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Jody Conradt and Fannie Lou Hamer Statues Unveiled
Hanlon Sculpture Studio unveils two statues of women pioneers; Jody Conradt for her impact on The University of Texas at Austin and on women's intercollegiate athletics, and Fannie Lou Hamer for her civil rights leadership and human rights advocacy.
AUSTIN, TX – As a teacher, as a coach, and most importantly as a woman, Conradt has made a permanent and everlasting mark on The University of Texas at Austin.
A seven-foot bronze statue of Conradt’s likeness was unveiled inside the Frank Erwin Center along with an illustrative panel behind the statue that showcases the dynamic life of Conradt.
“It’s just great that we can cap her success off with an in perpetuity symbol to her,” said Chris Plonsky, UT Women’s Athletics Director. “It’s not about the basketball as much as it is about a person who, combined with the vision of this campus and the people on campus, continued to work and foster opportunity for women and higher education, and in our case athletics.”
The statue and exhibit recognizes Conradt’s success as a basketball coach, including her 900 career wins, induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1998, and her undefeated national championship season in 1985-86. The ceremony also promoted the newly repositioned Jody Conradt Opportunity Initiative, and most importantly commemorated Conradt’s leadership and major role in the University’s history since the passing of Title IX.
On June 23 of this year, the Title IX legislation, which prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions, became 40 years old.
In addition to her 31 years as women’s basketball coach at UT, Conradt also served in a dual role from 1992-2001 as women’s athletics director. During that time, Conradt supervised the addition of three women’s sports and led UT through the dissolution of the Southwest Conference and its move to the Big 12.
“Coach symbolizes so much of those opportunities. When they were presented, somebody had to lead it,” Plonsky said. “She did it the right way. She emphasized academics and graduation. She wanted to be excellent in her sport, but she was also about developing young women so they could go on to become whoever they wanted to become.”
Conradt’s gift was how she related to and influenced young women. As Title IX had just passed, she wanted her student-athletes to take advantage of their new opportunities, on and off the basketball court. Conradt’s players boasted a 99 percent graduation rate.
Knowing this and her many other accomplishments, nationally acclaimed sculptor Brian Hanlon, commissioned by The University of Texas to create Conradt’s statue and illustrative panels, was honored to do the job.
“I was very humbled,” Hanlon said. “She is an amazing human being and an amazing woman. She’s the pioneer of women’s sports. I always have to look at subject matter 50 years from now, and 50 years from now I want people to know that Jody Conradt had a 99 percent graduation rate, she was involved in the formation of Title IX, and most profoundly, she had 900 wins. That’s incredible.”
Plonsky was overwhelmed by how close Hanlon’s depiction of Conradt was. “Brian just nailed it. It was hard to get her in a position of coaching, because in coaching you yell a lot, or in her case she stomped her feet a lot in those high heeled shoes,” Plonsky laughed.
Conradt’s statue depicts her grasping a basketball and holding up the oh-so-recognizable “Hook ‘Em Horns” hand signal. There was no better place for the statue than in the Frank Erwin Center. After all, it was her classroom.
“Jody’s always about Texas. She’s so proud to have worked for this University,” Plonsky said. “She is an amazingly composed, tough, smart person. To all the kids’ benefits, look what we have today. Girls in sports like rowing, soccer, and softball will get to come, and it might strike them that their opportunities exist because of a basketball coach. I hope that’s the take away for a lot of people.”
Conradt always believed that if you can see it, you can be it. But growing up playing basketball under male coaches, she had to forge her own path. Now, for women, men, and students alike, a perpetual symbol of Conradt – a winner, a pioneer and a leader – will always be visible in the Frank Erwin Center.
“For all of time in that concourse area, there will be Coach Conradt,” Plonsky said.
Information from John Byczek, Texas Media Relations was used in this report.
Hamer was instrumental in organizing the Mississippi Freedom Summer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and later became the Vice-Chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, attending the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in that capacity.
An eight foot bronze statue mounted on a 4 foot granite base, engraved with images and text of her life, was unveiled at the Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial Garden in Ruleville, MS.
The ceremony was attended by several hundred and included: Mississippi State Senator Willie Simmons, National Black United Fund President/CEO William Merritt, Ruleville Mayor Shirley Edwards, and Hamer’s daughter Mrs. Vergie Hamer Faulkner.
Dr. Patricia Reid-Merritt, Distinguished Professor of Social Work and Africana Studies at the Richard Stockton College of NJ and Chair of the National Committee expressed her appreciation to committee members and Hanlon Sculpture Studio for their commitment and dedication to the completion of the project.
"This has been a very long and arduous journey. All of us were committed to doing whatever was needed to ensure the success of this project,” stated Reid-Merritt. “We wanted to uplift the Hamer legacy. A very small group of scholars and community activists from across the nation worked on this project for the past two years. It's amazing to witness what a small group of dedicated individuals can do. We are overwhelmed and ecstatic to see that this monument to Mrs. Hamer completed and thankful to all who helped make it possible."
Nationally acclaimed sculptor Brian Hanlon of Hanlon Sculpture Studio in Toms River, New Jersey created the statue.
“I have a great interest in creating sculptures of pioneers and leaders in their respective fields, and this statue honoring the life of Fannie Lou Hamer is well deserved and long overdue. It is my hope that this monument will educate and inspire for generations to come.”
A national fund-raising drive by the statue committee to cover the costs of the monument and surrounding area began on February 1, 2010. The ROAR Foundation Inc. had organized the statue committee in October 2009. The fiscal sponsor for the project is the National Black United Fund.