as the Athletics Director out of Oklahoma State.
"She excelled because of the competitiveness she had in her. She was that way as an administrator. As an athlete she did that. She overcame the `prejudice' that women had to go through to excel. That is how she was in everything," said Dowd. "She was so bright and did things with such care. She was so dedicated to the student-athletes. She will be missed."
Werner graduated high school in 1966 and went on to the University of Tulsa where she played tennis. She played No. 3 singles from 1967-68 and No. 1 singles from 1969-70 and finished in 1970 with a Bachelor of Science. She went straight to graduate school and finished with a Master of Education at the University of Missouri in 1971.
She then went on to play tennis after college and was ranked No. 1 in women's doubles and No. 3 in women's singles in Louisiana in 1971-72. She also claimed several international championships in racquetball, and was hired at Maryville College as an instructor of health and physical education.
She was then hired as the Women's Athletics Director at Drake in 1974. She was the youngest woman administrator in collegiate athletics history (at the time) and the first female administrator at the University.
In 1979, when President Jimmy Carter implemented Title IX throughout the collegiate level, women were given the opportunity to have scholarships for the first time at universities around the country and Werner was at the center of it.
"I look at her as one of the people who made Title IX a reality," said Wyche. "But she didn't do it because there was a piece of paper that said she had to. She did it because it was the right thing to do. It is what she strived for. Her whole life was based on that."
Werner helped develop Drake into a national power in women's athletics and was moved to Associate Athletics Director for both the men and women's program when they merged in 1981.
In 1982, she was appointed to the committee of the NCAA's flagship sport, women's basketball. She served on the groundbreaking committee for five years. While with the group, she was the CBS Liaison, bringing women's athletics at the collegiate level to national television for the first time.
"The NCAA was adamant that women's basketball was to be their flagship sport for women," said Finch. "If you are going to raise up an entire group, you have to raise up the flagship. It was important we established a strong foundation for the sport, to sell it, to market it and to fill the seats. We did that. Betty, Jim Jarrett, and Fern Gardner were cornerstones in the development of this committee. I knew I could give the toughest assignments to Betty and they would get done the right way."
And the coaches she had to work with, including the legendary ones, agreed. "I have great respect for Betty Werner and her impact on collegiate athletics," said University of Tennessee Women's Basketball Head Coach Pat Summitt. "She was very passionate about making a difference and having a positive influence on student-athletes."
As her career continued, so did her involvement. In addition to the basketball committee, Werner served as chairperson on the NCAA Joint Men's and Women's Tennis Committee. Under her direction, Werner brought both the men and women's tennis championship to the same competitive site, bringing a heightened marketing exposure to the sport.
"Most people know of her devotion and passion," said Wyche. "Sometimes it is the little things that truly define someone. I will always remember her devotion to her dog Sunny and their Christmas letters. They were very special. The things she went through for Sunny, is really no different in how she lived her life. She was very special."
Werner is survived by her parents, Eugene and Betty Werner, and her brother Don. Services will be held at Sacred Heart Chapel on the LMU campus, Monday, Aug. 25 at 4 p.m. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Betty Werner Athletic Scholarship Fund. To donate: Make checks payable to Loyola Marymount University and note on check "In Memory of Betty Werner." Submit checks to Loyola Marymount University, Attn: Erin Hanson, 1 LMU Drive - Suite 2800, Los Angeles, CA 90045.
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