A new exhibit at the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn., recognizes the Amateur Athletic Union’s (AAU) role in developing women’s and girls’ basketball in the U.S.
According to Jerry Codispoti, AAU Girls Basketball executive committee member and Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame board of directors’ member, the new exhibit celebrates the “past, present, and promotes the future” of the sport.
“AAU has been part of the beginning of the girls’ basketball game, and within our exhibit, we will enshrine our past national champions, past All Americans, and more importantly, allow our young players to see their accomplishments every year. Bringing back the prestigious AAU All Americans is just another way to educate the young players of today about what it means to play AAU,” he said.
The new exhibit revealed in January is considered an essential stop for young basketball players when they head to Knoxville to compete in the All-American Games on July 1-3.
“I’m a history buff and going back and looking at this history is a reminder that women weren’t supposed to be able to play sports,” said Kim Davis Powell, a member of the AAU board of executives. “These women before us are the reason we can now play the game. They opened doors and broke barriers. The women basketball players before us crushed it, and they have allowed us to stand on their shoulders.”
When Powell, the executive director of Essence, a girls’ basketball team with young players in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, heads to Knoxville for competition, she said it would be a decisive moment for her athletes.
“They don’t even know we have a hall of fame of our own,” Powell said of the young girls on her teams. “It’s a visit to see the history, and they have a chance to become a part of that history.”
The exhibit is modeled based on the outside of a locker room and features championship trophies of past AAU girls’ basketball events. An interactive touchscreen in the display area will permanently list past AAU national champions.
“Experiencing the exhibit will spark interest in the history so players and parents can better understand the roots of the women’s game,” said Chris Brown, club director of Tennessee Team Pride.
“Unfortunately, most do not know the past players or the sacrifices and obstacles for girls to play ball,” Brown said. “My guess is that they don’t know the game used to be played six-on-six, or there was no three-point line. Putting a face with the former players can help bring this all into perspective.”
Brown, whose club has won numerous AAU Girls Basketball National Championships, said the competition during the All-American Games and the visit to the Hall of Fame is vital to his players and the sport after many events were held without parents or fans in attendance.
“These games will be (live)streamed and recorded, which will ultimately mean more eyes will be on the better teams. We want those eyes on our players,” Brown said when asked why it was important for his teams to attend during a competitive time of the AAU basketball circuit.
The Hall of Fame features professional and collegiate women’s basketball stars who competed through AAU. Notable featured players include Breanna Stewart, Chamique Holdsclaw, and Sabrina Ionescu, who all won the AAU’s James E. Sullivan Award, presented each year to the country’s top amateur athlete.
Laurie Bollin, director and coach of the Bay State Jaguars of Massachusetts, plans to take six to seven teams from her club to compete in the All-American Games this year because as she said, “It’s an event everyone should be part of.”
Competing in the basketball tournament and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame allows young female basketball players a chance to look up to female athletes who came before them, according to Bollin.
“It’s unbelievable to see how far we’ve come in the game, and this opportunity is an unbelievable way to show these girls how far we’ve come,” she said. “I think celebrating the history of the game is important.”
AAU Girls Basketball national chair Marcellus’ Boo’ Williams said, “The AAU played an integral role in developing the women’s game of basketball. Through this exhibit, we honor not only the accomplishments of those athletes who played AAU in the past but also those athletes who will do so in the future.”
The Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame opened in June 1999 and is the only facility of its kind for women’s basketball on all levels. Visit www.aaugirlsbasketball.org for more information.