Springfield, MO

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by Eddie Bass

It must have been about 10 years ago that Dr. Mary Jo Wynn appeared in our sign shop and ordered a dozen or so poster signs.

The signs advertised the appearance in Springfield of Jody Conradt, women's basketball coach at the University of Texas.

Little did we realize what impetus Conradt's speech would give to the emergence of women's athletics at Southwest Missouri State University.

Conradt told a crowd comprising mostly women how the University of Texas had made women's athletics an important part of the school's program and suggested ways that SMSU could do the same.

Success came quickly. Under the coaching of Cheryl Burnett, the Lady Bears basketball team reached the Final Four in 1992.

Equally important, attendance at women's basketball games boomed. The Lady Bears led the nation in 1993, averaging 7,421 fans per game. And they were third in attendance during the period of 1991 to 1997.

That's a truly remarkable record when you consider the fact that Hammons Student Center has a capacity of only about 9,000 fans, while some other schools Tennessee for example have arenas that seat as many as 25,000.

So now Dr. Wynn has announced that she will retire, effective July 1, as "senior associate director of athletics" at SMSU and the senior woman athletics administrator.

She organized women's athletics competition in 1958, when she started volleyball and tennis teams. In fact, she coached volleyball until 1972. And she coached tennis until 1975, when she was named the first women's athletic director at SMSU.

She also has coached swimming and track teams.

Her success as a coach and as an administrator is evidence of the competitive drive within her. However, you'd never know it when you meet her. She's quiet and reserved, and her smile would disarm most anyone.

Dr. Mary Jo Wynn is the epitome of a true lady.

So now comes the task of trying to replace her. Athletic Director Bill Rowe says SMSU will conduct a national search for a successor.

In my humble opinion, at least two of the women coaches at SMSU should receive consideration.

Cheryl Burnett is an outstanding basketball coach and, perhaps with some additional coaching help, could take on the administrator's job, too.

So could Linda Dollar, who had an outstanding career at SMSU as a volleyball coach and is now in charge of compliance with NCAA rules.

I'm not suggesting that being the women's director of athletics is anything less than a full-time job. But it's a well-known fact that promotion from within an organization is good for morale. It's something to think about, Bill.

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