Pioneering volleyball at Brownstown Central

Terrye Davidson flipped through memories in her Seymour home, gazing at old photographs one by one.

She also pulled out a red baseball cap with white lettering reading “Coach.”

Coach is who she was and what she was when Brownstown Central High School started a girls volleyball team in 1973, a year after the federal government passed Title IX legislation, a new policy that spurred the growth of participation by girls and women in high school and college sports.

“I had to put down my first floor myself,” Davidson said recently of the early days supervising the new team. “We played on the middle school floor.”

Davidson, 72, was always passionate about sports. She described growing up as a “tomboy,” a word that has fallen into disuse. She took dance and piano lessons, and the piano teacher told her mother, “You’re wasting your money.” Otherwise, her father “always empowered me” and she learned “girls can play sports.”

When Title IX became law, Davidson, who earned degrees at Indiana University and Purdue University, was a middle school gym teacher. Brownstown’s volleyball program began in 1973, and Davidson trained herself to be a coach, partially by attending a five-day training course at Ball State.

She was 23, not much older than senior high school players, and didn’t look much older, either. That’s how she acquired the hat from players as an identifying badge. New girls teams were divvied up between Davidson and other physical education teachers. Davidson had played recreational volleyball at Seymour, so that sport’s buck stopped with her.

When Davidson sent out a call for a player tryout, the interest was there. Some 46 girls turned out, presenting one problem.

“We only had (30) uniforms,” Davidson said. “I don’t think I cut anybody in those early days.”

Although Brownstown developed into a first-rate program — continued under the current leadership of Jennifer Shade, who credits Davidson for laying the foundation — there were growing pains. The first year, the team finished 1-7. The second year, Brownstown went 9-8. By the end of the ’70s, the team finished 23-4.

For the season opener, Brownstown headed to Floyd Central.

“We get on the bus and go down I-65,” Davidson said. “I gave a speech: ‘OK, ladies, we’re the first girls team representing Brownstown Central.’”

Things were going inspirationally well until the Braves pulled up to the high school and it was dark and empty. Uh-oh. Somehow, the schedule had gotten confused in Davidson’s mind. They were really supposed to be at Clarksville.

Making a hurried adjustment was more challenging in an era without cellphones. Employing the closest pay phone, Davidson connected with various officials, and soon enough, the Brownstown volleyball team had a police escort to the right school.

Brownstown lost the match but got better from there, winning nine conference titles in a row.

“I credit that to girls who worked hard and parents who supported them,” Davidson said.

As equality spread in spending and the addition of teams to school programs, new generations of girls benefited from pioneer players’ experiences. Shade believes her current players know what Title IX is, but “their perspective is now that it is not a privilege to play (but), ‘I’m entitled to that.’”

When Shade views situations, practice circumstances, compared to boys teams, Title IX reverberates in her head.

“It has got to be equal,” she said.

During Davidson’s earliest coaching days and her tenure at Brownstown, she said there was tremendous support from the football team, typically the flagship sport in Brownstown over the years. That backing and the on-court victories, Davidson said, made a public point following the implementation of Title IX.

“It validated girls could be just as successful as the boys,” Davidson said.