40 in 40 - Fran Ebert
Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Title IX, wmubroncos.com takes a look at 40 key moments/females in the history of women's athletics at Western Michigan University. Though the selection process, an effort was made to highlight a moment and player/coach from each of our current women's sports programs, as well pay respect to our women's legacy sports. A different feature will be released each of the 40 days, July 24 through Sept. 1.
Softball Head Coach: 1975-1985, Basketball Head Coach: 1964-1982
WMU Athletic Hall of Fame: 1986
MAC Hall of Fame: 1992
National Fast Pitch Coaching Association Hall of Fame: 2000
A member of multiple halls of fame, namesake of WMU's softball field and former head women's basketball and softball coach, few can match the number of young women Fran Ebert impacted. Even fewer could match Fran's love for Western Michigan University.
Ebert took over the women's basketball program in 1964, four years after it was started by Jean Friedel, and eight years before Title IX was passed. Raising the program from its infancy, she coached the sport for 19 seasons (1964-82), the longest tenure in the school history, and guided the Broncos to a 186-113 record. Her teams won three state Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) championships and had three other state runner-up finishes.
In 1975, Ebert started the WMU softball program and would serve as its head coach for 10 seasons, winning 69.9 percent of her games with a career record of 270-116-1.
A pioneer in the sport, WMU dominated the early half of the 1980's, making trips to the AIAW World Series in 1980 and 1981 and the NCAA College World Series in 1982. Ebert also led the Broncos to the first two Mid-American Conference regular season titles in 1983 & 1984, and to the school's first MAC Tournament championship in 1985.
One of Fran's greatest honors was in 1985, when Western Michigan officially dedicated its softball facility on the corner of Stadium and Oliver Streets as Fran Ebert Field. She would be inducted into WMU's Athletic Hall of Fame the following year, and was one of the first three women to be inducted into the MAC Hall of Fame in 1992. A final recognition came in 2000, when she entered the National Fast Pitch Coaching Association Hall of Fame.
Outside of her many accomplishments, Fran will best be remembered for her kindness and compassion.
"When she was coaching, we didn't have all the bells and whistles they have now," said Barbara Burke, current Eastern Illinois Athletic Director, who played both basketball and softball for Ebert from 1976-80.
"With Fran, if people really took a step back and realize what she did for that program, they'd really be amazed -- without expecting anything back. She loved Western Michigan. If I accomplish half of what she accomplished, I'll feel pretty good about myself."
"She was like my mom to me. She was everything to me," said Pat Charity, who played basketball under Ebert from 1976-80 and later was WMU's head women's basketball coach from 1990-97.
"She believed in me more than I believed in myself. A lot of people said I'd never graduate or amount to anything. She never saw that. She was an angel on earth."
Ebert continued her love for Western Michigan through her final days, passing away November 7, 2008, in her home with family and friends.
"The last time I saw her was the week of the (Central Michigan football) game," said WMU Athletic Director Kathy Beauregard. "As I walked out the door, she said, ‘Go beat those Chips.'"
-- quotes from Nov. 7, 2008 Kalamazoo Gazette article contributed to this article