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Kitty Baird, pioneer of women’s athletics at Centre, passes away

Posted by Centre News in Athletics, News 11 Mar 2014

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The Centre community was saddened Monday upon learning of the passing of Kitty Baird, one of the College’s most beloved figures.

Baird (right) arrived at Centre in 1959 and was a fixture on campus for more than 50 years. She is credited with establishing women’s varsity athletics at Centre and served in many roles, including as a coach, professor and administrator.

“Without question, Centre College would not be the institution it is today without the impact of Kitty Baird,” said Brad Fields, Centre’s Director of Athletics. “She was a true pioneer, a champion, of women’s athletics – not just at Centre – but throughout the state and nation.”

IM000001786Baird had a hand in developing nearly every women’s varsity program at Centre, having either coached or organized teams in basketball, field hockey, tennis, softball and volleyball. She also served on the NCAA’s Tennis Selection Committee, Basketball Rules Committee, and Division III Restructuring Committee.

Baird had a lasting impact beyond Centre as well, helping promote women’s athletics on the state and national level. She served as president of the Kentucky Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance and was a founder of two collegiate women’s athletic conferences. She also authored a book in 2001, Women Athletes Blazing a Trail, about the history of women’s athletics at Centre.

Baird received several honors over the years, including being named the Outstanding Administrator of the Year and receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Association for Women Athletic Administrators. She also received KAHPERD’s highest honor, the W. Walter Mustaine Award, as well as the Kentucky Pathfinder Award.

“Kitty was a great mentor, colleague and friend,” said Gina Nicoletti, Centre’s Associate Director of Athletics and Senior Woman Administrator. “She played a vital role in the passing and implementation of Title IX and blazed the trail for girls and women in sports, not only at Centre College but across the nation. She had a significant impact on Centre athletics as well as those who were blessed with the opportunity to work with her. She will be greatly missed, but her impact will be felt forever.”

In addition to her work with varsity athletics, Baird also served as a professor of physical education and an associate director of athletics at Centre. She retired in 2000, but remained involved at the school for the rest of her life. During that time, she left an impression on nearly everyone she crossed paths with, and earlier this year the College honored her with the naming of the Kitty Baird Society for those who give to the Praying Colonels Athletic Fund. She was the only living person to receive the honor.

“I was blessed to have been a student at Centre, working in the athletic department, during the twilight of her career,” Fields continued. “I got to know Kitty as an administrator, and also as a professor. My lasting impression, even above her gentle but serious demeanor, was her amazing moral compass that guided her through some challenging landscapes.

“Kitty stands with a select few icons at the top of Centre’s illustrious athletic history. She has had a profound impact on any number of our current coaches and staff, and I am most grateful for the trail she blazed, allowing my two young daughters to know nothing but access and opportunity – not inequity.”

Baird has contributed to the community significantly outside of athletics as well, and was very active in Habitat for Humanity. She served as president of the Boyle County chapter and was active internationally as well, contributing to projects on every continent but Antarctica.

Her visitation will be Wednesday from 4-7 p.m. at Lexington Avenue Baptist Church, and the funeral is Thursday at 11 a.m., also at Lexington Avenue Baptist Church. Baird’s obituary can be found here.

By Matt Montavon, sports information director for Centre Athletics

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