By: Brian Rice
SEC Digital Network
AUBURN, Ala. -- If you’ve walked in the doors at the Southeastern Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament, you’ve heard her voice. If you’ve been through freshman orientation as a student at Auburn University, she’s a familiar figure.
But the story of Susan Nunnelly goes far deeper than just the trademark Southern drawl that welcomes fans to basketball venues across the southeast each early spring or as the leader of “Fun with the Nun” at Camp War Eagle.
As a coach, campus administrator, officiating coordinator, rules committee member and, yes, public address announcer, the impact “The Nun,” as friends, fans and colleagues call her, has had on Auburn and the SEC is both wide and far-reaching.
When fans enter Auburn Arena for Tiger women’s basketball, most do not know that the woman behind the familiar voice that booms overhead once held the job just to the right of the scorer’s table.
Nunnelly grew up an Auburn fan and entered the University as a freshman in the fall of 1966. Upon graduation, she went on to teach high school for a year outside of Birmingham. Dr. Ben Plotnicky at the University of Tennessee called and offered Nunnelly a graduate assistantship in Knoxville.
But an illness led her back home to the Plains in 1971.
“My mom became ill and I needed to be closer to home,” Nunnelly said. “So I went back to Auburn and did my graduate work. The Good Lord has been so good to me and I was in the right place at the right time.”
In 1973, with Title IX just over a year old, Nunnelly became the second coach in the history of Auburn women’s basketball. Her teams were 43-20 over three seasons, and she stood on the sidelines for the first women’s game to be played in Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.
After the 1975-76 season, Nunnelly did something that in today’s women’s basketball landscape would be unheard of. She stepped down to focus on the rest of her long job description at the University.
“I was coaching, teaching and running intramurals,” she said of her multiple roles. “I gave up coaching to go full time in campus recreation, and was made director of campus recreation in 1984.”
In the time following her coaching career, Nunnelly served time as SEC Officials Coordinator and was a member of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Rules Committee, where she was a part of the decision to adopt a slightly smaller basketball for the women’s game. Officiating is in her blood, and even in retirement, Nunnelly still teaches a sports officiating class at Auburn each spring semester.
“As you can imagine, we never have a lack of things to talk about,” she said with a laugh.
Immediately following her coaching career, Nunnelly picked up another part-time gig at Auburn, as the public address announcer.
To say it stuck would be an understatement.
For the last 36 seaosns, over two arenas and three head coaches, Nunnelly’s voice has become as much of a part of Tiger home games as the blue and orange uniforms the team sports.
In 1987, Nunnelly picked up another announcing job. The SEC elected to take the women’s basketball tournament away from campus and hold it at a neutral site. Albany, Ga., hosted the tournament that season and for the next six seasons, and Nunnelly began her run as the Voice of the SEC Tournament.
“Our table crew (from Auburn) worked all those years it was in Albany,” she said of the circumstances that led to what has become a permanent assignment. “I’ve been fortunate enough to keep doing it and I love it.”
Nunnelly has done every tournament since, which presented a bit of a problem in 2008 in Nashville.
That season, the SEC recognized a person from each University as a Contributor, along with the school’s SEC legend. When Auburn nominated Nunnelly, then-Assistant Commissioner Laronica Conway had to draft a member of the SEC staff to introduce the Auburn legends. “The Nun” received her plaque, and quickly reclaimed her rightful spot behind the mic for the second half.
A year later, Nunnelly did a rare double.
Following the SEC Tournament in Nashville, she drove to Oklahoma City to voice the Big XII Women’s Tournament that began a day later. She has also announced AIAW Regionals, NCAA First and Second Rounds and numerous other events. But for Nunnelly, the SEC is home.
“I’d love to do a Final Four before I die,” she said. “But the opportunity to do the SEC, what better players will you ever see? When you’re watching great basketball, when you love it, it’s great. I’m getting to see so many of the kids I watched play that are now in the coaching ranks and having a great career. What a great reward to be a part of that.”
For the record, Nunnelly says she has no problem remaining neutral at SEC events, despite the deep ties to her alma mater.
“I’ve worked the table for so many years, it’s become routine,” Nunnelly said. “Sometimes it’s very difficult, but if you’re going to be professional and do what you need to do, then you’ve got to keep it professional, and that’s what I try to do.”
But when back home in Auburn Arena?
“When you’re at Auburn, you’ll hear The Nun a little louder and stronger on those baskets,” she said.
Fun With the Nun
Though she retired from Auburn in 2008, Nunnelly still fills many roles on campus. In addition to her PA announcer gigs and teaching her officiating class each spring semester, her summers are filled with nights on campus, teaching the next generation of Auburn students what being a Tiger is all about.
Prior to coming to campus in the fall, incoming freshmen at Auburn attend “Camp War Eagle,” the AU version of freshman orientation. As Director of Campus Recreation, Nunnelly helped start the program, which grew from a small gathering of in-state students to the large-scale program that all incoming freshman experience to help them feel the spirit of Auburn.
Nunnelly’s “Fun with the Nun” segment is among the highlights of the camp, usually held inside Jordan-Hare Stadium. She gives out t-shirts featuring the phrase to selected participants, including those with a certain hometown.
“I always ask if we have any students from Tuscaloosa,” the Nun said. “And I bring them up and anoint them as disciples to bring the spirit of Auburn back home with them. They always get the shirts.”