By Mike Pearson
When Ola Bundy died in February 2006 at the age of 70, ChicagoTribune Prep author Barry Temkin paid the ultimate compliment to the legendary Illinois High School Association (IHSA) administrator.
Temkin wrote: “Girls (of today) should know that if Ola Bundy wasn’t him mother from the Illinois girls’ school sports, she undoubtedly was midwife.”
Splitting her childhood between her birthplace of Allerton and her childhood home of Champaign, the small-town girl was known for her bulldog spirit. As a child, she would go to the local courts and ball fields along with her brothers Caleb and Eugene. Bundy was so tough and athletic that neighborhood boys often picked her for their touch football teams.
A physical education major at the University of Illinois in the 1950s, Bundy specialized in tennis, volleyball, and basketball. She taught herself to play golf and eventually excelled at it, representing her school at the second annual AIAW Women’s Intercollegiate Golf Tournament.
Bundy became a teacher after graduating from Illinois in 1958 and served at three high schools: Grant Park, Thornton Fractional South, and Champaign Central. In August 1967, her appointment to manage girls’ sports for the IHSA proved a game changer for young ladies in the state of Illinois.
At this point, the IHSA allowed only female interscholastic competitions in golf, tennis, archery, and badminton, all individual sports where contact was avoided. It has been said that much of the educational establishment believed that athletic competitions would harm girls’ fragile physiques and psyches. Bundy disagreed loudly, and in 1972 nine more girls’ sports – including several team sports – were added to the IHSA’s sponsorship.
Because of Bundy’s persistence, drive, determination, and dedication, Illinois high school girls’ physical education programs became one of the best in America. By the time of her retirement, nearly 120,000 girls across the state of Lincoln were participating in the sport.
In a 1995 Bloomington pantagraph In history, former IHSA executive director Dave Fry told the reporter, “There is no one in the nation who has poured his heart and soul more into developing interscholastic programs that interest most girls than Ola Bundy. There have been many battles.” fought and Ola had spearheaded that…not just to create opportunities, but to protect those opportunities.
Jan Wrigley, Bundy’s assistant for 19 years, said the girls’ “state tournaments were her crowning moments.”
As hurdles and obstacles were thrown in her way, Wrigley said Bundy was determined to achieve her goals.
“Ola got even more determined and didn’t give up,” Wrigley said. “She knew she had to work a lot harder to get things done. Ola wasn’t afraid to take on a challenge. Yes, she would be frustrated, but she knew she had to keep fighting. Ola wanted the kids to get all the credit, not her.”
During her 29-year IHSA career, Bundy has received countless individual honors, including serving on the US Olympic Women’s Volleyball Committee for the 1972 and 1976 games and being the first person inducted into the Illinois Girls Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Her greatest honor, however, came on July 6, 1996, when she was inducted into the prestigious National High School Sports Hall of Fame on her last day as an IHSA employee. At the time, the only other woman from Illinois was world track superstar Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
In typical fashion, Bundy insisted on including others with her impressive award.
“It will be all the Illinois coaches and girls who will share this honor with me,” she said.
Girls State Championships sanctioned by the IHSA while Ola Bundy was the administrator
- 1972 – Tennis
- 1973 – Bowling
- 1973 – Athletics
- 1975 – Field Hockey
- 1975 – Golf
- 1975 – Swimming & Diving
- 1975 – Volleyball
- 1976 – Archery
- 1976 – Softball
- 1977 – Badminton
- 1977 – Basketball
- 1977 – Gymnastics
- 1979 – Cross Country
- 1988 – Soccer