For her entire life, Russie Tighe has given a huge portion of herself to women’s sports.
From pre- to post-Title IX. From when young men played a multitude of sports while young women had few opportunities to compete. And from when boys and men had unfettered access to the gym while girls and women had the gym door slammed in their faces.
Over her 78 years, Tighe has been a teacher, coach and mentor to young women, trying to give them the gift of sports equality.
These days, there is one other aspect of giving that definitely brings a smile to Tighe’s face.
As the organizer of Delta Psi Kappa’s high school scholarship program, she gets to watch smiling girls step up and receive accolades and scholarships for their achievements both in the classroom and sports during an annual banquet ceremony that includes all of Miami-Dade’s schools.
“It’s special,” she said. “You see all the kids and their parents there, and it is rewarding when a parent comes up and thanks you for giving their child the recognition or scholarship they worked so hard for.”
Tighe added, “Many years later a kid who is now an adult comes up to me and says, ‘A long time ago you gave me an award. Thank you.’ ” In fact, one time at the scholarship ceremony a parent approached Tighe and said, “Way back when you gave me an award, now my daughter just got it.”
As a child, Tighe lived in eight different states because her father was an engineer for DuPont who traveled from project to project. Sports was the connector for her.
Tighe remembers playing basketball in high school when the rules were vastly different for girls. There would be six girls on the court and three of them would stay in the backcourt and three in the frontcourt — they were not allowed to cross the midcourt line.
“If a guard was fouled,” Tighe recalled with a chuckle, “a forward had to take the shot. At the time, it did not seem strange to me,” Tighe said. “All I knew was that it was the way it was.”
To compensate, Tighe got her five-on-five basketball experience by going home and playing with the boys in the neighborhood.
Although most schools she attended had fewer than a handful of female sports and some had no varsity sports except for those played by the boys, Tighe played all sorts of sandlot competition — football, baseball, basketball, badminton, volleyball, track and field and hockey. The hockey was played on ice during winter and on bicycles during the summer.
Tighe eventually landed in South Florida to attend the University of Miami.
Following UM, she signed on to teach and coach at Miami Jackson High. She never left the school for more than five decades, serving as mentor, teacher, coach, business manager and becoming the first female athletic director in Miami-Dade.
“Jackson shaped me,” Tighe said. “I saw it when it was a white school. I saw it when it was a black school. And I saw it when it was a Hispanic school. Whatever they were, they were awesome kids. I came from an environment where you have to take people for who they are. I accepted them, and they accepted me.
“I never, never regretted walking through the doors of Jackson High.”
She summed up her life by saying, “I can’t ever remember doing anything that didn’t include sports and kids.”
As for the giving part of her life, both scholarships and of herself, Tighe said, “It has been perfect.”
Perfect for a whole lot of kids, too.
WOMEN’S BEST OF BEST
Here are Russie Tighe’s top five women athletes (both athletically and characterwise):
1. Babe Didrikson Zaharias – Generally considered the greatest female athlete in history with success in golf, basketball, baseball and track and field (two Olympic gold medals).
2. Chris Evert – Tennis player (now tennis commentator) who grew up in Broward County and attended St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale. Won 18 majors, $9 million in prize money and had a 1,309-146 won-lost record.
3. Pat Summitt – Legendary women’s basketball coach at the University of Tennessee, winning 1,098 games and eight national titles. Died in 2016 at age 64 of early-onset Alzheimer’s.
4. Martina Navratilova – Tennis player who, like Evert, won 18 majors. Took home $21 million in prize money. Had a 1,492-219 won-lost record and now lives in Miami.
5. Wilma Rudolph – Overcame pneumonia, scarlet fever and infantile paralysis as a child and went on to win three gold medals as a sprinter in the 1960 Olympics. Called the “world’s fastest woman.” Died of brain cancer at age 54 in 1994.
HELPING THE HELPERS
Here is the information if you want to make a donation to Delta Psi Kappa and its student-athlete program:
Make the check out to Delta Psi Kappa and send to Wendy Wood, Delta Psi Kappa Treasurer, 7711 NW Fourth St., Pembroke Pines, FL 33024.