Kentucky’s first Miss Basketball faced the challenges of the Title IX era

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How Title IX changed KY sports

None of the 37 words in Title IX refer directly to athletics. Still, it has reshaped the world of sports by providing women with school-sponsored athletics. This is how he changed the terrain in Kentucky.


Donna Murphy is a basketball icon in the Commonwealth.

When Title IX brought back girls ’basketball as a permitted sport in Kentucky, Murphy was star of the reopening of Kentucky Girls’ Sweet Sixteen 1975 and the initial winner Kentucky Miss Basketball award 1976

In his first game of the 1975 state tournament, Murphy scored 42 points and 23 rebounds and led Newport over Russell 58-42 at the McBrayer Arena of the University of Eastern Kentucky.

“It was such a wonderful experience,” Murphy said of playing in the first approved Kentucky Girls state basketball tournament since 1932. “To this day, I still remember things about it.”

Murphy was light years ahead of her time. She averaged 32 points and 22 rebounds as a junior in Newport, then returned and scored 35 points, 20 rebounds and six assists per game as a senior.

Hers had a long basketball journey. Murphy starred in college at Morehead State (career total 2,059 points and 1,442 rebounds). She played one season in the hapless women’s professional basketball league with St. Louis. Louis Streak.

Her college training also included serving as an assistant coach in Kentucky, Florida, Memphis, Cincinnati and Morehead. Murphy began a women’s program at the University of Asbury and trained there for 11 years. She was also the head coach of the girls at Bryan Station High School and Lexington Christian Academy.

Murphy, 64, will soon retire after 37 years as a counselor at Bluegrass Community and Technical College in Lexington.

As we mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX, Murphy seemed an appropriate choice with whom to discuss women’s sports in Kentucky from the 1970s to the present (some responses have been edited for brevity and / or clarity):

Question: I was 10 when my parents took me to the first, restart Girls ’Sweet Sixteen. The first game I saw was your 42 points against Russell. I’ve always wondered: Given that there really weren’t a lot of organized women’s sports growing up, how did you become so good at basketball?

Murphy: “I played (basketball) with the boys. I lived in projects. There was a basketball court in the area. I would go there and watch the guys play.

“After they left, I would play and try to imitate them. I got to the point where I started to really improve. I feel like I’m endowed with a natural ability to jump and run. So I figured things out very quickly.

“So the guys started choosing me to play with them because I would jump and bounce, then pass the ball. Somehow I got tired of constantly passing the ball, so I had to develop my shooting form and ball handling skills. And before you knew it, I was the one choosing the teams. “

Question: So, Title IX passes, and women’s teams return to sanctioned sports in Kentucky. How were you used to playing with boys, what was that transition like?

Murphy: “The first organized (basketball) team I played in – I use the word organized free – was in high school.

“Keep in mind, I only played against guys and I never saw one girl play. . . . A person who was a physical education teacher, she really didn’t know much about basketball. But she made us all go out on the field to get the jump ball.

“Many girls had street shoes. Some had skirts, OK? I had a headband. I had bracelets, shorts and sneakers. (The fact that many other girls didn’t even know how to dress to play basketball) made it very difficult for me.

“I remember coming off the field, just sitting in the stands, very distraught. I remember my physical education teacher, she approached me. . . and asked me why I left court? I basically told her not to play basketball.

“. . . She said, ‘If you think you know that much, go there and train them.’ That’s what I did. Looking back, it was the debut of my coaching career. ”

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Donna Murphy gave instructions to Cari Johnson, left, and Kayla Yates during her coaching tenure at Lexington Christian Academy.

Question: How was it for you in high school when you established yourself as the best state basketball player for girls? In the infancy of women’s sports, how did people react to you?

Murphy: “I had positive and negative experiences. I had quite negative experiences playing in different schools. There were some schools – I won’t name names – you didn’t see much diversity in their neighborhoods and counties.

“It’s different now, but if they wrote things on our bus or called us’ N word ‘.’ Or they would question my sexuality because they said I play like a man.

“You know, I was a kid. And the adults who said some pretty negative, derogatory things about my race scared me. It hurt me. I didn’t tell my mother any of that until much later in life.

“But, you know, it inflamed me too. I didn’t know how to solve it except to go play. “

Question: How did you treat your women’s team in high school compared to the boys ’basketball team?

Murphy: “They did not equal what we did on the same level as the boys. It may have been equivalent, but it was not equal. We didn’t have everything the guys had when it came to money, when it came to equipment, when it came to equal treatment.

“Our team did not receive the same recognition as the boys, although we beat our buttocks. I didn’t get the same recognition as the guys who were, for example, All-Region.

“The number one player in the (Ninth) region, I remember, got a trophy that stood 3 or 4 feet off the ground. He was almost as tall as he was. They gave me little ones, and I was the first player (girl) in the region.

“I clearly remember that because I thought it was funny.”

Question: If you could travel through time, would you like to be a part of women’s / girls’ sports now that they are so established?

Murphy: “I was thinking about it. . . . I will say, it is not my feelings so much towards high school. But it is for professional playing after college.

“In the end, I played for St. Louis Streak one year. The league I played in, the WPBL, was the first women’s professional basketball league. Then a bunch of other leagues appeared, but none stayed until the WNBA.

“I wish I had the chance to play in a league like the WNBA. I’ll tell you, it’s hard for me to watch those games because I’m thinking, ‘Damn, we could have done that once.’

“But my time was then. Now is their time. I don’t have any bad feelings or anything. But to see all these opportunities that these young women now have, they have no idea on whose shoulders they are standing. Or the shoulders I was standing on. ”

This story was originally published June 16, 2022. 10:19.

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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since August 27, 1990 and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK in L basketball games, but three from 1996-97 and each Kentucky Derby since 1994.
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