When Joan Selma Hult was a professor at the University of Maryland’s School of Kinesiology, she and her colleagues spent every lunch break on the tennis courts.

In between teaching tennis, track and field, volleyball, and sports history and philosophy classes, Hult carved out time to play her favorite sport — fueled by some friendly trash talk — before changing back into her ‘professor clothes,’ and continuing on with her day.

These matches only scratched the surface of Hult’s dedication to sports. Hult, who died Aug. 15 at 89, was a lifelong scholar and athlete who played a vital role in the implementation of Title IX. 

“[Joan] knew about a lot of things. And she knew a lot about a lot of things,” said Sandra Worth, Hult’s former student and university colleague, who recalled always learning something new after a conversation with her. 

Joan grew up in Gary, Indiana, and found her love for sports while going to the playground with her brother — she decided in 3rd grade she was going to be a physical education teacher. Later, she played semi-pro basketball and softball in the Chicago area.

After receiving her BS from Indiana University, M.Ed. from University of North Carolina-Greensboro and her PhD from University of Southern California-Los Angeles, Hult joined the Department of Physical Education for Women at the University of Maryland in 1967. 

While in the Washington, D.C. area, Hult approached a senator from her home state of Indiana: Birch Bayh. She then worked behind the scenes on the implementation of Title IX legislation, the landmark law that prohibited discrimination based on sex.

Title IX was signed into law by President Nixon in 1972, and is credited with jumpstarting the equality of men’s and women’s sports programs — despite no mention of sports in the legislation itself.

This was intentional, Hult told the Collington Residents Association, her assisted living facility,  in 2016. “We were smarter than that,” she said, as they aimed to keep the language neutral facing a predominantly male Congress.

Hult studied women in sports and co-authored “A Century of Women’s Basketball: From Frailty to the Final Four.”

Dottie McKnight, a close friend of Hult and fellow women’s sports coach, recalled the years post-Title IX, where they formed a company and led workshops all over the country to revise women’s sports and physical education classes.

Hult had a passion for coaching, and coached the Maryland women’s tennis team for several years.

If there is one thing Hult would want to be remembered by, McKnight said, she would want to be respected by her students and players.

“She would never say that,” McKnight added, “but I know that she would. She would appreciate that.”

The Department of Kinesiology at the University of Maryland commemorated Hult’s achievements back in 2006 when they named their women’s history month lecture in her name. 

Kinesiology Professor and Chair Michael Brown told the School of Public Health, “we can be proud that Joan Hult is part of our department’s legacy.” 

That legacy continued even after her time with the university ended, as she was named professor emerita of kinesiology.

Hult’s colleagues endearingly recalled her inability to spell, which she was smart enough to know she was bad at.

“Sometimes she made up words,” Worth remembered.

McKnight remembered a young woman who served as Hult’s editor, “and that’s how she functioned… they were a great team.”

This trait was supposedly hereditary, as Hult joked in a 1983 interview that her “folks had a little trouble with spelling,” hence her name being pronounced “Jo-anne” despite being spelled Joan.

Hult was on the executive board of the Association  of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, as well as a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee, which she started doing work with around the 1960s.

“I went to [the Olympic Committee] and I said, ‘You guys are never winning in women’s sports and that’s because we don’t teach women to play competitively,” Hult said in the 2016 interview, “I said, ‘I can give you 10 women that are right now ready to win.’”

Over the summer, Hult spent three weeks mountain climbing in the Pacific Northwest, even after undergoing an artificial hip replacement operation — which made her a “celebrity” among orthopedic surgeons in the Washington area.

Hult was an extremely faithful woman, and was an active member of the Hope Lutheran Church in College Park, where her funeral was held in September.

Richard Graham, Hult’s pastor for over 20 years, said “she was such a fun person, and she touched lots and lots of lives.”

Despite the amount of work she poured into Title IX, he remembered she was extremely humble about her work.

Her passion for women’s inclusion didn’t end with sports, as Hult also formed a women’s group in her church. Men were allowed to attend these Saturday morning meetings, but under the pretense that they cooked breakfast for the women and sat in the back.

Graham recalled Hult’s retirement party from the University of Maryland, noting there were equal amounts of praise and teasing for the professor emerita.

At this party, her mixed doubles group went to the podium and began throwing tennis balls all over the room. They began chasing the balls down, “don’t worry Joan, I’ll get it,” “I’ll chase the ball for you, don’t worry,”  they joked.

Despite Hult’s love for physical activity, she didn’t go after any loose tennis balls during their daily matches, which her group never failed to tease her for.

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