Born this day in 1912: Margaret Wade (1912–1995), “mother of modern women’s college basketball”
Lily Margaret Wade played basketball as a girl in her native Mississippi. She joined her high school team in 1927, where she excelled at the sport.
In 1929 she began attending Delta State Teachers College, studying health and physical education and playing basketball. She made the all-conference teams each of the three years she played, was squad captain during her sophomore and junior years, and was named MVP her junior year. Before her senior year, however, Delta State jettisoned its women’s basketball program. It caved into criticism that the sport was too strenuous and too unladylike for women. Wade recalled,
“We really didn’t have a choice, and it was especially tough on me since I had another year remaining. Administration thought the game was too tough for young ladies, so we burned our uniforms.”
Delta State did not reinstitute the program until 1973, whereupon Wade, by now 60 years old, agreed to be coach.
In the intervening years Wade had already proved herself an able coach. After graduating from Delta State in 1933 she played semi-professionally until a severe knee injury ended her playing career in 1935. She began coaching high-school basketball and track-and-field in Mississippi. She produced champion-level teams in both sports. In 1959 she joined Delta State as an assistant professor and chair of the Women's Physical Education Department.
As coach for Delta State, Wade led the new Lady Statesmen to win 16 out of 18 games and the state championship their first year playing in 41 years. Between 1975 and 1977 the Lady Statesmen won 93 out of 97 games and three consecutive Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) national championships. Wade’s success with Delta State brought women’s basketball to the national spotlight.
Wade retired from coaching after the 1978-1979 season, but taught basketball coaching classes until her retirement in 1982. She also co-authored, (with Delta’s men’s basketball coach, Mel Hankinson) Basketball (1980), a book on coaching techniques.
The Wade Trophy was established in 1978 to honor Wade's role in women’s basketball. It is presented annually to the best college-level women’s basketball player in the nation. This prestigious award is considered basketball’s equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. Wade has also been honored by being inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, the Delta State Hall of Fame, the Mississippi Coaches Hall of Fame, and the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. She was also the first woman inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
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