Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eastern Washington’s Lynn Hickey helped pave path to national prominence for women’s college basketball

Lynn Hickey is one of two finalists for the Eastern Washington athletic director position (UTSA / Courtesy)

When Chennedy Carter hit a winning shot last weekend to send Texas A&M to the Spokane Regional, she thanked her coaches, her teammates and all the fans in Aggieland.

“Blessed to be in the position that I am in,” Carter tweeted on Wednesday afternoon to her 14,200 followers.

She might have added a thank you to Lynn Hickey and others who gave her that shot at glory.

It’s a story that hasn’t been told enough, especially to Carter’s generation. The huge strides in the women’s game began with baby steps in the 1970s by women like Hickey, currently the interim athletic director at Eastern Washington.

Before Title IX and for many years after, women’s sports languished at many schools but especially at A&M. In 1973, more than a century after the school was founded: women were finally allowed to enroll.

But females as student-athletes? That was a work in progress.

Meanwhile, Hickey coached Kansas State to the NCAA Elite Eight in 1982.

Two years later, she was lured to A&M with the promise of a $40,000 salary – if she also picked up duties as assistant athletic director.

She took the jobs, and her husband, Bill, later became an assistant baseball coach at A&M.

‘We’re not here to be pretty’

“A great experience,” Hickey calls it now, although it didn’t seem that way at the time.

“I didn’t know how crazy it would be doing both jobs,” said Hickey, who nevertheless approached both with zeal.

The first job was to change the culture at A&M. The first woman to sit in on senior athletic department meetings, Hickey was shocked to hear comments such as, “You guys are so pretty, we are so glad you guys are on campus. You make us look better,” she told The Eagle newspaper of Bryan, Texas, in 2015.

Hickey’s response: “We are not here to be pretty. We’re here to win games.”

At Kansas State, the women’s team had its own band and cheerleaders. But when Hickey sought out the band director, she was told, “Lynn, we just don’t have time. We can’t do this.”

“So he gave me a copy of their 8-track tapes and said, ‘You can play this during your game,’ and I went, ‘Oh my God.’

“I left his office in tears.”

The long road to success

But she didn’t leave College Station. Hickey had been through too much, for too long.

During high school in Oklahoma, she played in the old six-person game – three a side on two courts. That didn’t stop the 5-foot-10 Hickey from becoming the second-leading scorer for the United States in the 1973 World Games.

Her freshman season at Ouachita Baptist in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, in 1969-70, was the first in which women played 5-on-5.

More adventures followed.

After graduation in 1973, she played AAU ball for a year near Kansas City, Missouri.

“We would go to the (Amateur Athletic Union) national championship every year,” Hickey said. “Every year but one, it was held in Gallup, New Mexico. We would drive in cars from Arkadelphia to Gallup and stop in Amarillo on the way and play in the NIT.”

In 1975, she married Bill Hickey. They coached at the junior high and high school levels in Missouri for three years before she landed at KSU.

The obstacles made the job tougher at A&M, but Hickey and her staff built the Aggies into a winner.

Title IX made a big difference.

“Title IX was a blessing,” Hickey said. “Otherwise, we would not have made this program what it became. We would not have had the women I had to coach.”

Over the next decade, Hickey had just one losing season, and reached the NCAAs in 1994.

For once, the 13th-seeded Aggies got some luck. Fourth-seeded Florida couldn’t host because its arena was booked for a Rod Stewart concert.

The games were played at College Station. As the A&M band tauntingly played Rod Stewart songs, the Aggies pulled out a 78-76 win.

A heartbreaking choice

By then the Aggies had offered Hickey the chance to work just one job, beginning the following year.

But which one?

The Aggies fielded a mostly sophomore lineup that was the tallest in America. But the Hickeys had a young daughter at home.

“It weighed on my heart all year,” said Hickey, who eventually opted for administration over coaching.

By the time the postseason rolled around, any game could be Hickey’s last.

The Aggies won again, at fifth-seeded San Diego State, but fell to Purdue in the regionals, which were held at Stanford.

“I was very emotional after we lost at Stanford,” Hickey said. “People couldn’t understand it.”

The following year was her first without basketball.

“It was like a death in the family,” Hickey said. “Your heart was broken, but you had to move on.

“It took me five years to get over it. … that was a piece of me that I had given up.”

But in the bargain, A&M gained something bigger: Hickey’s zeal for administration. As senior woman administrator, she helped the school compete at the highest level in all sports.

In 1999, Hickey became athletic director at the University of Texas, San Antonio, leading the way to unprecedented growth that included the addition of a football team.

Hickey served at UTSA until stepping down last fall.

Women’s basketball has never been better at A&M. Current coach Gary Blair has taken the Aggies to 10 consecutive NCAA Tournaments and won it all in 2011.

Hickey still misses the game.

“I feel that God has a plan for all of us in our lives,” Hickey said. “But I feel I could still run a basketball practice.”