Seymour’s Sullivan has seen it all (almost) in women’s college hoops


It is appropriate Donna Sullivan has been both a basketball coach and a travel agent because it would be fitting to display one of those suitcases with the stickers all over the sides announcing where she has gone for NCAA women’s basketball Final Fours.

Since the sports world is in the midst of March Madness at the moment, there is no reason to ask where Sullivan will be as the season approaches its end.

The last weekend of action in women’s basketball for the 2023 season will be in Dallas, so you can count on Sullivan being present, March 31-April 2. This Friday in Dallas, the Final Four features Iowa against South Carolina, and Virginia Tech against LSU.

With the exception of the 1992 championships, Sullivan has been on site for the last rounds every year since 1988.

The pioneering Seymour girls basketball coach who led the first Owl teams, not only developed the attendance habit to see quality basketball, but because the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association conducted its annual meeting at the locations.

“I thought, ‘What better way to learn the college game?’” said Sullivan as this tournament unfolded.

She has watched the queens of the college game be crowned, from Louisiana Tech to Tennessee to Connecticut, Notre Dame to Baylor, and was an eyewitness to Purdue’s only championship.

Sullivan has also seen the country along the way, or at least many of the country’s sports venues, from the TD Garden in Boston to the Tacoma Dome near Seattle.

At her first Final Four in Washington state, Sullivan was recognized by one player, surprised a Hoosier made the journey. The player said, “Oh my, somebody from Indiana.”

The NCAA did not begin overseeing women’s basketball championships until 1982, whereas the men’s championship dates to 1939. In the 1970s, the first women’s basketball tournaments were under the auspices of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women.

The only reason Sullivan does not have perfect attendance over the last 35 years is because her mother died in February of 1992. She didn’t feel up to a trip to Los Angeles.

Before the landmark Title IX legislation of 50 years ago that has moved the needle towards equality between men’s and women’s sports, the United States often displayed a dark ages outlook to the idea of women sweating on a court. Over the decades since, there have been adjustments and improvements.

Sullivan recalls when the Final Four was held in Louisiana in 1991 at the University of New Orleans’ Lakefront Arena.

“They had exactly four women’s bathrooms,” she said.

This was not a very astute reading of the audience. Sullivan said if a lady had to go during play, long lines meant she might miss much of a half.

In 1993, when Texas Tech beat Ohio State in Atlanta, the escalator at the Omni Coliseum went haywire, Sullivan said, going backwards.

“It was throwing people off,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan loved watching Tennessee’s spectacular teams win titles under the late coach Pat Summit. The Lady Volunteers have eight NCAA crowns.

“I’m a huge Pat Summit fan,” Sullivan said.

Even though Sullivan, 75, (who is scheduled to be honored with a special day June 10 in Seymour by former players), was an early volleyball player for Indiana University, and one basketball pupil, Teri Moren, coaches the Hoosiers women now, she was excited when rival Purdue won in 1999.

“Even if it was Purdue,” Sullivan said.

She says San Antonio and Tampa-St. Petersburg rank near the top for sites. But whether it is bias or not, Sullivan thinks Indianapolis, three times a host, once at the RCA Dome and twice in the building currently called Gainbridge Fieldhouse, has proven itself No. 1.

“I think Indianapolis is the best,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan, a member of the Indiana High School Basketball Hall of Fame, and who is participating in planning future Hall expansion, said the Final Four expanded her horizons.

She got to personally know college coaches who recruited some of her Seymour players. Also, she was recruited for a U.S. coaching clinic in Burundi, spending a month in the African nation teaching hoops.

One day, driver forgot to pick her up at a village and she took a public bus back to her hotel, sharing seating with feathered passengers such as turkeys and chickens. By the time the ride ended, the birds were probably practicing Xs and Os.

“That was an experience-and-a-half,” Sullivan said.

Even after all these Final Fours, Sullivan looks forward to one someday Final Four — when a Moren-led Indiana team reaches the final rounds.

“It would be a dream come true for me,” Sullivan said. “I say IU’s going to be there. I know her and her staff and the players. It would mean something to Seymour, Indiana.”

Sullivan has saved some items from her Final Fours, but not as much as a serious collector might. The most precious souvenirs are her memories.

“It’s all up here,” she said.

And Donna Sullivan pointed to her head.

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