Jill Hutchison, 2016 History Makers Honoree
Born March 8, 1945 in The Bronx, New York
A Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee and an internationally respected authority on the game, Jill Hutchison’s first brush with organized athletics was her seventh grade basketball team. But soon after, the self-proclaimed “Army brat” transferred to Germany where she spent three years in a physical education class that featured marching as an appropriate activity for young women. Jill says that disappointing experience would be a motivation for the rest of her career.
By high school, Jill was playing half-court basketball under Coach Elvira “Tiny” Vidano who had graduated from then Illinois State Normal University in 1942. After graduating from the University of New Mexico, Jill says she was inspired by Tiny to enroll as a graduate student at Illinois State University.
The college had started to develop a reputation in the Midwest as having a more progressive attitude toward women in athletics. And though the Redbird playing field wasn’t entirely level at the time of her arrival in 1968, Jill says the opportunities were far beyond those of other universities.The program would flourish and soon become a national leader thanks in part to Jill’s work on and off the basketball court.
As a graduate student, Jill’s research would help disprove the long-held theory that women’s hearts were too weak to play full-court basketball. As part of her study she used electrodes to monitor female basketball players during games and proved to the Women’s Rules Committee that female hearts could stand the stress of competition. She remained a member of the rules committee for 15 years, witnessing both the change from the six-player to the five-player game and the introduction of the smaller basketball for women.
In 1970, Jill was named Illinois State’s head women’s basketball and softball coach. That was two years before Congress approved Title IX, the groundbreaking legislation that requires equal athletic opportunities for women and men in publicly funded schools.
In 1972 Illinois State hosted the first merit-based collegiate national basketball championship for women. The opportunity to direct the tournament opened the door for Jill’s career within the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) as she helped establish the regions and the qualifying process for the tournament that lasted well over a decade and provided the model for the current era of women’s national tournaments.
Jill left campus to earn her doctorate at the University of North Carolina Greensboro in 1973-74. She continued to coach both basketball and softball until 1980 when she became a full-time basketball coach with no teaching responsibilities. She served as interim Athletics Director from 1980 to 1982, overseeing the merger of the men’s and women’s athletics programs in 1981. The women’s basketball team moved from McCormick Gym to Horton Field House and Jill quickly realized there were even more challenges ahead.
“Needless to say, those involved in men’s athletics were not happy campers to have to share resources with the women. This included not only coaches and administrators, but even maintenance personnel,” Jill remembers. “Peace offerings of brownies were often not enough to soften the blow!”
As women’s collegiate programs were absorbed by the powerful NCAA, the AIAW dissolved in 1982. This motivated the formation of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association to provide a voice for coaches of women’s basketball. Jill was again involved in the formative stages, and became the first elected president of the organization. She served two other terms in 1985 and 1992 – the only president elected to multiple terms by her peers. This role also allowed Jill to lobby Congress for enforcement of Title IX.
Jill would become the all-time winningest Redbird basketball coach for both the men’s and women’s programs. Throughout 28 seasons she compiled a 461-323 record.
Hutchison’s teams earned five Gateway Conference titles, seven AIAW state championships, two AIAW national tournaments, seven WNIT appearances, and three NCAA Tournaments. She was a Rawlings Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year in 1985, 1988, and 1996. She also coached internationally as the head coach for USA’s silver-medal team in the 1978 World University games, and the gold-medal winning team at the World University Games in 1983. She served on the USA Basketball Olympic Committee for two Olympiads.
Jill was inducted into the National Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009, and a year earlier Illinois state hung a banner at Redbird Arena honoring her coaching career. She is also a member of the New Mexico Athletics Hall of Fame, the Missouri Valley Conference Athletics Hall of Fame, and was recognized with the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association’s most prestigious Tom “Buzzy” O’Connor Award. Jill has continued to advocate for women’s athletics as a sports broadcaster on TV and radio.
Her commitment to the community off-campus has also been strong throughout her career. Jill is a longtime member of the Bloomington Kiwanis Club and co-chairs the successful Mother’s Day Flower Sale that funds Camp Limberlost for children. She served on the Normal Planning Commission and was the interim director of the Bloomington Normal Convention and Visitors Bureau. Jill is active with the Senior Professionals of Illinois State and First United Methodist Church in Normal, and she was an inaugural member of the Women to Women Giving Circle through the Illinois Prairie Community Foundation. In 2009 she was named the Normal Citizen of the Year.
“The Bloomington-Normal community has been so good to me," Jill says. "My number one goal is to give back to the community."