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March is Women's History Month, and WGLT is recognizing 21 women who shaped Bloomington-Normal. New episodes every weekday in March.

21 Women Who Shaped B-N: ISU’s Jill Hutchison blazed a trail for women’s college athletics

Woman smiling below an arena banner with the words Jill Hutchison, Basketball Coach, 1968-1999 inscribed
Emily Bollinger
Jill Hutchison remains the winningest basketball coach at Illinois State University history.

Jill Hutchison was coaching the Illinois State women's women's basketball team one night when she had a disagreement with an official.

“He said ‘That’s the way the rule is written.’ I said ‘No it’s not, I wrote it.’ He looked at me [to give] me a [technical foul] right there,” Hutchison recalled.

The story checks out. Hutchison chaired the women’s basketball rules committee. It's just one small example of how she helped transform women's basketball over several decades.

Hutchison was a pioneer for women's college sports, starting at a time when they were an afterthought at best, and at worst, were assumed to be unsafe.

“If you said Illinois State, everybody knew it was Jill Hutchison,” said Leanna Bordner, senior woman administrator for Redbird Athletics. “Her legacy was very widespread, it wasn’t just in the state of Illinois.”

Woman in red jacket standing next to round plaque with the words 'Honoring Redbird Women's Athletics' inscribed
Emily Bollinger
Jill Hutchison's coaching career at ISU began in 1968 when women’s athletics were not considered intercollegiate.

Hutchison’s coaching career at ISU began in 1968 when women’s athletics were not considered intercollegiate. Colleges would host a sports day where other schools would come to play a series of short, modified games with no spectators. Basketball games were played three-on-three on each side of the court because full-court play was considered unsafe for women.

Hutchison said she was frustrated with the way women’s sports were treated, but she took it as a challenge.

“We were just coming out of the women’s lib movement and women having opportunities and it just seemed to me and some others that we needed to make a move and we needed to improve the game,” Hutchison said.

Her own graduate research helped dispel the myth that women lacked the cardiovascular ability to play full court. She ran heart rate tests on players during competition.

Woman smiling and wearing a red v-neck sweater over a red striped collared shirt
Leanna Bordner, senior woman administrator for Redbird Athletics.

“Now it seems so unbelievable that someone would have had to do that,” Bordner said.

On the heels of Hutchison’s research, women’s basketball went to full court play in 1970.

Two years later, Hutchison, along with ISU’s director of Women’s Intercollegiate Athletics, created the first women’s college basketball national championship.

Hutchison’s trailblazing helped pave the way for another landmark reform that came later that year, Title IX, which intended to give women equal opportunity in college athletics.

“I think my desire to make things more equitable and more fair for women drove almost all of my desires to be involved,” Hutchison said.

Gender disparities still exist in college sports, she said, but Caitlin Clark and other college stars have demonstrated that women’s sports can continue to grow if given the chance.

“It’s the old line, build it and they will come, and I think that’s what’s happened with women’s sports and not just women’s basketball,” Hutchison said.

Hutchison was inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009 — and remains the winningest basketball coach in ISU history — men or women.

She is humble about the role she has played in transforming women’s sports, but her impact is unmistakable.

“A colleague of mine once said we just did it because it needed to be done and that’s what happened,” Hutchison said.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.