In 1976 the University of Kentucky women’s basketball team was beginning to gain momentum. The team that had recently been dubbed the Lady Cats had a new coach in Debbie Yow, who proved to be one of the most successful coaches in the program to date.
Three years into her time in Lexington, Yow drafted Vallerie Still, Lea Wise, and Western High School all-star guard Patty Jo-Hedges.
During Hedges time as a Cat, she led the team to its only SEC Championship in 1982 when Hedges would be named an all SEC athlete; further Kentucky was ranked several times during her tenure. In addition the team set the women’s basketball attendance record in 1983 when they defeated Old Dominion.
That same year, Hedges led the U.S. Pan Am Team to a gold medal in Caracas, Venezuela.
Today, Hedges is the 16th highest scorer in team history and still holds the record for most assists, additionally she is third in steals for the Lady Cats.
Now known as Hedges-Ward, the athlete currently enjoys her time in the Louisville area with her husband Steve. Number 13 for the Cats, Ward was inducted into the Kentucky athletic hall of fame in 2009.
Hedges represents something more important than a tremendous athlete though, she represents what would become the changing tides of popularity in women’s basketball. Athletes like Hedges paved the way for institutions like the WNBA, and while Joe B. Hall kept fandom going in the Big Blue nation for men’s basketball, Hedges along with her teammates and coaches achieved a new level notoriety for women’s college basketball.
Image courtesy of the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame