Located in Knoxville, the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame opened in 1999. A project of the Knoxville Sports Corporation and headed by President and Chief Executive Officer Gloria Ray, the Hall of Fame is housed in a two-story, thirty-thousand-square-foot building designed by Knoxville architects Bullock, Smith and Partners. The downtown site is located near the Hyatt Regency hotel. In the Knoxville News-Sentinel of November 20, 1997, Bullock, Smith project designer Jeff Minton commented that the building’s design is an “eclectic mix of images that incorporates some of the strengths of classical architecture, plus some imagery of more modernistic shapes and forms that give the impression of going into the future.” Its most prominent feature is a huge replica of a basketball which dominates the building’s exterior appearance.
Nashville’s 1220 Exhibits, Inc., designed the exhibits and located artifacts for the Hall of Fame in order to cover the one hundred-plus years of women’s basketball. Among the donors are former Amateur Athletic Union stars Patsy Neal from near Newport and Alline Banks Sprouse of Manchester. They are just two of many Tennessee women who excelled in the game at the highest levels of competition. The location of the Hall of Fame in Knoxville, in fact, reflects not only the current excellence of Pat Summitt’s University of Tennessee Lady Vols, but the distinguished history of competitive basketball at the high school, amateur, and college levels in the state. Nera White of Macon County was a national star in the 1950s and the first female player inducted in the National Basketball Hall of Fame.
The basketball team of the Nashville Business School dominated AAU basketball from the mid-1950s to the late 1960s. In the last decade, both UT and Vanderbilt University have consistently ranked in the top ten of the national polls, with such state high school stars as Tiffany Woolsey and Nikki McCray at Tennessee and Julie Powell and Paige Redmon at Vanderbilt leading the way. In the Ohio Valley Conference, teams from Middle Tennessee State University dominated the league in the 1980s just as Tennessee Technological University dominated in the 1990s.
Small towns and big cities across the state have contributed championship women players to schools and teams across the nation. Tennessee high school teams, especially Shelbyville Central High School, Oak Ridge High School, and Bradley County High School, have often been nationally ranked and have produced many stars. Tennessee star Woolsey prepped at Shelbyville; Redmon of Vanderbilt played at Bradley County. Jennifer Azzi of Oak Ridge won a national championship at Stanford University and then gained Olympic glory as a member of the national team. Summitt herself played state high school basketball before starring at the University of Tennessee at Martin in the mid-1970s. “I did not think even in my wildest dreams there would ever be a place where the history of our game could be told,” she told the Knoxville News-Sentinel on November 20, 1997. “I think this project [the Hall of Fame] will have a huge impact on the game, nationally and internationally.”