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Last fall, when I gave my acceptance speech on receiving the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame’s Curt Gowdy Media Award for print, in citing the women’s Hall of Famers, having covered virtually all of them, I noted that I’ve been around long enough to have covered some of their mothers and now even some daughters.

But I noted, if not for them, there’s no me, and if not for Title IX, the landmark legislation whose 50th anniversary celebration has begun with the arrival of June, there’s likely none of us becoming known for what we do.

» READ MORE: Former Inquirer writer Mel Greenberg wins Basketball Hall of Fame’s Curt Gowdy Award

My story in all this begins a long time ago at the onset of winter 1975 in the sports editor’s office of the late Jay Searcy, not too far away from where this is being written.

I had arrived at The Inquirer in September 1969, from up North Broad Street at Temple in what is now known as the Klein College of Media and Communication, answering a copyboy want ad but promoted two days later to an editorial assistant on the business page.

I also had been a child of the Big 5 and became a manager on the Temple men’s basketball team that won the National Invitation Tournament the previous March when it was as fashionable as the NCAA, both being fields of only 16 teams.

Searcy had arrived a few months earlier from the New York Times, where he had been on the copy desk but also had been writing a weekly women in sports column.

Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 had become law, declaring that women deserved equal access to the playing field, and newspapers were looking at all this as a way to draw more female readers into their sports sections.

“Which brings us to the fateful day, when Searcy says, ‘What do you think of starting a weekly top-20 women’s poll?’”

Out in the western suburbs, a tiny women’s college known as Immaculata had begun drawing attention, winning the first three national titles of the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, the counterpart to the NCAA on a very much smaller operational scale.

Immaculata was winning consistently at a time when all of the city’s pro teams were terrible.

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Searcy was well aware of the Mighty Macs because he had been on the other side of one of the early big rivalries with Queens College, coached by West Chester graduate Lucille Kyvallos.

Though I was more than a few years away from formally joining the writing staff, my schedule was such that I could begin freelancing several sports in addition to my day jobs in a similar arrangement as several Temple students now do at The Inquirer alongside their classwork.

Searcy already had nominated me to take over what he had been doing in New York, pointing to people who could become everyday sources, etc. Which brings us to the fateful day, when Searcy says, “What do you think of starting a weekly top-20 women’s poll?”

To which I replied, “I think you’re nuts,” as his head jerked back at the retort.

“First, there might be only four teams talented enough to challenge the front-runners, let alone 20 and some also-rans.

“And, like, where are you going to get scores, voters, everything to make it legit?

“And I could count on half a hand the number of people — particularly women — doing sports information work for those teams.”

To which Searcy said, “Well, that will be your job to set it up, teach them to report right after games. And whatever we will call it, it will be your poll.”

The idea takes hold

On my part, I just tabled it for the time being, although unknown to me, Searcy apparently was talking to people, because one afternoon when I was covering a men’s game at Widener, I turned and was greeted by Immaculata coach Cathy Rush and most of the team.

» READ MORE: The Mighty Macs at 50

They were on the scene because one of the Mighty Macs, Judy Marra, later to become his wife, was dating a Widener player by the name of Phil Martelli. Yes, that Phil Martelli.

And Cathy interjected, “We were talking to Jay, and we love the idea of doing a poll.”

I chose to ignore it.

They mentioned Searcy’s idea to two common mainstays of theirs and mine: Mike Flynn, who was running what already was a big-time AAU operation known as the Philadelphia Belles and worked in a similar day job as mine at the Daily News, and my former Temple classmate Dick “Hoops” Weiss, who already was well on his way to a national reputation while still an undergrad.

Upon hearing the concept from elsewhere, Weiss was agog about it and Flynn said, “You will become famous, though you’re not going to make much money out of it.”

That was no big deal because in my own head, certainly this gig wasn’t going to be forever.

“Women should not get involved in newspaper games like polls, which will lead to the evils of men’s athletics.”

AIAW position paper on potential women's college basketball poll

Meanwhile, not helpful to Searcy’s idea, upon my calling to AIAW to make an introduction since I was paying some attention to Title IX, I mentioned about the paper’s interest in starting a poll and was told the organization would send a position paper.

