Hedges Leaves Lasting Handprint on Pac-10 Sports
You hear the question asked to children all the time: "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
Whatever the answer — a baseball player, the president, an actor — it's usually a career that involves fame. People want to be famous, people want to be known, and people want to be remembered. Former University of Washington athletic director Barbara Hedges will be remembered.
But her impact will be felt by people who don't even know her name and have never seen her face.
This year the Pac-10 Conference is celebrating 25 years of women's athletics in the Conference, and Hedges played a critical role in making this happen.
"She was one of the main forces behind the Pac-10 actually having women's sports," says Judith Holland, who in 1974 became the women's athletic director at UCLA and is now a member of the UCLA Athletic Hall of Fame. "She had a huge impact."
Hedges has a deep-rooted love for sports and played many of them in her childhood, starting with softball in fifth grade. As she grew older, however, her focus shifted from the playing field to the office and administration.
Upon graduating from Arizona State University in 1963 with a degree in physical education, Hedges eventually would take her talents to the University of Arizona where she coached gymnastics and taught physical education. During this time, Hedges also spent time integrating women's sports into the university's athletic program.
Hedges stayed at UA until she went to the state of California to be USC's associate athletic director in 1973. It was here where she worked with other administrators to give women an athletic opportunity at USC that had been lacking for so many women before. With the passing of Title IX in 1972, the groundwork was set for Hedges to make an impact.
"In the beginning the program was very limited, so it was simply a matter of starting to build the program," says Hedges. "The budgets were very limited, the opportunity for young women to compete at the college level was very limited, so I really had an opportunity to get in and help build a women's program at USC."
Along with USC, Hedges says Pac-10 schools began looking at the programs they were providing for women and compared them to the programs they were providing for men. However, the process of getting women the same opportunities the men had was not an easy one.
"We had to raise money, which we did. We started a very strong support group for athletics at USC called the Women of Troy," says Hedges. "We had to get the university to recognize the need to provide the same opportunities for the young women in the program as were provided for the young men in the program. I don't mean it was such a struggle, it was just an evolution of creating those opportunities."
In order for Pac-10 women's athletics to make these strides, it took a true team effort from all of the schools involved, even if they were rivals on the field.
"She was one of my very close friends. That's obviously a problem for people because we were at two different schools," says Holland, who was inducted into the UCLA Athletic Hall of Fame this past May. "She was a gal who really took charge and got a lot of things done that wouldn't have gotten done otherwise. I thought she was one of the best leaders we had in the Pac-10. I was very privileged to know her during her career."
Part of Hedges's ability to get things done was her leadership, the other part was her people skills.
"Barbara could get along with anybody. She could talk to anybody and she did," says Holland. "I used to call her "Sparkle" because she was always bouncing around and talking to people. She was able to bring people together, and in athletics that's really a plus."
From the time Hedges stepped foot on the USC campus to the time she left for the Pacific Northwest and went to the University of Washington in 1991, Hedges helped provide opportunities for women that were unmatched elsewhere.
"When I left [USC] there were scholarships for women in every sport at the university," says Hedges, who was inducted into the National Association of Collegiate Athletic Directors Hall of Fame in June of 2009. "The opportunities to compete were very extensive and had expanded incredibly. The growth was outstanding. From the time I got to USC to the time I had left USC, there really wasn't any comparison for the opportunities for women at the college level."
Along with providing women with opportunities to play sports, Hedges mentions how athletics have opened the door for women to leave the locker room for the office once their playing days are over. This is evident specifically in the Pac-10 Conference today, as it's the only conference in the country with two female athletic directors.
"The number of young women in all areas of athletics administration has grown," says Hedges. "Not only as an AD, but an associate AD, a senior associate in the marketing area, in media relations areas, in the fund raising areas, all of these opportunities have occurred as a result of women having the opportunity to compete in athletics. From the standpoint of the number of women who are athletic directors at the Division 1A level, it can always grow, and it will."
During Hedges' time at USC from 1973-1991 and University of Washington 1991-2004, Hedges saw many changes in college athletics. Now retired and watching from afar, one might wonder what she thinks of the direction women's athletics is going.
"[Women's] athletics will continue to change and continue to grow, every generation is a bit different," says Hedges. "The future is very bright."