Breaking Barriers

Through a career in volleyball, Terry Hite David broke down many barriers to become the first African-American head coach at Illinois.

Through a career in volleyball, Terry Hite David broke down many barriers to become the first African-American head coach at Illinois.

Feb. 15, 2010

 

Big Ten Black History Month Website

By Larry Watts
Contributor, BigTen.org

The late 1960s and early ‘70s were turbulent times throughout this nation. Protests over race and the Vietnam War were at their height and confrontations often led to hostility. And the University of Illinois did not escape the change in times.

Following the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King in April 1968, university officials took steps to provide more opportunities to minorities. In 1967, of the 30,400 students in Champaign, only 372 were black. So the university established the “Project 500’’ program and attracted an additional 565 African-American and Latino students in the fall of 1968.

“It was a good thing because it increased the number of black students who might not have had the opportunity to enter such a prestigious university,’’ says Terry Hite David, a former volleyball player and head coach for the Fighting Illini. “The program did what it intended to do.

“But the university didn’t do a very good job of preparing the community. I was aware of the way things were in Champaign because I had family living down there. The blacks mostly lived on the other side of the tracks on the north side of town while the whites were more affluent and had better jobs. I think the people in the area were a little scared to suddenly see so many more black people in town and the first couple of weeks were a little awkward.’’

The lack of preparation was especially evident in the dorms. New black students found themselves “cocooned’’ four to a room normally set up for two people. Across the hall, there might be two white students in a room.

“The problem was the university had done a poor job of educating the black students on what they would be facing,’’ David says. “This was actually normal in the past and the living arrangements were eventually sorted out. Fortunately, I was living with family and I didn’t go through that problem.’’

Feeling they were being discriminated against, the black students sought answers and organized a meeting at the Illini Union. However, they were disenchanted with the university’s response and refused to leave. Things escalated and when they refused to leave, officials locked the doors and police were called. By the end of the day, there were 240 arrests.

“It was a very unfortunate situation,’’ says David. “There were many students who had never been arrested before and now they had records.’’

David, who was born in Chicago, moved to Los Angeles when she was seven after her mother divorced and remarried. She attended a city college for two years, but when her mother took a sabbatical as a teacher, she decided to join her overseas. Eight months later, she returned to enter the University of Illinois as a sophomore as part of the 1968 Project 500 group.

“During that time, physical education, health and dance were all in one college,’’ she says. “When I was trained, I was trained in teaching all three.’’

At 5-6½, David joined the Illinois volleyball team in its infant stages as a center or on-hand spiker. According to David, most of the matches were played in tournaments around the state.

“We had practice after classes and the coaches donated their time,’’ she says. “The university helped us with transportation to different venues, but it wasn’t until my senior year when they held the first collegiate national tournament under the NAIAW. We advanced to the national tournament in Lawrence, Kan., but we didn’t place.’’

After receiving her bachelor of science degree, David headed off to the Virgin Islands to become a physical education instructor.

“Representatives from the Virgin Islands came in during my senior year to recruit teachers,’’ she says. “I went to the interview because I was adventurous and I had never been to the Caribbean area, which was a predominantly black population.

“They offered a two-year program and they paid your way down there and paid your way back when you wanted to return. I figured I couldn’t lose.’’

During her first stay in the Virgin Islands, David not only taught but also played and helped develop the volleyball program, which was already growing in popularity.

“I tried to introduce them to the power game,’’ says David, who became a member of the national team. “We established a league, the St. Thomas Volleyball Association, for recreation purposes, but it was not connected with the schools. I got involved in the Olympic development and played in two NORCECA (North Central America Caribbean) Games and we also worked with some of the English-speaking Caribbean countries in establishing an English-speaking Caribbean Games.

“Getting the interest in volleyball wasn’t very difficult because the people were already playing volleyball in the Virgin Islands,’’ she says. “We were just trying to introduce them to a higher level of play, but there were setbacks because of funding. We didn’t always have equipment or a place to play, so we often played outside. As the interest grew, we started getting access to schools, but we also had to compete with basketball. Finally, we got a season where we didn’t conflict with basketball as much.’’

After two years, David decided to return to Illinois in 1975 to pursue her master’s degree in administration and assistant athletic director Karol Kahrs also offered her a job as assistant volleyball coach. But before she got to Champaign, head coach Kathleen Haywood resigned after only one season, so Kahrs offered the job to David.

“That was the first year we were affiliated with the Big Ten in women’s sports and we finished second,’’ says David, who was 15-14 in her rookie season. “Things were starting to change quite a bit. No longer did the team have to play in their gym suits. We were given uniforms, sneakers, transportation and I had an assistant coach. And now the women were coming from other areas of study to play volleyball.’’

After completing her degree and compiling a two-year record of 40-28, David was set to head back to the Virgin Islands.

“I was returning to my three loves — teaching, volleyball and my future husband,’’ she says. “He was part of the welcoming committee when I first arrived in the Virgin Islands and he just kept welcoming and welcoming me after that.’’

It wasn’t until a few years later that she found out from a cousin, who was still living in Champaign, that she had been the first black head coach in University of Illinois history.

“She read it in a story about black head coaches in the Big Ten,’’ David says. “That’s when it hit me. At the time I was at Illinois, we weren’t part of the Athletic Association, so we never had any meetings with the other head coaches. I knew there were black assistants in football and basketball, but I had never thought I was breaking a barrier.’’

Back in the Virgin Islands, she resumed coaching and then moved into elementary school administration for 15 years, serving the last four as a principal until her retirement in 2000. She also served as a volleyball official, but has not renewed her license in the past five years.

“If someone asked me to come back and officiate, I would do that,’’ says David, who now works part-time as a service agent for Continental Airlines. “But there are younger people out there and my involvement in volleyball now is mainly as a spectator.’’

David's love for volleyball has been passed on to her daughter, Michon, who was a former Junior National team member in the Virgin Islands and also played for Hampton University. She currently teaches and still plays volleyball in Chesapeake, Va.

David especially enjoys watching her adopted goddaughter, Megan Hodge, who recently led Penn State to the national championship and received the Honda Award as the nation’s top volleyball player.

“Megan was born in the Virgin Islands and I coached her mother, Carmen,’’ David says proudly. “I got a chance to see Megan play in person when she was on the U.S. Junior team playing in Puerto Rico. I fully expect her to be one of the top players on the U.S. National team.’’

David has also seen big changes in the game since her playing days, especially the libero and 25-point rally scoring.

“I think a lot of the changes were done for TV, but most of them have been good,’’ she says. “The game is moving more now and you hardly have any lulls.

“I’m still out in judgment on the libero though. I see the advantages, but I have yet to see an outstanding libero. For that position, you need to be dynamite in both serving and picking up the ball. I see a lot of other players on teams who do a much better job of serving than the libero.

“But I like the 25-point rally scoring,’’ she adds. “When they made the move to 15-point rally scoring, I don’t think there was enough time in matches for the trailing team to recover. Rally scoring has taken a little strategy away from the coaches, but I think it makes the game move a lot faster.’’

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