It arrived a few days later and one passage read, “Women should not get involved in newspaper games like polls, which will lead to the evils of men’s athletics.”

Philosophically, you had two approaches — the hot spots in the sport like here that wanted to make it as big as can be. And the conservatives, who deserve credit for much of Title IX turned into reality. But for media, they sought coverage but also were wary of it.

Meanwhile, for me, it was on to covering the games, and some of the few good teams had nice attendance in the small venues -- many at high schools -- they were using. As growth began, someone once observed that women were advancing from packed little arenas to less-than-a-quarter-full big arenas.

Unknown for the future while this was going on, in this area at the high schools, such future names as Jim Foster and Geno Auriemma were involved with boys’ and girls’ basketball.

Meanwhile, l noticed in reporting Title IX implications, I was composing a series on the coming of athletic scholarships, and many people opposed to the law got the wrong idea. Equal access didn’t mean equal numbers. It meant what was needed to field teams: quality equipment and coaching and scholarships necessary to have a quality roster. In other words, bake sales shouldn’t be the funding source they had been, though women’s basketball was moving from something described as milk-and-cookie afternoon affairs to wine and cheese.

During the opposition to the legislative process, people like Texas football coach Darrell Royal led Alabama’s Bear Bryant and other big-name colleagues to Congress, saying the law would lead to the end of collegiate football.

Once Title IX passed, however, in a short of amount of time, Royal could be found at picnics on campus run by Jody Conradt’s top-five Longhorns women’s basketball team.

As I progressed through that first winter and into the spring, besides the games, I was writing a weekly column. I once interviewed the creator of the Steve Canyon comic because one weekend there was a reference to the AIAW, which brought curiosity about his reference although a women’s team was part of the narrative. Title IX also had been noted.

I mention this because word was getting around about this guy at The Inquirer who was writing a lot of good things about women’s basketball and he was covering games. Working the women’s hoops beat, I quickly came to know the late Mary Jo Haverbeck, one of the very few females in the field, and she was certainly the national pioneering women’s sports information director out of Penn State, who was connected everywhere.

As it evolved, Penn State hosted the 16-team AIAW tournament in the spring of 1976, then in a format in which teams played two games a day like an AAU summer event in early rounds. The whole field was at one site.

I thought that if I decided to go forward with the poll, the reason would be to make it easier for everyone in the media coming after me who would cover this.

“Then I made another call to AIAW and got a friendly response... ‘We’re encouraged by what you’re doing.’ Bingo.”

In writing that preview, I referenced four potential first-round upsets. I did not go up the first day to Rec Hall, but all four upsets happened, and Haverbeck called that night, asking when was l coming because everyone was looking for me. Sure enough, every radio station covering their teams had me on for an interview. I thought, well, this is fun, but I’ll need someone to blame it on.

A few weeks later, at the Immaculata postseason dinner — Marianne Stanley was the last of the stars that included Theresa Shank Grentz and Rene Muth Portland, who was graduating — afterward I thought: This concept could all die unless I do something. And if I’m going to use the poll, then journalism will be what makes it work — the same way the networks report national elections.

Poll goes national

The first step was to call the tournament committee — composed then of coaches — to see if they would like to serve as voters. They didn’t really know me, most of them, but they knew The Inquirer name, in part because of executive editor Gene Roberts, who had taken over the news operation, and many innovative things were being done under him.

But all were eager and enthusiastic.

Then I made another call to AIAW and got a friendly response. During the conversation, I made a reference that the paper hadn’t let go of the poll idea, and the response was, “We’re encouraged by what you’re doing.”


Now in reaching out for schedules, etc., I could say, the AIAW says it’s encouraged with the project.

That summer, Haverbeck, Villanova’s Rosa Gatti (later to become corporate publicity head of ESPN), and Pitt’s Joyce Aschenbrenner (later to become an official with the Jimmy V Foundation) went to the sports information directors’ convention, saying, we’ve got a guy back in Philly who needs your help.

Soon, all kinds of mail and support came from all over the country.

At the same time, I turned to Queens College media contact Ed Jaworski, who could direct me to the best coaches in each of the AIAW’s nine regions to form the voting panel.

I also started sending notes to other media organizations to see who might be interested in using the poll. CBS Radio used it on Wednesday, which was the network’s women’s day, sports-wise. It also was the day The Inquirer decided to run it — a good enough day to look back at the previous week and still look ahead.

While there weren’t many media contacts who handled just women’s teams, the ones who did were beginning to make connections with me.

Meanwhile, growth was starting to sprout off Title IX.

Theresa Grentz, who had been coaching St. Joseph’s, got hired at Rutgers, becoming one of the first if not the first woman to only coach basketball and not be involved as a physical education instructor.

Maryland, under Chris Weller, was likewise taking the Rutgers all-in path, as was Tennessee, where Pat Summitt was relatively new, and UCLA and North Carolina State, whose coach Kay Yow and assistant Nora Lynn Finch (later to become the first chair of the NCAA Tournament committee) often made recruiting trips here.

“The poll was one of the first items to reflect Title IX progress...”

I had months to trot out the very first preseason poll, but only one week for the one after that. The initial poll with a national preview to start the season had a big spread with the headline “Move over guys, here comes another poll.”

The graphic with the article displayed Delta State star Lusia Harris, who passed away this past January, looking down over the rankings.

Once the poll was ready for a release, school reps would call to get it and then distribute it to the local media after The Inquirer release.

Flynn, who would come in to help, claims he still has the calculator he used to count votes. Back then, that calculator cost $70; today, it costs a couple of bucks on the market.

In late summer, I attended a weeklong seminar at Temple in the women’s physical education department, which had many people such as Carole Oglesby involved in the Title IX battles. There were only two males at the sessions, including Foster, later to coach at St. Joseph’s, Vanderbilt, Ohio State, and Chattanooga, the only coach to have four different AP-ranked teams. He wanted me to discuss the coming of the poll at the last of the sessions.

The poll was one of the first items to reflect Title IX progress because schools in the first one were basically the small Immaculata types. But by March, teams from the familiar, big-time football and men’s basketball powers were beginning to replace them.

“Mel, you’re our history. You’ve got to keep track.”

Kay Yow

Reaction was huge because for the first time, people were getting national information the same day, not weeks later.

Jaworski used his contacts to write a story in Editor & Publisher, then the bible of the newspaper industry. It got displayed over two pages in the center of the magazine under the headline “You May Ask What Is The Greenberg Poll?”

Talk about suddenly getting the attention of Inquirer management.

‘Mel, you’re our history’

One day, John Chaney called from Cheyney State ranting because C. Vivian Stringer’s team had yet to make the rankings. A few weeks later, the Wolves had two big wins in the Queens Tournament, and they were on their way.

The late Kay Yow gets credit for the massive Excel database file, although then on a different platform, with the poll history, because one week during the first year, N.C. State was seeking to promote something related to the poll but I wasn’t keeping records.

“Mel, you’re our history. You’ve got to keep track,” she said.

Fortunately, someone was able to help me catch up, and when the computer age arrived, I was ready on the front end.

One night during the second year, Tara VanDerveer, then at Ohio State before moving to Stanford, said, “Hey, I’ve got a modem; we should vote with computers,” to which I said, “We’re the only two who have modems.”

Many media types couldn’t comprehend AIAW terminology in terms of the tournament’s format, so l was part of the move to change the setup from the 16-team circus to a Final Four structure in 1978, which was won by UCLA with Ann Meyers-Drysdale.

The 1977 tournament, the last under the old format, was notable with St. Joseph’s in the field with a player named Muffet O’Brien, the future Notre Dame coach, Muffet McGraw.

Two days after that tournament ended, Rush resigned from Immaculata, saying that with the arrival of Title IX, teams like the Mighty Macs were not going to be able to compete.

When I was on panels at the coaches’ conclave at the Final Four, responding to advice sought on receiving coverage, I said that editors were getting younger with daughters now benefiting from Title IX in athletics and soon there would be change.

It was not long after that our No. 2 overall newsroom executive, Gene Foreman, came up to me excited to say his daughter Susan was going to be the trainer for Virginia’s women’s team that had Dawn Staley.

“Two years after the launch...sports information directors urged the Associated Press to begin carrying the poll.”

