Professor Betty A. Thompson served The University of Texas at Austin through her lifelong dedication and commitment to fitness, and the value of sport. She began her career at Texas in 1954 in the Department of Physical Training for Women before being named the director of the Women’s Intramural Program in 1968. In 1972 she was named acting director for both Men’s and Women’s Intramurals before formally assuming the title of director in 1973. This appointment marked the first time that one individual would oversee both programs and, more remarkably, was the first time that a woman would serve as director of a recreational sports program for a major American university. She remarked at the time, “If it was the right time and the right place, I was there.”
Though well-regarded as a teacher, administrator and leader, Professor Thompson earned a reputation as a quiet crusader. She used her skills and knowledge to create opportunities to compel the students, faculty and staff who worked for her to continue learning, growing and contributing to those around her. Most notably, she was responsible for quietly starting a women’s intercollegiate program.
Under her guidance, Recreational Sports grew tremendously by establishing a new outdoor adventures program and a separate recreational sports program for faculty staff. She also formalized the open recreation program, greatly expanded aerobic classes and initiated coed intramural sports. Additionally, she is credited with two major achievements, namely, the official formation of the Division of Recreational Sports in 1974 and the passage of the 1985 referendum in which students for the first time voted to approve a student fee to fund the construction of a new recreational center, today’s Recreational Sports Center.
During the 34 years that Professor Thompson served the University, she advanced the idea that everyone should have the opportunity to experience the joy of sport, regardless of athletic skill. A plaque installed at the Recreational Sports Center commemorates the many trailblazing accomplishments of Betty A. Thompson, whose legacy remains, the right woman at the right time.