During a stoppage of first-half play Sunday between the Ohio State women’s basketball team and Purdue, in a game that the Buckeyes would go on to win by 20 points to regain the conference lead, a trailblazing member of the university’s community was honored at halfcourt for her long list of accomplishments.
Clad in a scarlet jacket over top a scarlet-and-white striped shirt, Mamie Rallins, the first African-American female coach at OSU, stepped onto the hardwood at the Schottenstein Center to receive the Phyllis Bailey Career Achievement award.
The award, which was first handed out in 2007, recognizes individuals who have helped uphold the respect of OSU throughout their time at the university while also advancing women’s athletics and upholding the values they learned through athletics.
Rallins, a two-time Olympian in 1968 and 1972, first came to OSU in 1976 to coach the women’s track and field and cross country teams, where she stayed for 18 years. During her tenure at OSU, she served as assistant athletic director, while she also coached a number of decorated athletes. Rallins coached 60 Big Ten indoor and outdoor champions, 24 All-Americans, nine Olympic trial qualifiers and one Olympic qualifier.
The recognition of Rallins brought the true and strong emotions of the involved parties to the forefront. A number of athletes that Rallins coached while at OSU surprised her by coming to the game from all around the country to be present when she received the award.
“A few of my first teams came back from California, Florida, Georgia and whatnot,” Rallins said. “It’s just a warm feeling. When the crowd gave me the biggest cheer, it was exciting.”
Kelly Griffith Shirer, a former team manager under Rallins, said she feels a strong appreciation for what she gained from their time together at OSU.
“Mamie had a profound impact on every athlete that had the privilege of being on the team,” Griffith Shirer said. “She demanded excellence and the most out of all of us. I truly believe it (contributed) to the success of every girl on that team.”
Rallins, with a warm smile spread across her face, spent the time after receiving the award reconnecting and reflecting on her emotions with a number of her former athletes in a suite inside the Schott.
Sherry Humphrey Lambert, a sprinter and long jumper under Rallins, was elated that her former coach is finally receiving the recognition that she deserves.
“When we started in school, women were not offered the same opportunities,” Humphrey Lambert said. “It was nice for her to receive the recognition.”
From the many conversations The Lantern had with her former athletes, it became crystal clear that Rallins represents more than just a coach to them. She represents an instrumental female role model during a time when that wasn’t necessarily commonplace, especially in the world of sports.
“There weren’t a lot of women that were highly visible in leadership roles back in the ‘70s,” said Kim Jacobs, a former hurdler at OSU. “And we were just starting to have opportunities that were brand new.”
While being coached by Rallins, Jacobs learned the ways of the track and how to clear hurdles on it. But, Jacobs said, Rallins inspired her to jump over hurdles off the track when her time racing for the Scarlet and Gray came to an end.
“I went on to seek leadership positions and understood the importance of role modeling because (Rallins) had been there, done that,” Jacobs said.
The award not only brought much happiness to Rallins but to the entire group of girls who rallied around her and helped make her special day even more special.
Stephanie Hightower, a Big Ten champion hurdler and a former Olympian, she said was ecstatic that Rallins finally received recognition for all that she has done.
“I was thrilled and just really grateful for the opportunity to see Mamie recognized for her accomplishments,” Hightower said. “It was also just fun to see people after 30-plus years again.”
Along with the stories of the many other former runners, Hightower said she was inspired by Rallins to attain a strong leadership position. Currently, Hightower is serving as the president of USA Track & Field.
Rallins, based off the way those she coached spoke of her, represents a strong role model for women and someone who worked through adversity to attain a position of respect. The footprint she left on her athletes continues to resonate, Jacobs said.
“You take for granted the impact people have on your life until you have some distance and can reflect back,” Jacobs said. “You can reflect back and say, ‘Wow, that was really a great experience, but (it) also had a big impact.”