August 10, 2017
I am often asked, "What makes Auburn such a special place?" The answer is always simple and straightforward. Auburn is special because of its people.
This year we celebrate 125 Years of Women at Auburn, a milestone that has allowed me to reflect on some of the great female student-athletes who have left their mark on Auburn University and the communities they serve.
In 1897, just five years after Auburn first admitted women, female students competed in intramurals in track and field and gymnastics.
More than a hundred years ago, Auburn women formed our first basketball team in 1915, a forerunner to the program Vickie Orr, Ruthie Bolton and Carolyn Jones would lead to three straight Final Fours 75 years later.
Leah Rawls Atkins, Reita Clanton, Sandra Newkirk, Susan Nunnelly, Jane Moore, Joanna Davenport, Barbara Camp, Kim Evans. They are some of the pioneers who laid the foundation on which our female student-athletes compete and excel today.
While it would be nearly impossible to chronicle the achievements and impact of every Auburn female student-athlete, we selected at least one from each of our women's sports teams as examples of those who represent the ideals that Auburn stands for.
The stories of these Auburn women are motivational, aspirational, and inspirational for young and old alike. I hope you can find the time to read each of their stories. They will remind you of the values that bond the Auburn Family.
Storytelling is so important. It reminds us of who we are and who we aspire to be as a people. I hope you will share these stories with your children and grandchildren. And most importantly, I hope you will take the time to tell someone your Auburn story. It is special. And it matters.
125 Years of Auburn Women
They are coaches, doctors, professional athletes, advocates. They are wives and mothers. They are SEC champions and national champions. Their stories are as different as the sports they played. But there is one bond that unites them. They are all great Auburn women.
'HOW COULD I NOT GO?' - SARAH WENTWORTH'S JOURNEY: SEC GYMNAST OF THE YEAR, VETERINARIAN, MISSIONARY IN AFRICA
As an Auburn gymnast, Sarah Wentworth experienced the full emotional spectrum -- jubilation and devastation -- in the same week.
The SEC's Gymnast of the Year in 2000, Sarah Wentworth became a veterinarian before serving as a missionary in Uganda.
'I COULD MAKE AN IMPACT' - MARGARET HOELZER: NCAA CHAMPION SWIMMER, OLYMPIC MEDALIST, CHILD ADVOCATE
A high school swimming star in Huntsville, Ala., Margaret Hoelzer knew Auburn was the school for her even before her official recruiting visit.
'YOU LEARN TO TAKE CARE OF EACH OTHER' - DEWANNA BONNER, WNBA CHAMP CREDITS AUBURN
With one quick glance at Auburn's record book, one name stands out among all others. DeWanna Bonner, now of the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury, played for Auburn from 2005-09, leaving her mark all over the program.
'WHERE I WANTED TO BE ' - EQUESTRIAN'S JESSICA BRASWELL
Jessica Braswell, associate head coach for Auburn's equestrian program, feels fortunate that her career has brought her back to her alma mater. Although Braswell came from a divided household in which her mom went to Auburn and her dad went to Alabama, Auburn's promising equestrian program made for an easy choice for Jessica.
'GET IT DONE' - FORMER AUBURN GOLFER CYDNEY CLANTON SHINES ON LPGA TOUR
Cydney Clanton, one of Auburn most decorated women's golfers, is enjoying her most successful season yet on the LPGA Tour. A three-time All-American at Auburn, Clanton has earned three of her four career top 10 finishes in 2017 on her way to season earnings of $162,082 in 14 tournaments.
'IT PREPARED ME IN SO MANY WAYS' - OLYMPIC MEDALIST KERRON STEWART
National champion. Three-time Olympic medalist. Auburn woman. Kerron Stewart's accomplishments are many. When Stewart arrived on the Plains from Jamaica, she knew her decision to become an Auburn Tiger was the right one, thanks to support from Auburn's coaching staff.
GOING PRO: FORMER AUBURN SOCCER STAR JULIE KING
While Auburn's soccer team was advancing farther than ever last fall, former Tigers Julie King, and her sister, Caitlin, followed the action from their home in St. Louis. "That was a really cool experience for us," says Julie of Auburn's first run to the Elite Eight. "We would have a group text going on with our former teammates from Auburn. We all keep in touch. Everyone was so excited and cheering the team on.
'FOREVER THANKFUL' - AUBURN SOFTBALL CHARTER MEMBER CHRIS STEINER-WILCOXSON
Chris Steiner-Wilcoxson's success as an Auburn student-athlete continued in her coaching career. Steiner-Wilcoxson's time at Auburn was full of firsts—she was a starter for Auburn's inaugural softball team in 1997, recording the first home run in Tiger history. After graduating from Auburn, her career has taken a similar trajectory.
'BEST CHOICE I'VE EVER MADE' - FORMER AUBURN SWIMMING CHAMPION MAGGIE BOWEN
Maggie Bowen chose Auburn before any championships had been won. When Bowen decided to attend Auburn, the Tigers' swimming program was known mainly for its men's success. After years of sacrifice and hard work, Bowen led Auburn to back-to-back women's national championships in 2002-03, helping change the narrative about Auburn's women's swimming program.
'THEY MADE ME FEEL LIKE FAMILY' - JACKIE KASLER'S JOURNEY FROM AUBURN TENNIS TO VET SCHOOL
When Jackie Kasler took her official visit to Auburn during her final year of high school, one thing stood out. "The nicest people on earth live in Auburn," Kasler said. "On my official visit, I was just like, 'I like it here.'" The Auburn Famlily sold Auburn to Kasler, and the rest was history.
'WOULDN'T TRADE THEM FOR THE WORLD' - VOLLEYBALL'S JAUNELLE WHITE FONDLY REMEMBERS AUBURN YEARS
For Jaunelle (Hamilton) White, the decision to come to Auburn was easy. "Going back to my official visit, I knew that was a place I wanted to be," White said. "I told my father when we came from the trip that I was pretty certain I was going to Auburn. Lots of tradition, the campus, the student body and the support, it doesn't get much better than that."
'THE MOST AWESOME THING' - REITA CLANTON'S OLYMPIC MEMORIES
In today's Olympic Games, most of the athletes vying for a spot on the podium grew up devoted to their sports, spending time and resources to improve their craft, often training under the best coaches or with the best teams available. However, that wasn't always the case for those who wore the uniform with "U.S.A." proudly displayed across the front. For one former Auburn athlete, she feels fortunate that she was able to find a way into organized sports at all, let alone go on to become an Olympian.
THE PERFECT FIT' - SOCCER STAR KATY FREELS RECALLS AUBURN SUCCESS
During her time as an Auburn Tiger from 2008-11, Katy (Frierson) Freels excelled in both athletics and academics. Not only was Freels a two-time All-American, she also received the Leah Rawls Atkins Award and was named the SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year her senior year. Raised in Homewood, Ala., in a family of Alabama fans, Freels did not grow up dreaming of going to Auburn. However, her relationship with Auburn soccer coach Karen Hoppa from the Olympic Development Program persuaded Freels to take a campus visit.
My friend Dr. Leah Rawls Atkins, the first woman to earn a doctorate in history from Auburn and the first woman inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, says adding female students in 1892 made Auburn better because it allowed the university to reflect better our culture. And that is true on so many levels. In fact, this series of stories touched me like no other. Maybe it is because I am the father of three wonderful daughters. Or, maybe it is because I love Auburn so much and these stories of incredible Auburn women remind me why.
God Bless and War Eagle!
You can also follow me on Twitter at @jayjacobsauad.