Michigan State University inducted nine Spartans into its Athletics Hall of Fame on Sept. 9. Among the 2022 Hall of Fame Class is Humanities graduate Kathy DeBoer, a former Spartan volleyball and women’s basketball standout.
A product of the Title IX era, it’s fitting that DeBoer’s induction into the MSU Athletics Hall of Fame coincides with the 50th anniversary of its enactment.
“I’ve been a troublemaker on the Title IX front for most of my career so there’s an irony to it,” DeBoer said. “What we always say is never waste an anniversary. Never waste a chance to bring attention to issues, to positive things, but also to things that remain undone. Most of the time Hall of Fame inductions are celebratory events, but this one has some pain points. There are a lot of stories to tell about the early days and what it was like, but what is more important is where we are today and the work that still needs to be done.”
DeBoer spent three years in East Lansing racking up accolades on the court, but they all pale in comparison to her work as an advocate for gender equality across sport. As Executive Director of the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA), a position she has held since 2006, DeBoer continues to fight for women’s rights long after the conclusion of her careers as a player, coach, and athletics department administrator.
DeBoer’s lengthy career in athletics is impressive considering there were few careers in athletics for women at the time of her graduation from MSU in 1978.
“My experience at Michigan State was incredibly influential in shaping my life. A lot of what I remember about Michigan State are the academic experiences I had there, and I still refer to things that I learned.”Kathy DeBoer
“My experience at Michigan State was incredibly influential in shaping my life,” DeBoer said. “A lot of what I remember about Michigan State are the academic experiences I had there, and I still refer to things that I learned. It was a tremendously influential experience, but in terms of shaping my career, there were no careers in athletics for women at the time. I played professional basketball for a couple of years, much to the chagrin of my parents who had been waiting for me to grow out of this obsession with sports and transition into a productive adult. They had no vision that this would ever happen in sports and neither did I.”
Spartan Athlete Career
Although she started her intercollegiate career at Calvin College, DeBoer quickly made her mark as a multi-sport athlete for the Spartans.
Her name still ranks among the greats in the Michigan State University women’s basketball record book. DeBoer’s 9.3 career rebounds per game is fourth best in program history and her 17-career double-doubles ranks No. 14 all-time despite playing just two seasons with the team. During the 1976-77 season, she led the Spartans in field goal percentage, free throw percentage, rebounds, and assists. Her 10.2 rebounds per game in 1976-77 is still the eighth best individual rebounding season in program history.
Alongside Jill Prudden, DeBoer was named co-captain prior to the 1977-78 season, the first season that captains were recorded for the program. DeBoer earned team MVP honors following the 1977-78 season and was a finalist for the first ever Wade Trophy, presented annually to the best player in collegiate women’s basketball by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association. Over the course of her career, DeBoer helped the women’s basketball team to a 44-13 record along with a 17-2 mark in Big Ten play.
DeBoer was inducted into the Michigan State Athletics Hall of Fame alongside her former coach, Karen Langeland, who led the women’s basketball program for 24 years from 1976-2000 prior to a 12-year career as an Associate Athletic Director at MSU.
“Her legacy is so significant,” DeBoer said. “She was there in the early days of Title IX and saw many changes in women’s athletics throughout her time. From no scholarships to having scholarships, from no Big Ten to playing in the Big Ten Conference, from no organized recruiting to seeing recruiting become a marketplace. With the number of the things she negotiated, I thought, ‘well it’s about time.'”
As a member of the volleyball team in 1975 and 1976, DeBoer helped lead the team to an 82-13 record along with a pair of Big Ten titles and two trips to the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) national tournament. MSU took ninth in 1975 and seventh in 1976, with DeBoer earning team MVP honors following the 1976 season.
Following her graduation from MSU, DeBoer was selected by the Minnesota Fillies in the fifth round of the Women’s Pro Basketball League draft, playing two seasons as a starting forward.
Collegiate Coaching Career
In 1980, DeBoer began her collegiate coaching career at Ferris State where her volleyball teams compiled a record of 107-64 and won two Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championships. During her tenure with the Bulldogs (1980-84), DeBoer won three consecutive GLIAC Coach of the Year honors.
In 1984, DeBoer left Ferris State to become the Head Volleyball Coach at the University of Kentucky, a position she held through 1992 before moving into administration as an Associate Athletics Director at UK. DeBoer’s teams went a combined 209-97 over nine seasons as her stint as head coach saw the Wildcats equal the then-best NCAA finish in program history, fifth in 1987.
Under DeBoer’s guidance, Kentucky went to four NCAA tournaments, claimed two SEC regular season titles, and won two SEC Tournament championships. The 1987 season saw her claim both SEC and National Coach of the Year honors. After her move into sport administration, DeBoer rose to the title of Senior Associate Athletics Director prior to taking her current position as Executive Director of the AVCA. In 2009, DeBoer was inducted in the University of Kentucky Athletics Hall of Fame.
MSU Awards and Honors
DeBoer was awarded the Dr. Nell Jackson Outstanding Alumna Award in 1989, presented annually to a Spartan alumna whose career has been distinguished not only by outstanding professional accomplishments, but also by an exceptional record of community service. Jackson was a significant role model for DeBoer in the early stages of her career and continues to be now.
In her MSU Hall of Fame acceptance speech, DeBoer said, “I hope as I go on with my life and career that I will continue to seize opportunities and not be afraid of challenges, that I will always be dedicated to providing opportunities for other women in athletics, and that I will continue to fight for opportunities for women and will stay committed to the goal of equity.”
Now 33 years later, DeBoer has lived up to that standard. However, there’s still much more work to be done.
(Originally published by MSU Athletics. Read the full article with the complete list of 2022 MSU Athletics Hall of Fame inductees.)