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WVU Libraries unveils Kittie Blakemore portrait

West Virginia University Libraries unveiled a portrait of Virginia “Kittie” Blakemore, the first coach of the WVU’s women’s basketball team, Thursday in the Downtown Library’s Robinson Reading Room.

“Kittie Blakemore is a pivotal figure in WVU history because of her determination to implement Title IX at WVU and her status as a beloved coach of women’s basketball. We are excited and proud to include her in the archives at the West Virginia and Regional History Center,” WVRHC Interim Director Lori Hostuttler said.

President Gee with Julia Zaph and Blakemore portrait

WVU President Gordon Gee poses with Julia Zaph, the artist who painted the portrait of Kittie Blakemore. 

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Title IX.

Blakemore’s painting is part of the Inclusive Portrait Project, an initiative by WVU Libraries’ Art in the Libraries program to expand the WVRHC portrait collection through the creation of three portraits painted by a current BFA or MFA student or recent graduate who identifies as female. The project is funded by a Women of WVU grant.

Nikki Izzo-Brown, head coach of the Mountaineer women’s soccer team, credits Blakemore for the University recruiting her away for West Virginia Wesleyan to establish the women’s soccer program in 1995.

“Kittie took a big risk on me. I was young, I was naïve, but what I was willing to do was listen and Kittie was the best teacher,” Izzo-Brown said. “If I could live up to Kittie and be who she was to all the people in the room, then I’ve accomplished what I’ve wanted with my career here at WVU and as a women’s soccer coach.”

In 1973, WVU Athletics Director Leland Byrd hired Blakemore to be the first coach of WVU’s newly established women's basketball team. Blakemore compiled a 301-214 record over 19 seasons which included the 1989 Atlantic 10 tournament championship, the 1992 regular season A-10 titles and NCAA berths in 1989 and 1992.

“Coach Blakemore didn’t have it easy when she began. She constantly competed for gym time at the Coliseum and resorted to having practices at the Fieldhouse,” former WVU women’s basketball player Becky Franklin said.

For the first few games, Franklin recalled, players lacked official uniforms and wore intermural aprons over T-shirts. But there were no complaints. The players were happy to wear them, because they got to play basketball.

“Coach Blakemore built a team from girls who didn’t know much about basketball. She never gave up on vision for a successful women’s basketball program at WVU or a young player from the Laurel Highlands,” Franklin said. “My four years as a Lady Mountaineer were some of the proudest of my entire life. Being part of this incredible sisterhood for each other and the love for the game has made my life more special.”

Under Blakemore’s leadership, the basketball program produced All-American Rosemary Kosiorek, all-conference players Donna Abbott, Alexis Basil, Olivia Bradley, Jenny Hillen, Cathy Parson and Georgeann Wells, the first player to dunk in a women’s collegiate game.

After retiring from coaching, Blakemore served as WVU’s assistant athletic director for sports development and senior women's administrator until her retirement in 1997.

This year’s Inclusive Portrait artist is Julia Zaph, a Morgantown native who graduated from WVU in 2022 with a Bachelors of Arts in Painting. Zaph said she is grateful to be selected to paint for the Inclusive Portrait Initiative because it made her feel truly connected with her artwork.

Last year, Anna Allen, a 2021 WVU BFA painting graduate, painted the portrait of Victorine Louistall Monroe, the first known Black female to receive a graduate degree at WVU and the first Black female to join University’s faculty member.

Blakemore’s portraits will join Monroe’s in the Robinson Reading Room on a semi-permanent basis and then be added to the WVRHC’s collection. The WVRHC holds a small collection of papers that document Blakemore’s professional career and the development of intercollegiate women’s sports at WVU.