Since I arrived at UNC Charlotte in 1984 as a student, I’ve been associated with the university one way or another, completing three degrees and teaching there starting in 2002.
So when I got started on this project, Judy Rose, best known for being one of the first female college athletic directors in the United States, was one of the first people I turned to for information. She linked me up with others featured in this story, along with detailing her own history. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she had a long and winding journey (often by bus) to her trailblazing leadership role.
She went to high school in the 1960s in Blacksburg, S.C., and played basketball, complete with six girls per side, to protect their supposedly delicate constitutions. After the girls’ games, she changed into a cheerleading uniform for boys’ games.
Rose played college basketball at Winthrop in Rock Hill, S.C., from 1970-74, serving as captain for three of her four seasons, and leading Winthrop to a 58-25 record in that time. She was inducted into the Winthrop Athletics Hall of Fame in 2005.
They took road trips on a red school bus with no lights inside, selling lapel pins to pay for gas, and buying their evening meal on a $2 allowance.
The team studied for tests on the trips, sometimes to disastrous effect.
“We had checked out from the Biology Department a bone box with all the bones of some animal we had to learn,” she said of the players’ preparation for an anatomy test. “We dropped it on the bus.”
Fumbling around in the dark, they couldn’t find all the bones.
She still lingers on the $2 meal allotment, nearly half a century later. She says with the $2 ration, you could buy a burger and fries but you had to pay for your own drink.
“To this day,” she said, “I cannot eat a Hardee’s burger.”
She was hired as UNC Charlotte’s women’s basketball coach in 1975 and since then, she said, things have improved and players are “being treated properly now.”
If a trip is over six hours, Charlotte teams take chartered flights. In years past, the 49ers drove everywhere, often with Rose herself behind the wheel.
“Our young people today don’t really know or understand the difference in how far it’s come.”
She believes there was “no question” that her hiring was a direct result of Title IX. She had just finished her master’s degree in physical education at Tennessee, where she served as a graduate assistant under Pat Summit in the legendary coach’s first season with the Vols.
There were about 30 students in her graduating class, and some of the men were thrilled to be offered coaching opportunities in high schools.
But the women in her class got jobs coaching in colleges straightaway. The Department of Education had begun to crack down on colleges, telling them to start playing along with Title IX and creating programs for women, or risk losing federal funding. Rose was part of what she called “a fresh crop” of coaches and administrators.
In the same way that feminism came in waves, Title IX brought waves of coaches and administrators. Rose was in the first wave of women coaches, administrators, and leaders empowered by Title IX. The amendment’s regulations became final on July 21, 1975, as she was transitioning from full-time student to full-time coach.
When Rose took over as coach, she sent letters to Charlotte-Mecklenburg County high schools, addressed to the “Girls’ basketball coach” at each one. She wanted coaches to meet her team, and even offered them the chance to meet men’s 49er star Cedric Maxwell in her effort to build relationships and start recruiting players for the 49ers.
No one answered her letters, because, as she remembers it, there were no girls’ basketball teams at any of the schools.
This hurt her already-tepid recruiting prospects — she initially had no scholarships to offer — and to top it off, along with her responsibilities as basketball coach, she was told she had to coach tennis, oversee campus lifeguards, and teach a PE class.
Needless to say, little of this is required today for coaches of Division I basketball teams.
Rose coached the 49ers from 1975-82, before climbing the athletic department ladder and eventually taking over as AD from Jeff Mullins in 1990.
Without even conducting a search, the school promoted Rose, rewarding her for her work and surprising her at the same time. As associate athletic director, she said she had “a strong grasp” on running the department but was only the third woman to crack the ranks of Division I athletic directors. She got the Charlotte job just seven years after the rise of barrier-breaking San Diego State athletic director Mary Alice Hill and six years after I started as a student at Charlotte.
Rose’s road to the top job was paved by solving problems, many that went beyond a lack of scholarships. While an associate athletic director, she was approached by a male colleague armed with some inappropriate comments. She stood her ground, suggesting he give her his home phone number, so she could call his wife.
But positives paralleled the negatives of breaking ground in a male-dominated arena.
While a coach, she got a midnight call that a player’s mother had died. She rushed to the young woman’s side and from then on, she recalled in 2018, “we were going to be her extended family.”
Another player Rose once worked with was the elder of two sisters who lived out of a car because their parents were in jail. The elder sister knew her path out of that life was basketball, but was academically unqualified to accept a scholarship at another school.
Rose and UNCC petitioned the NCAA to allow her a scholarship with the 49ers. She sat out for a year, and was on and off the team, but Rose stuck beside the young woman until she got her degree.
Her 2018 retirement marked the end of a 43-year career and the better part of three decades as athletic director. This January, she was announced as a member of the latest class inducted into the North Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame, alongside big names like Muggsey Bogues, Julius Peppers, and Mack Brown.
That’s a long way from coaching PE.