Opening, and Busting Through, Doors
Editor's Note: The following story is part of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Visit the Power of IX website to learn more about the Power of IX Campaign and how you can be involved.
Growing up, Kamie Ethridge remembers spending her summer days shooting hoops at a local elementary school in Lubbock, Texas.
"I would get my bag, run to the blacktop and shoot outside to get my practice in," Ethridge says.
Nearby, there was a youth club featuring basketball courts, which would have been ideal for Ethridge to practice at to escape the West Texas summer heat.
However, there was one issue.
"I never thought I could go in because it was a boy's club," she explains.
But then Ethridge made a pivotal decision.
"I decided to go in because I knew two guys my age who worked there," she says. "And I just went in and headed right to the court and practiced and played.
"From then on, I would just go," Etheridge continues, "I didn't do anything else the guys were doing. They had a trampoline, I could do flips all day on trampolines, they had pool, all these other things the guys were doing. I thought, 'I'm not going to push my luck with any of that. I just want to play basketball.' No one ever kicked me out. No one did anything. They let me stay."
It provided a lesson to Ethridge that has stayed with her ever since, throughout a Hall of Fame playing career and a coaching career that brought her to Pullman as head coach of the Washington State women's basketball team.
"You have to push your way into places you're not sure you belong," Ethridge says.
That lesson was foremost in her mind during a speech at a pregame function prior to the Cougars' game against UCLA, Feb. 11. Ethridge addressed the attendees, including Washington State Title IX pioneers Karen Blair, Marcia Saneholtz, Jeanne Eggart Helfer and Sue Durrant, who were honored that night.
She said, in part, "You sacrificed and went outside your lane, the lane the world told you're supposed to be in. The courage that takes is truly inspiring and amazing. You risked everything in what you did and sacrifices you were willing to make."
"That's what those women did for us," Ethridge said as she recounts her speech and the contributions of the pioneers. "They pushed through boundaries, and they didn't settle for what the world told them they should be allowed to do and not do."
It's a message she relays to her players and, to re-enforce that message, Ethridge brought in Saneholtz, a past administrator at WSU and Eggart, who played at WSU from 1977-82 and was once the program's all-time leading scorer, to speak to the team.
"It is a different world then it was back in the 70s and 80s and we have to communicate that," Ethridge explains. "We have to educate and put people before our players to make them understand where we've come from and put a little responsibility on them to where are you taking us? Ask, what can you do to make this world a better place for the women who come after you?"
Before embarking on her coaching career, Ethridge put together a prestigious playing career. At the University of Texas, she led the Longhorns to the 1986 national championship and the first perfect season in NCAA Division I history, finishing the season 34-0. She was a member of the U.S gold medal-winning Olympic team at the 1988 Summer Olympics. In 2019, she had her No. 33 jersey retired at Texas, becoming the first female athlete in Longhorns Athletics history to earn the honor.
Since arriving at Washington State in 2018, Ethridge has taken the program to unchartered heights, including a berth to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 30 years in 2021 followed up by a school-record 19 wins this season and a second straight bid to the NCAA Tournament.
During a playing and coaching career that has spanned four decades, Ethridge says she has "experienced all sides" of Title IX and has been blown away with how far things have come. However, she acknowledges more work needs to be done, citing a report by Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP highlighting NCAA providing more resources to its men's basketball tournament compared to the women's tournament, as an example.
"Who would have thought we needed to fight to have 'March Madness' on our court? The battles are still real," Ethridge says.
"I'm just grateful for experiencing the explosion of women's basketball and the livelihood I have," adds Ethridge. "I'm grateful for how hard people had to fight to get us where we are. It made me a better basketball player. It made me a better coach just knowing I've lived through that and understood that things don't come easy."
And Ethridge continues to keep opening doors, just like she did when she was a teenager and walking through that door of the boy's club for the first time.
"When I went, I asked 'Why I didn't I think of that sooner? Why did it take me so long to walk through that door?
"I didn't know it at the time. I just knew that's all I had. That made me better and I loved it. You got to seek those things out and bust through those doors."