By David Fong
TROY — Being a pioneer doesn’t always pay well.
“I remember coaching job, I was paid $126, and that was for coaching the varsity and junior varsity,” Vicki Felver said. “That’s what I was paid for the season. I was paid $126 for coaching volleyball and then I was paid $126 for coaching track. And then it progressed very rapidly after Title IX was passed, which made all the difference in the world in terms of offering equal opportunities for women.”
The fact remains, however, that Felver’s entire playing career and the start of her coaching career came before the groundbreaking Title IX legislation, which did afford equal opportunities to women in the sports world. Felver at least was able to see conditions for female athletes and coaches improve following Title IX.
That wasn’t the case for her coach and mentor, Hildred Byrkett, who often is referred to as the “godmother of ladies athletics” at Troy, a coach at Troy from 1945-74.
For all the two did to further female athletics at Troy, the two both will be inducted into this year’s Troy Athletic Hall of Fame. Brykett, who passed away in 2006, will be inducted posthumously.
Felver and Byrkett will be two of five inductees into the Troy Athletic Hall of Fame Class of 2018. Joining them will be football/basketball/baseball player Dan Cox (class of 1977), football/basketball player Jason Manson (class of 1997) and football/hockey/track athlete Todd Denlinger (class of 2005).
“I’m not sure if I’m more excited for myself or Hildred Byrkett,” Felver said. “Obviously it’s a tremendous honor. I am looking forward to coming back to town and seeing some people and getting a chance to say thank you for all the did for me.”
Byrkett, no doubt, would be among the first Felver would like to thank.
Byrkett began her coaching career in 1945, long before the Ohio High School Athletic Association officially recognized girls sports at the varsity level.
She coached five different sports at Troy and at least two or three sports every year. All of the funding for the sports came from fundraisers such as car washes and bake sales. She started the girls track and field program at Troy in 1970 and the girls gymnastics program in 1971. She served on the state advisory board forth both track and field and gymnastics in the early 1970s and officiated volleyball after retiring.
“As is usual, I don’t think you always appreciate the people who are right in front of you until you get a little older and can appreciate people in this situations,” Felver said. “She was key in giving young women the chance to compete and play organized sports when they had no place else to go.”
One of those young ladies was Felver, who would go on to have a standout career as both an athlete and coach at Troy.
She played volleyball, basketball and tennis from 1964-68 at Troy. Following her graduation from high school, she went on to play all three sports at Ohio Northern University. She was inducted into the ONU Hall of Fame in 2010.
Following her graduation from Ohio Northern, she returned to Troy High School, where she became a teacher and coach. She coached volleyball for 15 years, going 170-135 and winning two league titles, two district titles and finishing as the regional runner-up once. She also was the girls track and field coach for 11 years, guiding the Trojans to one league title and two sectional/district titles. She also served as an Ohio high school volleyball official for more than 20 years.
Felver said she’s enjoyed watching how far girls athletics have come since her playing days and early coaching days. Troy now fields varsity teams in nearly every OHSAA sport available.
“I’m just excited young girls today have an outlet and an opportunity to develop their skills,” she said. “When I was younger, we didn’t have many of those opportunities. When I competed, I was at a junior varsity, maybe varsity, high school level now. I’m of an era where we played volleyball with eight at a time, not six. We played basketball with six at a time, not five. Girls sports are at a totally different skill level from when I completed.”
She also said she was so honored to be inducted alongside Byrkett that had she had the opportunity to go in before or without her mentor, she’s not sure she would have accepted the opportunity.
“I probably would not have accepted,” Felver said. “I don’t think I would have felt I deserved to go in before her. Hildred would have been 106 years old this year. She was definitely a pioneer. I have heard stories of her telling the superintendent, ‘You need to do this.’ And they would listen to her. She was a very strong-willed woman. She helped me so much. I like to think I helped some girls gain confidence and a love of sports.”
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong