Iowa's first paid women's basketball coach Lark Birdsong pays tribute to Christine Grant

Lark Birdsong
Special to the Register

I am filled with gratitude as I cope with the sadness of losing a great friend and colleague. Christine H.B. Grant passed away on December 31, 2021. News of her passing reverberated around the globe as educators, coaches and administrators reminisced on the profound effect she had on the world of girls and women’s sports.

Originally from Scotland, Christine came to the United States in 1968 to pursue a graduate degree. She was shocked at what passed for sports opportunities for women in this country. There was no funding, no uniforms, no paid coaches, no support at all for women’s athletes.

Undaunted, Christine decided to change this. She saw how Title IX would be leveraged to ensure athletic opportunities for women. When Title IX was being written, few thought about its implications on college sports. When it became law in 1972, it mandated gender equity in institutions receiving federal funding.

Christine Grant, left, and Lark Birdsong attend an NCAA Tournament game on March 24, 2019, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

Christine and other leaders testified in the Senate about the opportunities that would be created for women. It took the world of men’s sports by surprise, and many programs reacted by fighting the impending changes. The University of Iowa responded differently. President Sandy Boyd created parallel jobs for men’s and women’s athletics. Reporting separately to President Boyd, Christine and Bump Elliott had identical job titles as directors of their respective programs, responsible for their own hiring, budgeting and administration. Christine and Bump became partners in ushering in this new world; Iowa was seen as a model of Title IX’s intent.

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Leadership for Title IX had its locus in Iowa. Three Hawkeye professors (Christine, Bonnie Slatton and Peg Burke), in addition to other brave women, did the impossible against insurmountable odds. They led a national effort to ensure equal opportunities for women. What we see in intercollegiate athletics today is testimony to their immense effectiveness. And what they created at Iowa is reflected in loyal Hawkeye pride in today’s teams.

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Christine hired me in 1974 as the first paid Iowa Hawkeye women’s basketball coach under Title IX. Current Hawkeye coach Lisa Bluder and I joke we were Christine’s basketball bookends. Building the program in the early years was exciting, phenomenal and rewarding. No one could have imagined what the program would become 50 years later.

A different Scot put it so well:

When we played the game Chronology together, I would answer cards on who created certain inventions. Christine frequently reminded me that “all things great were innovated by Scots!” And yes, this Scot — my friend, Christine — made the commitment, went all in, and created something great.

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Murray ended his quote with a couplet from Goethe: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!”

That very boldness, magic and genius are well articulated in a 1979 video that featured Christine and the early Hawkeye program. The video was produced by then-sports information director Liz Ullman, who had history in mind and the foresight to produce and save this documentary. Its digitized version can be viewed at the top of this story or


But Christine wasn’t just about work. She had extensive families. There were the charming Scottish relatives and the families. Christine was deeply devoted to all the Grants. The devotion was reciprocal and many of them from afar visited over the years. Her mom and dad who preceded her in death; Hugh, (brother), Andrea, Stephanie, Lisa, Christopher and Donald (nieces and nephews) plus their partners, spouses, and children all visited. We loved their wonderful “Scottish accents.” Once, while my daughter and I were visiting Christine’s family in Scotland, I remarked to Christine’s brother Hugh that I loved his accent. He laughed and said, “my dear, it is you who has the accent here!”

Christine’s other family include the Iowa champions for Title IX: Peg Burke and Bonnie Slatton. Together they fought for gender equity and built an allegiance to each other that is deep and abiding. They cared for and supported each other for 50 years. Bonnie and Peg were at Christine's side when she drew her last breath.

I have learned important lessons on living a life of service to others from Christine, Peg and Bonnie and am honored to know them all. I strive to live the life of service and love they have shown me.

Oh how I will miss this Scot. Christine, you have been in my heart for so many years. And oh how lucky I am to know Peg, Bonnie and all the Grants from afar. Thank you for all you have given me.

Lark Birdsong is a former University of Iowa women's basketball coach.