HAGERSTOWN —Chris Weller will never put a price on her career.
From her perspective, it has had inherent value, which is something she knew from the start.
“There weren’t many opportunities when I got started,” Weller said. “When I told my dad what I wanted to do, he told me that I ‘was committing financial suicide.’ I said I was never in it for the money.”
Chris Weller is best known for putting the University of Maryland women’s basketball program on the map. She has stacks of honors and accomplishments from her 27 years on the Terrapins’ bench.
But, she didn’t work for dollars. She worked for change.
Weller could be considered one of the pioneers in women’s basketball and, more importantly, in the progression of women’s sports. She stands on the same level as former Tennessee coach Pat Summit as a driving force behind the advancement of women’s sports.
But since retiring in 2002, she just stands a little in the background.
It hasn’t taken away any of the passion for the cause, nor the main focus of it.
“I’m from Maryland … Surrattsville,” Weller said Wednesday before speaking to the Hagerstown Community College Hawk Booster Club kickoff picnic for basketball season at Applause Caterers in Hagerstown. “When I went to Maryland, there were no opportunities for students. When I got on a team, it wasn’t like the men’s teams, but it was a team.”
It might have been when Weller had a vision of what the future could hold.
She lettered four times in basketball with the Terps and participated in swimming and lacrosse. After graduating and teaching in Silver Spring, Md., for a couple of years, Weller decided to take time off to go back to Maryland for her master’s degree.
Everything came together and is still going to this day.
“An opportunity opened up,” she said. “I felt it. I lived it. I wanted to create opportunities — teams for women. I was staying to make opportunities for women in the state of Maryland.”
Weller assumed the Maryland coaching position in 1975, raising the Terrapins to great heights in an activity that wasn’t widely accepted just yet.
Weller’s teams won 499 games, went to three Final Fours — advancing to the NCAA championship game in 1993 and 1997 — eight Elite Eights and 10 Sweet 16s.
She developed 28 international players, five Olympians, three Kodak All-Americans and six WNBA players. One player, who crossed all four of the categories, was Vicky Bullett, who is starting her first year as HCC’s women’s basketball coach.
And Weller has numerous coach of the year honors to go with inductions into the Women’s Basketball, Maryland Women’s Basketball and the University of Maryland halls of fame.
But to Weller, the personal accomplishments pale in comparison to the strides made in women’s athletics over the years. And yet, there is much more to accomplish.
The advent of Title IX — the Equal Opportunity in Education Act created in 1972 — helped give legs to the movement. It also created a call to arms on the Maryland campus.
Weller credits late Maryland athletic director Jim Kehoe for helping to give women’s athletics some traction for equality.
“I was there when Title IX started,” Weller said. “(Jim) embraced it. He said that if women were going to have programs at the University of Maryland, he wanted them to be on the same level as the men. He wanted excellence.”
Still, Weller said she knew she had to take a realistic approach to the process.
“It took us so long to get the push going, so we knew it would take time to get there,” Weller said. “We didn’t want to have lower revenue teams cut for the women’s program. That wouldn’t be fair. We knew it would take time. We just kept pushing and pushing and appreciated the opportunity.”
Since the creation of Title IX, women’s athletics have come a long way. It has a foothold in today’s society and is recognized in the athletic mainstream.
But still more needs to be done to give women’s athletics true equality.
“It’s been 40 years since the creation of Title IX and it gets challenged every fourth year,” Weller said. “We can’t let it slip away. It’s far too important. There are far too few women in administrative positions who have the power in the decision making. I’d like to see that improve.”
There are still more opportunities out there.
“We have to get women to see the opportunity of making sports a career, not just an activity to help them get to a career,” Weller said. “I’m proud that many of my past players have stayed in the game as coaches, but there are more opportunities out there to be discovered. It’s just a matter of time.”