CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Barbara Kelly, a pioneer in the advancement of women’s athletics, passed away this week in her hometown of Garner, North Carolina.
Kelly became Virginia’s first full-time female athletic staff member in 1971 when she was appointed assistant director of intramurals and physical education. One of the driving forces behind the development of a national class women’s athletic program at Virginia, she spent 38 years as a member of the Virginia athletics department staff, retiring in 2009.
After developing a successful intramural and club sports program for women, Kelly was named director of women’s sports and primary senior woman administrator. She worked to bring about the University’s first three women’s varsity intercollegiate teams (field hockey, basketball and tennis) in 1973-74. Kelly coached the first two women’s basketball teams to an overall record of 25-12. Virginia’s women’s intercollegiate athletics program currently features 14 varsity sports. Kelly founded and hosted the first ACC women’s tournament in 1978.
She resigned as women’s head basketball coach at UVA to focus on the continued development of women’s athletics at the University and throughout the ACC and nation. Kelly is one of the co-founders of the University’s Women’s Faculty and Professional Association and was a recipient of its Woman of Achievement Award. Her work in developing women’s athletics has been honored by the University of Virginia Women’s Center, the Atlantic Coast Conference and the UVA athletics department.
As a member of the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators and the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, she served on numerous NCAA, ACC, AIAW, VAIAW, University and athletics department committees. She was a Phi Delta Kappa inductee in 1961 and served the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame as the first woman on its Board of Directors from 1977-79.
Before coming to UVA, Kelly taught in the Norfolk school system for 10 years as a health and physical education teacher, intramural director and camp counselor. She served the Norfolk Recreation Department as a certified referee in basketball, volleyball and softball, and as director of weekend day camp sessions for underprivileged children and director of summer day camp programs. While working as the director of the department’s summer day camp program, Kelly saved the life of a visiting tourist off the shores of the Chesapeake Bay.
Kelly was a four-year letter winner and a team co-captain in basketball at Garner High School. Upon graduation from high school, Kelly was recruited to play semi-professional fast-pitch softball in state and national championship competition in North Carolina and Virginia until 1971. Although she was offered one of the first basketball scholarships in Wake County to Pineland Junior College (1956), she attended Campbell University and played basketball for two seasons prior to transferring to East Carolina University.
Kelly earned her associate of arts degree from Campbell in 1959, a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education from East Carolina in 1961 and a master’s of education degree from the College of William and Mary in 1971. During East Carolina University’s Centennial Celebration in October of 2007, the ECU Women’s Roundtable recognized her outstanding achievements and leadership in sports.
There will not be a public memorial service for Kelly. The family has asked that donations can be made in her honor at the Peak Lab Rescue in Apex, N.C., for those wishing to pay tribute to her.