WVU women's sports pioneer Kittie J. Blakemore passes away

Kittie Blakemore encourages her players during a game played at the WVU Coliseum in her final season coaching the Mountaineers in 1992.

MORGANTOWN — In 1969, Gloria Steinem published an article “After Black Power, Women’s Liberation” and a movement was born, one which continues moving forward today.

We are reminded of it because three years after that article appeared, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act became law, which set the stage for women to get equal opportunity in sports.

That was all Kittie Blakemore and Dr. Wincie Ann Carruth, chairman of the WVU women’s physical education department, needed and they set about bringing women’s basketball to university.

The program has been a memorable one, thanks to Blakemore blazing a path for it. She founded the program, was the first women’s basketball coach and is remembered today for being not only a pioneer but a visionary after dying Wednesday at home in Manassas, Virginia, after declining health for several months.

Blakemore was 91.

At the time, in 1972, women’s sports were an afterthought. Many high schools were still playing basketball with five players at each end of the court, rather than the game that follows the men’s rules today.

According to John Antonik, who has become historian for WVU’s athletic department, a week after Leland Byrd was named athletic director at WVU, Blakemore contacted him for a meeting.

She and Carruth came prepared with all the details, budgets for women’s sports from other schools, and put it all together in a one-page typed presentation that laid out how WVU could get women’s sports going at the school under Title IX.

In 1974, according to Antonik, WVU had women’s basketball, gymnastics and tennis, soon to be followed with volleyball, swimming, track and softball — all of whom and other women in sports who continue today owe their very existence to Title IX and “Miss Kittie,” as she came to be known.

Her program never approached those of Pat Summit at Tennessee or Geno Auriemma at Connecticut, but it was a strong program and one that put WVU on the map of women’s basketball.

Blakemore coached the team for 19 season and compiled a 301-214 record, winning the 1989 Atlantic 10 championship and the 1992 regular season A-10 title, going to the NCAA women’s tournament both years.

She also earned berths in the NCAA Tournament in 1984 and 1992.

But perhaps what she did best was bring talent into the program, perhaps the greatest players ever to perform at WVU.

She coached Rosemary Kosiorek to All-American status. Kosiorek played there from 1989 to 1992 and to this day is the second leading scorer in the program’s history with 2,061 points. She is second only to perhaps the greatest women’s player ever at WVU, Cathy Parsons, who scored 2,113 points from 1980 to 1983.

“Since I found out about her passing, I’ve done nothing but think about what coach Blakemore has meant to me,” Rosemary Kosiorek-Meyer said Wednesday. “She was a coach, a teacher, a mom, a friend and she became a mentor to many, many student-athletes at WVU.

“She didn’t care if you played a minute in a game or you were an All-American — every one of those kids was important to coach Blakemore,” Kosiorek added.

Blakemore also coached 6-foot, 7-inch Georgeann Wells, who became a national sensation when she became the first women’s player ever to dunk.

Her legacy continues today through Mike Carey, the current coach who has led a number of star players such as Naomi Davenport, Bria Holmes, the Bulger sisters — Meg and Kate — and Tynice Martin through WVU.

“I am deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Kittie Blakemore,” Carey said. “As the first coach of this program, she set the bar and developed the foundation Mountaineer women’s basketball stands on today. Even after her retirement, her love and support for this team was unquestionable, and we are so thankful for her. We will greatly miss Kittie and forever remember her in our hearts.”

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel

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