Sept. 20, 2011
MEMPHIS, TENN. -
“Throughout my life I’ve been a competitor... and I’ve loved every minute of it.” These words from Elma Neal Roane, the backbone of women’s athletics at the University of Memphis for more than four decades, exemplify her spirit and devotion to sports. Roane died Monday at the age of 93 after a long illness.
A graduate from Messick High School in Memphis, Roane was an all-star softball and basketball player. Her summer-league softball teams won city and state championships, and she played in three national championships at Soldier Field in Chicago. She won many titles and achieved national ranking in badminton and remained an avid golfer, gardener and fisherman throughout her life.
Roane was associated with the University as a student, athlete, coach, professor and administrator for more than 45 years. She earned her bachelor’s degree in mathematics from then-West Tennessee State Teachers College in 1940. She taught physical education at Treadwell High School for six years and earned a master’s degree from the University of Tennessee. While at Treadwell, she coached the junior high boys’ basketball team, guiding them to a district runner-up finish and a district championship in two seasons.
Roane returned to the University, then called Memphis State College, in 1946. She rose from physical education instructor to assistant athletic director in charge of women’s athletics. From 1955-70 she coached basketball, volleyball and badminton. Throughout her long career, she was a vocal advocate of women’s college athletic programs, overseeing the 1971 hiring of Mary Lou Johns to re-launch women’s basketball at the University. The re-launch of women’s intercollegiate athletics was a major accomplishment for Roane, who did not have the opportunity to compete in varsity sports at the University as women’s sports were dropped prior to 1936, her freshman year.
Roane oversaw a renovation of the fieldhouse in 1978, providing a competitive site for women’s basketball, volleyball and gymnastics. In 1993, University officials honored Roane by renaming the Memorial Gym, home to the women’s basketball and volleyball teams, as the Elma Roane Fieldhouse.
“Ms. Roane deserves the credit for women’s athletics at the University of Memphis,” said U of M President Shirley Raines. “She shaped generations of young women’s lives, and countless young leaders were influenced by her depth of character, determination against great odds, and abiding belief in the power of education to change lives. From school coaching to having a fieldhouse named in her honor, Ms. Roane did not lose her down-to-earth demeanor, straightforwardness and wit. We will miss her very much. On behalf of our current students, faculty and staff and all those she taught, coached and led, our heartfelt sympathies.”
Roane, who divided her time equally as coordinator of women’s athletics and coordinator of the physical education department, oversaw the hiring of the first women’s certified athletic trainer and sports information contact. Her work in the classroom and as an administrator netted a number of awards for Roane, including the Tennessee Association of Health, Physical Education and Recreation Award (1959), Tennessee College of Physical Education Award (1966), Southern District of the Association of Health, Physical Education and Recreation Award (1972), Memphis Park Commission Hall of Fame (1973), Certificate of Recognition by the Tennessee Commission on the Status of Women (1977), and the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators Lifetime Achievement Award (2005).
“Elma Roane was a true champion for women’s athletics, not only at the University of Memphis, but on a nationwide basis as well,” said Athletic Director R.C. Johnson. “She was a leader for equality in athletics and because of her efforts and determination, young women have had more opportunities to excel both academically and athletically at the collegiate level. She will long be remembered as the matriarch of Lady Tiger Athletics.”
Roane was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, the M Club Hall of Fame (its first female inductee) and the Memphis Park Commission’s Hall of Fame for Outstanding Athletes.
Visitation will be in the Elma Roane Fieldhouse Thursday from 4 to 7 p.m. Funeral services will be Friday at 1 p.m. at Memorial Park Cemetery, 5668 Poplar.