Suddenly sports was sending me to games in Charlottesville, Va. I hadn’t even asked.


Foreman had asked if I was going to be there.

One development through the years: Freshmen always were better than seniors because people forgot that Title IX applied to every federally funded institution, so coaching improved all the way down the line and more females were taking up the sport.

Two years after the launch, a major event: At their convention, sports information directors urged the Associated Press to begin carrying the poll.

The AP wasn’t ready yet for women’s coverage, although growth kept coming each year. But the agate wire carried the poll with the notation: “as compiled by Mel Greenberg of The Philadelphia Inquirer.”

Soon, I was asked to write a national roundup for the AP on Sundays, then a poll story with the rankings. And papers began asking for more, to which the wire service kept turning to me.

» READ MORE: Dawn Staley’s NCAA championship is a triumph beyond basketball

A few years later, Terry Taylor, whom I previously met when she was an Inquirer intern out of Temple, became head of AP Sports. She called one day because a paper had jumped out of the a.m./p.m. cycle with the poll release. Could I check out the cause of the error?

Turns out the local school erred on its handout.

She replied: “Get their act together. This is big-time stuff now.”

So badly did I want to say, “Can I quote you on that?”

When schools were being ranked for the first time, I’d alert them because of the pattern: They were likely to have a big media turnout at practice. They would reply, “Don’t think so,” and then call back the next day, thanking me for the heads up.

The popularity of women’s basketball grows

Eventually, the popularity led to a push for the NCAA to become involved because the costs to individual schools would be much cheaper at tournament time. Summitt at Tennessee, for example, was picking up transfers in bunches, and the powers wanted law and order, but the current AIAW leadership was resistant to step in.

I was in the middle of it, but that’s for another day. The first NCAA women’s basketball tournament was played in 1982.

By 1988, the big push was for more TV coverage, which Yow, the U.S. Olympic coach that year, was hopeful the Games’ summer exposure would produce.

In 1991, Connecticut, then a dark horse out of the regional at the Palestra, made its first Final Four, introducing Auriemma, a personality like no other in the sport, embraced by the media because his interview style was closer to that of the men’s mentors.

» READ MORE: An idea to honor Mel Greenberg: A hoops fest to call his own

One thing that fueled the 1995 unbeaten UConn season leading up to the first 1-2 showdown with Tennessee: On the front end of the season, the NHL was on strike, and newspapers were filling the news hole with women’s basketball because, by then, AP was filing stories on ranked teams.

Also helpful was the coming of ESPN, and at the outset, USA Today paid a lot of attention, forcing competing papers to keep asking for more help from AP, which kept turning to me.

In 1996, the Olympics in Atlanta were dominated by women. The storyline was that the Title IX babies had grown up.

The Games also led to the arrival of two pro leagues: the brief appearance of the American Basketball League playing in the winter and the still-enduring, NBA-backed WNBA.

In the mid-1990s, then-Atlantic 10 commissioner Linda Bruno, chair of the NCAA committee, led a move to award a bid from St. Joseph’s athletic director Don DiJulia to bring the 2000 women’s Final Four to Philadelphia, the first time it was staged in a major northeast city. That Final Four drew the best attendance and media coverage to that date.

Under then-sports editor Tim Dwyer, The Inquirer was all-in that season, and the field was pure local with Stringer’s Rutgers team, Portland’s Penn State squad, Cardinal O’Hara grad Kristen “Ace” Clement at Tennessee, and Geno winning it in his hometown.

Incidentally, the last AIAW title in 1982 was won at the Palestra by Rutgers, coached by Grentz, over Texas, with Harry Perretta’s Villanova squad also a participant that same weekend.

Two decades later, things have never been greater with Title IX beneficiaries. Auriemma and Staley have won NCAA titles and Olympic gold medals as coaches, and former La Salle star Cheryl Reeve has won four WNBA titles in Minnesota and is our next U.S. Olympic coach.

It’s been quite a ride, and it’s nice to think the rankings played a key part in some of that growth.

Staff contributors
Words: Mel Greenberg
Editing: Gary Potosky
Photo Editor: Frank Wiese
Digital: Matt Mullin
Copy editing: Jim Swan