This week, The562’s coverage is sponsored by Long Beach Gives. Visit LongBeachGives.org to find your cause! Donations will be accepted through Sept. 22.
The562’s coverage of Long Beach Wilson Athletics is sponsored by Joel Bitonio, Class of 2009.
Many Long Beach sports fans know the story of how Billie Jean King elevated herself to international tennis stardom despite not being able to compete at Long Beach Poly High School.
Not a lot of fans know about people like Gayle Godwin. She also wasn’t able to compete in tennis at Wilson High because she was there before the passing of Title IX in 1972– the federal law that supported the inclusion of female sports. In fact, Godwin learned to play tennis with her family at the Recreation Park courts that would one day be renamed for Billie Jean King.
She never played tennis for her alma mater, but Godwin got her recognition last Friday at halftime of the Wilson football game when she and three other former female Bruins student-athletes were inducted into the Athletics Hall of Fame to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX.
“It was great,” said Godwin, who is Class of 1969. “Some really good friends have stayed in Long Beach and it was really fun to see them. There was a lot of energy and it was fun to meet the girls’ tennis team. It’s so nice to see women being able to compete in tennis in high school.”
The ceremony included a long reception line of current Wilson students and athletes who cheered each inductee. Godwin went last while former Wilson athletic director Jeff Evans took the mic and explained the importance of her induction.
“In 1969 female Bruins couldn’t participate in most sports, but in 1972, 37 words changed everything,” Evans said before reading a portion of Title IX. “’No person in the United State shall, or on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under ay education program or activity receiving federal assistance.’”
Cecilia Noel, Mackenzie Hill and Glennis Seldon were honored before Godwin took her walk down the tunnel of Bruins in front of a huge home crowd.
“Well (Glennis Seldon) went before me and she danced down the line,” Godwin said. “So my first thought was, ‘Well, I’m going to be boring.’”
Godwin added that seeing the current female Bruin student-athletes was a highlight of her night.
“I wasn’t expecting that at all, but it was a nice feeling,” Godwin said. “It seemed like such a distant part of my life, but it was really to honor the things I’ve done after high school. (During the ceremony) I had memories of the different teams I coached. I was just enjoying the moment and being really appreciative that Wilson honored me. It was really great.”
Godwin grew up in Long Beach as a swimmer who was part of Junior Olympics teams, or as she jokes, “I grew up with green hair.”
The social aspect of tennis won Godwin over in middle school, and the sport was already a big part of her life. The Godwin family would play with other local Long Beach families on the weekend at Recreation Park, and then go back to one of their houses for a BBQ.
As for not being able to play tennis at Wilson, Godwin remembers not even thinking about it because, “It was never an option, we just never had a choice.”
Godwin was part of the UCLA women’s tennis team all four years as a non-scholarship student-athlete while studying clinical psychology. She quickly found a job coaching tennis with the USA National Team, and returned to UCLA to coach the Bruins. She was there as Title IX expanded women’s athletics, and led UCLA to a National Championship. Godwin eventually became the US Olympic Women’s Tennis coach in 1984. She now lives in Colorado where she recently retired from teaching tennis lessons in Aspen to people from all over the world.
Before Godwin was awarded her Hall of Fame plaque and commemorative varsity letter, Noel, Hill and Seldon got their moments of recognition.
Noel (Class of 1994) was a record triple jumper at Wilson, and went on to set records and win championships at the University of Southwestern Louisiana.
Hill (Class of 2003) was a three-time member of the USA track and field team as a 400 hurdles runner. She set national high school records, then qualified for the London and Rio Summer Olympics.
Sheldon (Class of 2003) is a current coach at Wilson after being a Moore League champion cross country runner as a Bruin.
Godwin made sure to thank Wilson administrators and teachers Erin Fekjar, Ted Hollister, Maggi Twinem, Fredia Rhodes, Jeff Evans, CJ Brewer, Neil Nelson and Nick Medina for organizing the Hall of Fame ceremony.