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Sometime this week, Becky Hammon will interview to be the head coach of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks.

Diane Hanson, a retired coach and teacher who lives in Burlington, remembers a time when girls weren’t even allowed to play high school sports.

“As I was growing up, there weren’t any real opportunities for sports for girls,” said Hanson, who was raised near Madison, attended college in Platteville, and spent almost four decades in Barneveld and Burlington making sure girls got into the game.

Hanson blazed a trail for many young women who simply wanted to play sports. She coached teams, organized leagues, cajoled school administrators, persuaded state officials and worked tirelessly to level the playing fields.

“She was very instrumental in starting a lot of girls athletics,” Barneveld athletic director Randy Gabel said. “She had to fight for us, for opportunities.”

In honor of her pioneering accomplishments, Hanson, who retired from Burlington in 2004, was inducted into the Barneveld Athletic Hall of Fame in January.

“For me the honor was not so much about winning as it was setting the stage and giving opportunity to the girls,” Hanson said.

A different time

Growing up, Hanson’s athletic opportunities were scarce.

Hanson is from Iowa County, Wisconsin, just west of Madison. Her family of seven ran a feed mill, then a bar, then a bowling alley. All of the Hansons were athletes: football, baseball, softball, bowling, you name it. Her dad is a hall of fame bowler in Madison.

When she was 11 years old, Hanson joined a community softball team in the unincorporated farming town of Jonesdale, where she was coached by a man named Art James.

“He was kind of my role model and hero,” Hanson said.

The team would pile into James’ truck and drive across southeastern Wisconsin for games. Hanson likened it to today’s travel leagues, just with cheaper uniforms and less trustworthy gloves. Even though she was technically too young for the team, Hanson was good enough for James to take notice.

But in high school and college, Hanson saw her athletic career dry up because were no teams available for females. Still, she kept active through recreational sports while studying physical education at UW-Platteville. She also would work as a summer lifeguard to earn extra money.

In 1970, she got hired at Barneveld High School, 30 miles west of Madison. There, she became the advisor of the school’s first Girls Athletic Association.

Hanson comprised basically the entire female athletic staff at the outset. She coached basketball, tennis, track, golf, volleyball, poms pons and bowling over the next six years. At the same time she taught physical education and led the Key Club.

Hanson would often drive players home from practice so they could start their nightly chores at their family farms — just like James did for her.

Hanson scheduled all the games herself before 1972, when she helped organize a conference for the Barneveld girls teams.

“We put Barneveld on the map,” she said. “I had just about every girl in the school involved.”

Despite the popularity of the programs, Hanson’s compensation was a lot less than what male coaches were getting.

Male coaches at the time were paid $500 per season; Hanson only made $125 total for her coaching; that wasn’t much, even in 1970. A petition to the school board aiming to balance the scales was rejected. An appeal cited the recently passed Title IX civil rights law, intended to guarantee equal rights for men and women at schools and athletics.

Then the school board moved to not renew Hanson’s contract. In reaction, concerned parents, student-athletes and an undaunted Hanson presented their concerns. The school board quickly took note of the unified resistance. “They thought this wasn’t such a good idea,” Hanson said.

Still, Hanson left Barneveld in 1976. She didn’t want to stir the pot anymore.

A few years later, Barneveld hired one of Hanson’s former students, Jim Myers, as its girls basketball coach.

Myers, now retired, holds the state record for most coaching wins in high school girls basketball with 699. He led six Barneveld girls teams and one boys team to Division 5 state championships. That success probably wouldn’t have been possible without Hanson. She was one of the people who persuaded the WIAA to start hosting girls state basketball tournaments in 1976.

Myers remembered Hanson having earned the reputation of being an “agitator” during his high school years. But she was “really just fighting for equality,” Myers said. “(Hanson) was a radical at the time ... Other people were catching up,” Myers said. “She was the boss. She had a lot of respect from the girls.”

Becoming a Demon

In 1976, Hanson moved to Burlington High School, where she coached basketball, track and field, and golf. She was named coach of the year by the Burlington Standard Press for the 1976-77 basketball season. The team finished 9-9, but had been riding a 26-game losing streak from the two previous seasons.

She also helped establish the school’s first WIAA co-ed bowling team with Merril Draper at Towne and Country Lanes, 264 S. Pine St., Burlington. Five of Hanson’s players (Sue Schenning, Debra Boulden, Gayle Winkler, Donna Cerwin, Peggy Meinel) have already been enshrined in Burlington’s Wall of Fame.

Hanson always kept working on her coaching prowess. She attended many camps and often paid for them out of her own pocket, including one with the legendary University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summit. Hanson also earned post-graduate degrees in education from UW-Whitewater and in counseling from UW-Milwaukee.

Now 71 and retired since 2004, Hanson keeps herself busy around town. She became a substitute teacher — third graders were a new challenge, she said — volunteers at the Transitional Living Center and Meals on Wheels, mentors confirmation candidates at Plymouth Church, and still hits the links with the Vagabond Ladies Golf League.

She’s modest about her pioneering past, and shies away from most publicity. When The Dodgeville Chronicle newspaper featured Hanson in full-page story, she “was embarrassed to show it to a few people.”

She’s the same way about her extraordinary career of helping girls in sports — moving them from the sidelines to the field and from the field to the coaching ranks and beyond.

“I’d done what I had done,” she said.

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Adam Rogan (St. Catherine's '14, Drake University '17) has been covering homelessness, arts & culture, politics and business for the JT since March 2018. He enjoys mid-afternoon naps and loud music played quietly.

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