By: Aimee M. Russo
Special To The SEC Digital Network
Athletes across the country live for the same dream of that one chance to represent the United States at the highest level of competition. However, not long ago those opportunities for some athletes did not exist.
One of the most influential pieces of legislation in United States civil rights history, Title IX was enacted on June 23, 1972. What quickly became the battle cry of millions of women across the country wanting to pursue their hopes for equality, for one athlete in particular, it became the spark to a boundless career.
Able to reap the benefits of Title IX, Teresa Edwards will complete a lifelong circle as she enters her sixth Olympic Games representing the United States Olympic team as Chef de Mission at the 2012 London Games.
“It’s an honor to be called upon to serve in a manner of this magnitude,” Edwards said. “It completes an Olympic circle; it completes another Olympic ring for me. Knowing that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity; you only get chosen once and you’re called upon in a distinguished manner to represent this position, I feel very privileged.”
Just as the fundamental law transformed the landscape of college athletics, the establishment of Title IX helped pave the way for athletes like Edwards to engrave their name in the history of Southeastern Conference sports and beyond.
“I didn’t have to suppress the ability and the talent I had in basketball or anything,” she said. “I was able to express myself and be the absolute best. No one ever stopped me at the door and told me I wasn’t welcome or I couldn’t come in. I walked right in. For me, that’s what I have to recognize as the importance of the passing of Title IX.”
Nearly a decade after the law was enacted, Edwards became the youngest women’s basketball player to be invited to play for a USA Basketball national tournament team when she was a member of the South team at the National Sports Festival in the summer of 1981.
A native of Cairo, Georgia, Edwards was a four-year starter for her high school team, scoring 1,982 career points; which culminated with the honor of being named Georgia’s High School Player of the Year in 1982. Edwards did not stray far from home to launch her collegiate playing career. Coached by the legendary Andy Landers, Edwards was able to build her tremendous skill set that led the Lady Bulldogs to the Final Four in 1983 and an NCAA runner-up finish in 1985.
“I was allowed that opportunity at Georgia to really just grow my wings so I could learn to fly,” she said. “Through Coach Landers giving me that opportunity, that scholarship and the University of Georgia truly embracing me academically, I learned at Georgia what it takes to be a great student. For all of that, I’m grateful.
I look back upon it now and I’m so thankful that I put the work in that was needed to be a good student. In order to be a good student, I was able to play the game. It’s just a foundation and if anyone knows anything about anything in life, you got to have a strong foundation to fall back on and that’s what Georgia gave me.”
From the start, Edwards played a significant role for UGA as she led the Lady Bulldogs to their first-ever NCAA Final Four her freshman campaign. As a two-time All-American, Edwards also helped the Lady Bulldogs compile three SEC Championships.
A declared student of the game, Edwards developed an appreciation for the pursuit of education and an unquenchable thirst for competition.
“I’ve always wanted to toss the ball with the best and strive to prove that I was the best,” she said. “I loved it; I truly loved competing. I’m just a competitor, a true student of the game. I always wanted to top my best game; I wanted to play better than the last game. It just kept me going. New competition, new talent, the next new kid on the block never scared me when I was playing. I was ready to toe the line and wanted to see who was best.”
Now in such a pivotal role to the United States Olympic team in London, Edwards hopes to inspire the athletes to represent their country the best they can by pushing themselves in this most honorable opportunity.
“It’s always been about a dream and having an opportunity to toe the line with someone who’s just as good as you or better, just to see who is the best,” Edwards said. “The Olympics brings you the opportunity to do that with the best in the world. Not the best in Georgia, not the best in the nation, but the best in the world. My advice would be to organically toe the line, put your heart on the line, put it all out there to see what happens. Because when you do it shows your character, the person you are as well.”
The achievements Edwards has been able to attain during her career are nothing short of astounding. The only basketball player in U.S. history to compete in five Olympic Games, she was honored by being inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011. Edwards prolific career in women’s basketball also landed her 22nd on Sports Illustrated’s top 100 greatest female athletes of the 20th century.
“This little crazy kid from Cairo didn’t know any better,” Edwards said. “She just wanted to be the best she could be, didn’t mind playing with anybody and would travel anywhere for a good game.”
That drive has now taken her to another Games, and although she may not be competing on the court, she will be in a vital role for the United States.
As Chef de Mission for the 2012 Olympic Team, Edwards will serve as the primary liason between the U.S. Olympic Committee and the London officials. This is not the first instance that Edwards has been asked to represent the U.S. in the Olympics. The most decorated Olympic basketball player to date was also asked to recite the Athletic Oath at the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia; a most meaningful homecoming to her humble beginnings.
Her understanding of how she hopes to impact the United States team at the Olympics speaks to her character and the meaning behind why Title IX was enacted.
“There’s no separation of classes, no separation of races, no separation of gender and thank God for all of that,” said Edwards. “It bridges gaps between everybody. It’s our common thread. It’s what the mission of the games is all about. For me, it is to continue to spread the mission of unity and friendship within the competitive ranks. I will work hard to do that.”