Jan. 2, 2007
On Jan. 6, 2007, Dr. Christine Grant will be honored at the NCAA Convention in Orlando, Florida with the NCAA President Gerald R. Ford Award. While Grant is no stranger to the podium or the showers of accolades for her life's mission, this award means something very different to her.
"When NCAA President Myles Brand phoned me I almost fell out of my chair. It was a total and utter surprise to me," said Grant.
This will be the fourth year the Ford Award will be handed out honoring individuals who have provided significant leadership as an advocate for higher education and intercollegiate athletics. It is the first time a woman will be honored.
Grant is in the company of some very impressive and influential people. In its inaugural year in 2004, University of Notre Dame President Emeritus Theodore Hesburgh received the award, followed by former Knight Commission chair William Friday in 2005. Last year, Birch Bayh, former United States Senator from Indiana and "Father of Title IX," and John Wooden, the legendary UCLA men's basketball coach who won 10 national championships, were co-recipients of the award.
Grant attended the convention last year when Bayh and Wooden, two of her heroes, were honored.
"I think it is always special when one is honored by one's peers. I don't think there is anything that is really greater than that," said Grant. "I feel as though I have been so lucky to work with some wonderful people throughout my career. I'm not really sure I should be getting an award for it because I have gotten so much out of all my experiences in sports."
Growing up with a natural love of sports in her native country of Scotland, Grant received her Diploma of Physical Education at Dunfermline College in Aberdeen, Scotland. Dr. Grant began her coaching and teaching career at Graeme High School and Lindsay High School in Scotland from 1956-1961. Dr. Grant then traveled to Canada to live and coach in British Columbia (1961-1964), Ottawa (1964-1965), and Toronto (1965-1971). From the time she graduated in 1956 until 1971, she coached an assortment of sports that included field hockey, track and field, netball and basketball.
With 15 years of coaching under her belt, Grant decided to attend the University of Iowa to get her bachelor's degree in physical education and master's and doctoral degrees in athletic administration. She served as an instructor in her first years at Iowa until she was named the first and only women's athletics director at the university in 1973.
It wasn't until her first year at Iowa that Grant first realized the huge discrepancy in opportunities between men's and women's sports.
"When I came to study in the United States I expected to find the same thing I saw growing up in Scotland and living in Canada, however, I was shocked," said Grant. "I came to Iowa and looked at what the young men had in their program and I had never seen that in my entire life-it was totally mind boggling to me. When I started to ask what was offered to young women I learned there was nothing."
Needless to say it was a rude awakening when told the same opportunities didn't exist for women because that is the way it has always been. As an outsider, it seemed Grant arrived just in time-she was sensing her calling. A year before she took the helm as the women's athletic director at Iowa, Title IX was part of the Educational Amendments of 1972 signed into law by President Richard Nixon prohibiting sex discrimination in any education program or activity. After learning Title IX applied to sports as well, Grant dove headfirst into the revolution.
It is hard not to find the word pioneer describing Grant when reading about what she has accomplished for gender equity.
Under her direction and vision, Iowa's athletics department grew to include 12 NCAA Championship sports that won a combined 27 Big Ten titles. She was the former President and a founding member of the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), the governing body of women's athletics before the NCAA took over that responsibility. She also has held several positions with the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators (NACWAA), including the presidency from 1987-89. Grant has served as an expert consultant to the Health, Education and Welfare Office for Civil Rights Title IX Task Force, as well as provided testimony in numerous landmark sport discrimination lawsuits against academic institutions.
"Progress has been phenomenal," said Grant. "I try to explain this to our younger student-athletes on campus and they think that I am totally exaggerating. Title IX was passed in 1972 at a time when society disapproved of women even dreaming of excelling in sports. There was such a mantle of disapproval and unacceptance of young girls and women who wanted to really play competitively. The climate back before the 1970s was just so negative and I don't think they believe me."
While progress has been slow, the phenomenal change that Grant talks about deals not only in the possibilities and opportunities that women have now but about changing society's idea of women in sport.
"Here we are, 35 years later and what has happened is that we have changed the society's entire thinking about women excelling in sports. Now it is really acceptable," said Grant.
In 2000, Grant retired as the women's athletic director, but is still ever present on Iowa's campus as an associate professor at the college. As a tribute to her successful career, Grant has been honored with scholarship funds and endowments in her name and the home field of Iowa's field hockey team was also named in tribute of her hard work. Despite picking up awards from a long list of organizations, two honorary doctorates and induction into the University of Iowa Athletics Hall of Fame and the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame, Grant admits she doesn't know what she is going to say when Brand presents her with the Ford Award on Jan. 6.
"To be honest I'm probably going to stand up there and just look blank," said Grant. "I have gotten so much out of sports as a youngster and I wanted to give back to sports and it seems as though instead of giving back I keep on getting more out of it. I'm not sure it should be happening that way because sports have been an enormous influence on my life. It has made me who I am. It just seems strange to be recognized for something that you really love."
Most of Grant's awards can be found in the women's archives in Iowa's main library. However, wherever she decides to put her most recent award one needs not to gaze at her accomplishments on a mantle or behind a glass bookshelf but all around us on the fields, courts, courses, gyms, tracks and pools where young girls can actually "Dream Big."