At Long Last:  She Gets Deserved Recognition

A 1972 Hennessey High School graduate, Suzie Winingham Byrd will finally receive the accolade that she’s deserved for nearly 50 years.  Due to the actions, forethought, and tenacity of Scott Hajek, Oklahoma State University honored Byrd at the halftime of the OSU women’s basketball game against the University of Oklahoma women on Saturday, February 3, 2024.

An athlete all her life, Suzie played standout basketball in Hennessey back when the game was a 6-woman sport played on only half of the court on offense.  She posed a threat on offense and defense on the court and led the team to many victories.  In addition to playing basketball, she was a member of the HHS track and field team which took first place in the very first Oklahoma track meet for high school women in 1972.  She enrolled at OSU in 1972 and played basketball during her freshman year, but she changed her emphasis the following year when she turned to track and field events like the hurdles and cross-country; she was a member of the OSU Big 8 Championship team.

Fifty years ago, women’s sports didn’t receive the attention that they deserved.  The powers that be wanted women to participate in PE events as intramural matches, not as real athletic events associated with the NCAA.  Therefore, this award serves as a public declaration of the athletic prowess that Byrd had as a young woman and a soft apology to all women athletes who competed in the world of men’s sports in a different era.

Byrd became Oklahoma’s first female All-American in 1975; her event was the 100-meter hurdles.  She competed at major men’s track and field events such as the Kansas Relay and the Texas Relay and hoped to be Olympics-bound.  She finished fourth in the nation at the Corvallis Track and Field collegiate event in Oregon in 1975.  She hung up her running shoes during her senior year because of a lack of funding.  

There were no scholarships for female athletes then.  Too, she thought it best to concentrate on her studies and graduation in the spring of 1976.  The special distinction that Byrd received last Saturday had been delayed for decades.  Once, Byrd asked the Daily Oklahoman sportswriter Jenny Carlson to pursue the missing honor, but no one could quite verify the fact of the All-American title.  Again, women’s sports weren’t handled, reported, lauded, or tracked in the same way that men’s sports were handled “back in the day.”  Byrd wanted her name on that All-American list, and who could blame her?  Verification has officially been accomplished, and Byrd couldn’t be prouder, and neither could Hennessey about its home-grown athlete.

Byrd secured her place in American sports history at Saturday’s game.  At long last, Suzie Winingham Byrd got the recognition that she so well deserved.  There is after all justice in this world. Story by Sara Richter Photo provided.