Born in 1939 in Walnut Grove in Leake County, Sue Gunter witnessed and contributed to major transformations in American women’s basketball. She became a coach while still in her twenties and spent most of her life coaching women’s basketball at Stephen F. Austin State University and Louisiana State University (LSU).
Gunter started playing basketball as a small child, shooting at a hoop on her family’s farm. Like many young women, she went to a teachers’ college, graduating from Peabody College in Nashville in 1962. While in Nashville Gunter played guard on the Amateur Athletic Union national championship team supported by Nashville Business College.
The fact that Gunter was playing for Nashville Business College while attending Peabody reveals an important reality about women’s basketball in the mid-twentieth century. In the early 1900s, women had played basketball, but college and university administrators discouraged female participation on the grounds that the game was too strenuous, competitive, and unladylike for polite young women. From the 1930s through the 1950s, women’s basketball became a game for working-class people, supported by factories, churches, and vocational schools like Nashville Business College, whose squad played at the city’s YMCA.
Gunter played on an American team chosen to play a team from the Soviet Union in the early 1960s and then became the coach of women’s basketball at Middle Tennessee State University. From there she went to Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, where she coached basketball along with three other women’s sports from 1965 to 1980. Five of her teams reached the playoffs of the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, an organization Gunter helped organize in 1971.
Her success at Stephen F. Austin attracted national attention. Gunter served as an assistant coach for the US Olympic team in 1976, the first year women’s basketball was a medal sport. She became head coach in 1980, when the team did not get to compete because the United States boycotted the games.
In 1983 she moved on to the position of head coach of women’s basketball at LSU, where the women’s teams were known as the Ben-Gals. Renamed the Lady Tigers, Gunter’s teams became a force in the Southeastern Conference. Between 1983 and 2004 LSU posted a 442–221 record. The National Collegiate Athletic Association began holding women’s basketball championships in 1984, and the Lady Tigers participated in fourteen tournaments before Gunter retired. Over this period, women’s college basketball grew dramatically, with increased administrative support, budgets for recruiting and training, attendance, and television coverage.
Gunter received numerous honors, including induction into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and the Mississippi and Louisiana Sports Halls of Fame. She retired in 2004 with a lifetime record of 708–308 and was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on 4 April 2005. She died on 4 August of that year.
- Susan K. Cahn, Coming on Strong: Gender and Sexuality in Twentieth-Century Women’s Sport (1994)
- Pamela Grundy, Learning to Win: Sports, Education, and Social Change in Twentieth-Century North Carolina (2001)
- Rosemary Skaine, Women’s College Basketball Coaches (2001); TigerBait.com website