Title IX: How 1990s success set Martinsville as trailblazer for women's sports in Indiana

·7 min read
Former Martinsville head coach Jan Conner sat with some of her state championship basketball players from 1997 and 1998 during Monday's Basketball Frenzy at John R. Wooden Gymnasium.
Former Martinsville head coach Jan Conner sat with some of her state championship basketball players from 1997 and 1998 during Monday's Basketball Frenzy at John R. Wooden Gymnasium.

Take one glance at the girls' side of the IHSAA's history book in the 1990's, and there's one name that pops up quite frequently.

Martinsville.

The Artesians were sort of ahead of the time, rattling off state title after state title in a variety of girls' sports. In fact, extend the time frame to 2007 and Martinsville claimed 17 state titles in a matter of 16 years, with 11 of those coming between 1990 and 2000.

That's powerhouse level. A modern-day Carmel or Cathedral type success, if you may.

Martinsville's three state titles in three different girls' sports in 1996 marked only the third time a school had accomplished such a feat.

Some programs use an influx of luck, sprinkled in with a mix of great talent, in order to capture a state championship trophy, but with so many titles in a short amount of time, that wasn't the case for the Artesians.

In celebration of Title IX, here's how Martinsville served as trailblazer for women's sports in Indiana during the 90's, bursting onto the seen as the interest in girls' sports started to rise.

Girls' golf goes for eight titles

Before the multi-sport success of the mid-late 90s, Martinsville started its reign on the golf course.

For nearly the entire decade, girls golf in the state of Indiana ran through Martinsville. The eight titles, consisting of one three-peat and a six-peat that extended to 2000, and 10 appearances show for it.

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Even in the two seasons Martinsville didn't win the title, 1990 and 1994, it placed second, losing to rival Bloomington South 371-375 in 1990 and Penn 685-697 in 1994.

Each of those two losses factored in a long wave of determination, guided by two of the state's all-time golfers.

The 1991-93 championship teams were led by Jennifer Gray. Gray captured her first top five finish in the 1991 finals, tying for third with a 162. The next two seasons were all hers, winning back-to-back individual titles, scoring 155 each time.

To this day, Gray holds the largest individual winning margin in state history, defeating the 1993 second-place finisher, Jennifer Seger, 145-158. After Gray's graduation, the Artesians placed second for the first time since 1990, but it didn't last long.

In 1995, Martinsville returned to the top, claiming its fourth state title. The most impressive feat about the win is they didn't have a golfer place top five.

Leigh Anne Hardin won state medalist three times for Martinsville High School.
Leigh Anne Hardin won state medalist three times for Martinsville High School.

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It didn't take long for another star to be born within the program. Leigh Anne Hardin made her rise in 1996, finishing second place at state as a freshman. Hardin proceeded to win three straight individual titles, being one of only two state golfers to do so, as Martinsville rolled to four more team titles during the span, making for a total of eight within the decade. A ninth came in 2000 after Hardin's departure.

Legendary coach Sharon Most's squads put Martinsville on the map within the girls' sports realm. As the years continued, more sports would jump into the fun.

Volleyball claims first title in program history

Along with the rise of the girls' golf program came the Artesians' volleyball team.

While the golf team saw a fairly quick ascension to the top under Most, the volleyball program took some building. The school claimed its first three regional titles in the sport in 1984, 1985 and 1986.

When the new decade began, the Artesians made their first trip to the state finals. Back then, four teams made state, leaving two to duke it out for the championship match. The Artesians were unable to advance to the final match in its first two opportunities in 1990 (37-3) and 1991 (38-2).

It wouldn't be until 1994 when the Artesians got another opportunity after winning the school's third semi-state title. During that span, Martinsville still won regional titles in 1992 and 1993.

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Pitted against Mishawaka, a legacy program, Martinsville walked away successful, only to run into Muncie Burris, who defeated the Artesians in two sets for its seventh title in nine years.

With Muncie Burris out of the picture in 1995, Martinsville faced off against Michigan City in the championship game but fell to the Wolves 2-1. Led by Heather Wright, 1996 ended up being the year for Martinsville, who went 39-3 and defeated Fort Wayne Northrop 2-1 for its first state championship in volleyball.

The success would follow into the winter season where four of the team's players would join yet another championship team.

Girls' basketball makes it back-to-back

Before Jan Conner's arrival at Martinsville during the 1995-96 season, it had been years since the Artesians were looked at as a legitimate threat on the court.

The program had previously won sectional championships in 1976, 1980, 1981 and 1984, but never achieved a regional crown. Conner changed that. In her first season coaching the Artesians, the team was quick to claim its fifth sectional trophy, but ultimately fell short, 76-72, to Ben Davis, who went on to advance to semi-state.

Come the very next year and Martinsville was a team opponents dreaded and fans were excited to watch. Led by the likes of Kristen Bodine, April Traylor and Natalie Rhoden, the Artesians finished the 1996-97 season with a 26-1 record and the program's first state title.

Martinsville High School seniors, from left, Leslie Deaton, Kristen Bodine and April Traylor, celebrate their Tournament of Champions victory at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis Saturday. The Artesians defeated Southridge,74-61. Staff Photo by Mark Hume.
Martinsville High School seniors, from left, Leslie Deaton, Kristen Bodine and April Traylor, celebrate their Tournament of Champions victory at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis Saturday. The Artesians defeated Southridge,74-61. Staff Photo by Mark Hume.

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Center Grove was the only team to slow them, with the Artesians losing 83-80 in the third game of the season.

With essentially the same cast, Martinsville followed it up in 1997-98 with an undefeated, 27-0, record, topping Lake Central in a highly anticipated championship game featuring two nationally ranked teams. The win cemented the legacy of the team, Conner and Martinsville's reign on girls' sports.

The special feat of each of those two Martinsville teams is they were the last team to win classless basketball in Indiana, and the first to win the Class 4A state title, further immortalizing their spot in the history of the sport.

One of the greatest decades in Indiana

Before the influx of titles during the 90s, Martinsville was primarily known for its football program and the school that produced and won state championships with John Wooden and Glenn Curtis in the early portion of the century.

Before 1991, Martinsville had three state titles in its possession. After, it's claimed 17, all in girls' sports. 11 titles within one decade is a difficult feat for any school to replicate, let alone Martinsville.

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Even then, the school followed it up with six more championships, three in girls' golf, two in softball and one in volleyball during the 2000s.

While other schools have had such success in girls' sports, the list is few and far between. The Artesians etched their way into the history of Title IX in Indiana. Some may say they were the essence of it.

Contact reporter Devin Voss at dvoss@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @DevinVoss23.

This article originally appeared on The Reporter Times: Title IX: 90s success set Martinsville as trailblazer for women's sports