by Doug Ireland
While you enjoy March Madness, it’s neat to consider one of Cenla’s own has handprints all over it.
As a result of that impact, and much more accomplishment that has influenced college basketball, Pineville native, Sue Donohoe, is once again reaping national acclaim.
Three years after she became the first female winner of the Dave Dixon Louisiana Sports Leadership Award and was inducted in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in Natchitoches, Donohoe will enter the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville this summer. The national honor was announced in February.
It recognizes her transformational role in major college NCAA women’s basketball. She was a visionary leader elevating the sport’s profile. During her dozen years (1999-2011) with the NCAA, Donohoe was the point person for Division I women’s championship, and, oh, by the way, concurrently became the first woman in charge of the men’s NCAA Tournament for a few years.
One independent measure of her clout: The Chronicle of Higher Education cited her among its “Top 10 Most Powerful People in College Sports.” Not just women’s basketball … College sports.
Donohoe grew up “putting up shots until dark” on a basket in the driveway of her home in Pineville, the game a part of her life “since as long as I can remember,” she said.
She launched her career as a graduate assistant coach alongside women’s hoops legends, Leon Barmore, Sonja Hogg, Gary Blair and iconic players, Kim Mulkey, Pam Kelly, Janice Lawrence and Angela Turner at Louisiana Tech. When Blair got his first head coaching post at Stephen F. Austin, he brought her on board, and took her with him in a move to Arkansas. Ultimately she coached high school and college basketball for 10 years, then moved into administration, first with the Southland Conference as an associate commissioner, then with the NCAA.
Acclaimed Shreveport scribe Teddy Allen, writing about Dohonoe in the run-up to her 2017 LSHOF induction, framed her most noteworthy contributions perfectly:
“Two snapshots taken 20 years apart encapsulate the scope of the impact of Donohoe.
“She was a graduate assistant coach of the first NCAA women’s basketball champion, the 1982 Lady Techsters. Total attendance for the Final Four was around 7,000; a ticket for the whole thing set a fan back 10 bucks.
“Now go to the 2002 Women’s Final Four in the Alamodome and see Donohoe, three years into her 12-year run as the NCAA’s Vice President for women’s basketball, standing center court and, preparing to make a presentation, beaming as she looked around at 29,619 fans.
“ ‘That night was one of the most telling things for me about the impact of Title IX,’ said Donohoe, who has retired to East Texas, a pond, a fishing pole and maybe, (Texas A&M women’s coach Gary) Blair suggests, the occasional Coors Light. “ ‘ I’ll never forget that number — 29,619 — for as long as I live. I stood there and thought, ‘We’ve come so far. But we’ve still got a long way to go.’ ”
When she arrived in Ruston as a freshman, Donohoe had eyes on a medical career. During her sophomore year, she realized she loved the game too much to leave it, and set sights on teaching and coaching.
Forty years later, she’s being recognized as one of her favorite game’s all-time greats.
No doubt about it. The Sue fits.