Janice Shelton was one of six women in the country to be athletic director for both men and women when she was appointed to that position at East Tennessee State University in 1990.
She retired from the job in 1995. But during her time in ETSU athletics, which began in 1968, she saw marked change in women’s sports and even had influence on the development of women’s athletics at a national level.
“I was hired as probably the first women’s basketball coach, and I say it that way because we had not hired them before,” Shelton said. “They had just been on the staff and they really had women’s basketball as an extramural kind of activity.”
She remembered one game in particular against Joan Cronin’s team from the University of Tennessee at Martin in 1972. Pat Summit was a player on that team. ETSU won the game, played in the lower level gym of Brooks Gym.
“That was where we had to put our foot on the wall to bring the ball in bounds,” Shelton said laughing, adding that lower level was referred to as the “pit.” “It was a unique experience to be coaching like that.”
Cronin is now women’s athletic director at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
Every few years Shelton’s role changed in what she called a unique experience at ETSU. After six years of coaching, she went to get her doctorate degree in sport psychology.
She recalled the mini dome, now named the ETSU/Mountain States Health Alliance Athletics Center, being built in the mid-1970s.
“I was the first ticket manager when the dome opened,” Shelton said. “That was a funny experience.”
It was funny because there were no turnstiles, so there was no efficient way to manage where people went and how many were going there. Shelton said the dome’s west side filled up and people had to be directed the east side, which was accessed via a convoluted path.
In 1977, she was asked to be assistant athletic director and was made associate athletic director in 1980 by President Arthur DeRosier.
“My first assignment was to take women’s sports into the athletic department, because we were not part of athletics,” Shelton said.
Up until that time, women’s sports at ETSU was mainly relegated to intramural status. That was the case at most schools.
In 1980, the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women sponsored regional and national championships for women’s sports. Shortly thereafter, the NCAA absorbed women’s athletics, because it was proven that women’s sports could be profitable, Shelton said.
“It really was an interesting history,” Shelton said.
As part of her task to bring women’s athletics into a rightful program, Shelton was sent to conferences across the nation.
“So I was exposed to a lot and given a lot of opportunities to have an impact, really, on the beginning of college women’s sports at that level.”
Upon leaving ETSU in 1995, she began working with the U.S. Olympic Committee and worked the 1996 summer games in Atlanta.
Her time at ETSU was not finished, though. She returned until 2003 as associate dean at the College of Education, teaching part time, as well.
She still works, though. Her current role is as minister of senior adults at Central Baptist Church.
“I just can’t stop working,” Shelton said.