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Betty Jaynes won over hearts, minds

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Betty Jaynes Dies At 68

Mechelle Voepel and Michelle Smith discuss the impact former WBCA director Betty Jaynes had on women's basketball.

DURHAM, N.C. -- The Duke and North Carolina women's basketball teams had just tipped off Monday night when news broke that Betty Jaynes had died at age 68. I glanced around Cameron Indoor Stadium and thought, "It was, in part, for events like this that Betty worked so hard for so long. This is the kind of scene she'd love for people to picture when they remember her."

Because there were 8,210 people in attendance, a national television audience watching on ESPN2 and a row of media chronicling the game. There were two coaching staffs that are well-compensated, and have outstanding facilities, top medical personnel and cutting-edge nutrition/training information at their disposal.

And there were the young women on scholarship, playing basketball and getting their educations paid for at two of the best universities in the world.

Every single one of us in that building had Betty Jaynes and others of her generation to thank for all they did to make these opportunities possible. Because when they started building modern-day women's college athletics, they were dreamers and pioneers who had to use their optimism and imagination to lay the groundwork.

Jaynes was the first executive director of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association, when it was just a fledgling group three decades ago that had to scrape together money for her salary. Now, the WBCA is an organization some 3,000 members strong that has unified coaches at all levels across the nation.

That's why I say that Jaynes had been spurred "in part" with the goal of helping create nights like Monday. That was a showcase for Division I, the highest level of collegiate sports, with the most resources. But Jaynes' vision for the WBCA was far broader and more inclusive: She wanted the organization to be of help to the rural high school coach, too. She hoped a sense of community could exist amongst all who worked in the endeavor of teaching girls and young women to play basketball and become better students and citizens while doing so.

Nora Lynn Finch also sat courtside Monday as the Blue Devils and Tar Heels competed. The ACC senior associate commissioner for women's basketball knows as much about the creation of the WBCA -- and most things in the development of women's sports -- as anyone.

Finch, formerly an NC State assistant coach and administrator, recalled that when women's collegiate sports were about to transition to NCAA jurisdiction from the AIAW in 1981, the long-discussed need for a women's basketball coaches' association became more pressing. But who was going to be in charge of it? Finch and Wolfpack coach Kay Yow decided to try to get Jaynes to take the job.

"Kay convinced Betty to leave a tenure-track teaching position at James Madison, where she was also coaching, to become the executive director of an association with no members," Finch said, and added with a laugh, "I tell you what: Kay could recruit people to do things. But the thing was, Betty bought into what it could be."

That's because Jaynes had always looked for possibilities, regardless of obstacles. She grew up in Covington, Ga., about 35 miles south of Atlanta. In the 1960s, when many towns and cities did not have girls' sports, Jaynes' Newton County High School did. She played basketball there, graduating in 1963.

She went on to get degrees at Georgia College and UNC Greensboro before starting what was then a familiar path for professional women in sports: teaching physical education. Jaynes did that at James Madison (then called Madison College) in Harrisonburg, Va., starting in 1968. When JMU began a varsity women's basketball program in 1970, Jaynes was tapped as coach.

She had, especially for those days, strong administrative support. Which is why JMU hosted some big women's basketball events, including the 1975 AIAW large-college championships.

Marianne Stanley was at the Duke-UNC game Monday, scouting for the WNBA's Washington Mystics, for whom she is an assistant. I asked her about Jaynes, who oversaw the first WBCA convention in 1982 in Virginia Beach, Va., while the inaugural NCAA Women's Final Four was nearby at Norfolk's Scope Arena. Stanley was a young coach at Old Dominion in Norfolk at the time.

But her earliest recollection of Jaynes came when Stanley was playing for Immaculata, the small Catholic school outside of Philadelphia that won the AIAW championship from 1972-74 and lost in the final in 1975 and '76. The Mighty Macs had a fan following -- many of whom were nuns -- known as the "Bucket Brigade" because they brought buckets to pound on during games, creating quite a festive din.

"I remember we were playing at JMU, and all our fans wanted to come in with their noisemakers," Stanley said, chuckling. "Well, there was a stand-off outside the gym, because there was this new policy of banning noisemakers. But the Bucket Brigade wanted to bring them in. It was pretty chaotic out there.

"Betty interceded, and somehow resolved the conflict and got all these fans into the gym with their noisemakers."

That was Jaynes -- a negotiator who could convince people to compromise and work together. And she was also a good saleswoman, helping lure sponsors such as Kodak, which for many years backed the WBCA All-America team.

The WBCA is based in Atlanta, but when it launched, it initially was located in Wayne, Pa. Why? Finch explained it was because Mimi Griffin, the successful sports-event management businesswoman and former basketball broadcaster, was able to get free office space there.

"We didn't have any dues yet, and whatever funds we had, we needed to use to pay Betty," Finch said. "After Mimi got the office space donated to us, she also got us connected with Converse. Then it was up to Betty to identify more sponsors and to get the membership going."

In these endeavors, Jaynes' Georgian charm came in handy.

"There's something about a Southern gal who has that kind of love for something, and is able to convey it," Finch said. "The accent does put some people at ease. And it deceives others into thinking slow speech is slow thought.

"If you underestimated Betty, then she had you before you knew you were 'got.' She could get you to buy in hook, line and sinker."

As Finch said that, I found myself suddenly reminded of that scene from the movie "Fried Green Tomatoes," where sad-sack Evelyn Couch is at a seminar with other women trying to figure out how to get their husbands to notice them again.

Evelyn's comic pal, though, cut through the hokum.

"What we really need, instead of this baloney, is an assertiveness-training class for Southern women," the friend says. "But that's a contradiction in terms, isn't it?"

But while it's a funny scene, in truth that is not necessarily a contradiction at all. When you look at the history of women's basketball, assertive women from the South have played so many major roles -- as players, coaches, administrators, organizers, etc. -- it's impossible to imagine where we'd be now without them.

Sometimes they would use sweet talk instead of verbal sledgehammers. They understood how to make bigwigs feel important and appreciated. They knew how to win over minds by winning hearts first.

Jaynes was like that -- friendly, smiling, courteous, outgoing, gracious, generous with her time and extremely funny. But also a businesswoman seriously dedicated to her business: improving women's basketball and the careers of those who coached it.

It was her life's work -- something she still engaged in as a consultant even after her retirement. She will be greatly missed, but her influence will live on, always.

"I don't remember a time when Betty Jaynes was not involved first-hand, sleeves rolled up, in helping women's basketball to grow," Stanley said. "She always seemed to be right there ready for whatever the next thing was for the sport."