In 1916, Berry M. Whitaker came to the University of Texas to formally establish an intramural program, starting what was then one of the first organized intramural programs in the United States. The UT intramural program was initially administered as part of the Athletic Department under Athletic Director L.T. Bellmont. The program's first home was located in the basement of the "Old Main" building and included one office, a handball court, a weight room and locker/shower/dressing facilities.
The Intramural Department was first organized into two divisions - Fraternity and Departmental. The two divisions were further divided into freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors, law students, engineers and business administration students. The first sports offered included baseball, basketball, football, track, cross-country, handball and tennis. Photos of these early Intramural Champions, beginning in 1916, have been carefully preserved and now appear on the Wall of Fame in Gregory Gym.
After World War I, Mr. Whitaker returned to manage a bigger and better program. Barracks used for Army troops were converted into gyms that could accommodate handball, gymnastics, boxing, wrestling and tennis. In 1922, the department left Athletics and combined with the Physical Training Department. In 1930, Intramural Athletics for Men was made a separate department and placed under the Division of Student Life where it has essentially remained ever since.
In July 1948, with the continuing expansion of programs and facilities, Albert A. "Sonny" Rooker was hired as the Assistant Director to Mr. Whitaker. Upon Mr. Whitaker's retirement in 1960, Mr. Rooker became the Director of Men's Intramurals and led the program until 1972. Under Rooker's guidance, the Gregory Gym Annex was constructed (1963) and the intramural fields were expanded and relocated (1967) to their present location at 51st and Guadalupe Streets. The 40-acre field and tennis complex was subsequently named in honor of Mr. Berry Whitaker.
Anna Hiss came to the university in 1918 as an instructor in Physical Training for Women, and was named director of the program in 1921. Professor Hiss was instrumental in the early days of promoting sports for women, including taking a leadership role in forming a statewide organization called the Texas Athletic Conference of College Women.
The first women's club to be organized (1919) was the Texas Turtle Swimming Club, with Professor Hiss acting as the faculty sponsor. In 1920 the Racquet Club (tennis) was organized with five charter members. Eight other clubs were also created and formed the nucleus of women's sports at UT: Tee (golf), Canter (riding), Archery (archery), Touche (fencing), Poona (badminton), Strike & Spare (bowling), Tumble (tumbling) and Triggerettte (riflery). Operating under the Women's Athletic Association (W.A.A.), women's sports were largely social and non-competitive in nature.
The UT women's sports program became a part of the university's College of Physical Activities that was established by the Board of Regents in 1924. Located in the old Women's Building on campus, popular activities among women students included tennis, baseball, track, basketball and long distance hiking. Later, golf, rowing, swimming (at Deep Eddy and Lake Austin), archery and horseback riding were integrated into the program.
With the opening of a new Women's Gymnasium in 1931 (later and still named Anna Hiss Gym), Physical Training was made a department in the College of Arts and Sciences. In addition, the University of Texas Sports Association (U.T.S.A.) was established. In 1933, Women's Intramurals separated from the U.T.S.A. and started a formal program that was organized around three divisions: sororities, dormitories, and independent groups. Individuals and groups were awarded cups, pins, and felt emblems at the annual "T" Night Banquet for Women. In 1934, new all-weather tennis courts were constructed next to the Women's Gym. Finally, in 1937, the first posture contest was conducted and, due to its popularity as a spectator event, held its competition in Hogg Auditorium. With the assistance of Shiela O'Gara and Leah Gregg, Professor Hiss continued to expand the intramural program during the 1940s.
In 1949, Professor Hiss was awarded an honorary doctorate from Boston University. In 1957, she resigned the directorship, with Jo Chapman serving as interim Director. Professor Hiss eventually retired as a Professor Emeritus in 1969. In her absence, Women's Intramurals grew and flourished under the leadership of Shiela O'Gara and Carolyn Hewatt, who acted as the Director and Associate Director respectively. In 1967, Betty A. Thompson, a faculty member in the Department of Required Health and Physical Education for Women, became the Director of Women's Intramurals.
Women's Intramural Champion photographs (1933 - 1972) are also part of the Wall of Fame in Gregory Gym.
In 1973, the Departments of Intramural Sports for Men and Intramural Sports for Women were combined into one administrative unit and renamed the Division of Recreational Sports. Betty A. Thompson became the first director of the Division, and in 1975 the consolidation was complete when the women's program moved its administrative operations from Anna Hiss Gym to the Gregory Gym Annex.
Over the past 35 years, the Division of Recreational Sports has experienced tremendous growth in all areas - personnel, budget, support services, facilities and programs - culminating with the opening of the new student-funded Recreational Sports Center in October 1990 and the renovation of Gregory Gym in November 1997, again with student support. The final stage of the Gregory Project - the renovation of the GRE natatorium and the addition of an outdoor aquatics complex - received Regent approval at the February 2004 board meeting. Construction began in May 2004 with the outdoor pools opening November 18, 2005, followed by the indoor natatorium in January 2006.