Cohoon, Lewis To Be Honored As Difference Makers

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. –This year marks the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the ground-breaking legislation that ensured equal opportunities for women in sports. University of Arkansas Directors of Women’s Athletics Ruth Cohoon and Bev Lewis each had front row seats and, in fact, starring roles guiding the changes that would take place in Razorback athletics over the next half century.

Razorback Athletics will celebrate Cohoon and Lewis, who along with many other Razorback trailblazers, paved the way for thousands of student-athletes by dedicating plaques in their honor on the Difference Makers Plaza, near Gate 10 on the Northwest corner of Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

The official dedication will take place this fall and details will be provided at that time.

“As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX, we are proud to recognize two individuals who were instrumental in creating opportunities for thousands of Razorback student-athletes,” Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Hunter Yurachek said. “Ruth Cohoon led the creation of a women’s athletics department, integrating intramural and club sports into varsity programs. Following her successful career as a coach, Bev Lewis spent 19 years as the women’s athletics director and was a driving force in the addition of four women’s sports, volleyball, golf, gymnastics and softball. Together, Ruth and Bev laid the foundation for the sustained success our women’s sports programs and have been true difference makers for our athletics program and the University of Arkansas.”

Ruth Cohoon came to the university in 1965 as a 22-year-old swimming instructor and quickly found herself in the position of role model, advocate for education and the advancement of women’s athletics and a difference-maker shaping the foundation of women’s athletics at Arkansas.

During her career at Arkansas, she saw the first athletic scholarships offered to female students and coaching opportunities offered to women educators. Cohoon consistently fought for increased funding, better equipment, more scholarships and greater opportunities for women athletes.

Always eager to learn and grow, Cohoon expanded her role beyond teaching and swimming instruction and by 1971, she had volunteered to do some extra administrative work that included collecting the grades of female athletes and reporting them to the NCAA. She was in the right place when Title IX was signed into law and stepped into the role of the Director of the university’s first funded women’s athletic program in 1972.

Cohoon oversaw a $5,000 budget in 1972 and worked to improve that number to $500,000 by the late 70s. In 1979, she witnessed the combining of the men’s and women’s programs under the umbrella of Intercollegiate Athletics at Arkansas. The programs, however, would function separately, each with its own Athletics Director and support staff until becoming fully unified in 2008.

Realizing that funding would be a major factor in the progression of the women’s program, Cohoon orchestrated the formation of the Lady Razorback Club, a fund raising and scholarship program similar to the men’s Razorback Club.

Cohoon served on the Governing Board of the AWISA, the Executive Board and the Ethics and Eligibility Committee of SWAIAW, the Executive Board and the Ethics and Eligibility Committee of AIAW, and the Academic Requirements Committee of the NCAA. Cohoon also held the offices of secretary and treasurer for the SWAIAW.

Cohoon retired from her administrative position in 1989 but continued to teach until 1999. She was succeeded in the position of Director of Women’s Athletics by Lewis in 1989, who held the position until the Athletic Department was restructured in 2008, and Lewis assumed a new position. In 2008, the Athletic Department was reorganized to encompass men’s and women’s athletics under a single administrative unit. The position of Director of Women’s Athletics was reorganized to associate vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics and executive associate athletic director, making Ruth Cohoon and Bev Lewis the only women to hold the title of Director of Women’s Athletics at the University of Arkansas.

A 1965 graduate of the University of Tulsa, Cohoon earned her master’s degree in administration from the University of Arkansas.

Lewis was a pioneer for women’s athletics throughout her 33 years at the University of Arkansas, 19 of which (1989-2007) she spent as the Director of Women’s Athletics. The hallmark of that stint was the overall excellence of the entire women’s athletics program. During her tenure, the University of Arkansas moved to increase athletic participation for women with the addition of volleyball, golf, gymnastics and softball. All four sports competed in NCAA post-season competition by each inaugural recruiting class’s senior season, and they all established themselves as nationally competitive programs. Every Razorback women’s sport achieved a new athletic performance pinnacle under her leadership.

Lewis’ career at Arkansas began in 1981 when she joined the Lady Razorbacks as a cross country, track and field coach. Under her direction, cross country became the first women’s team to achieve a national ranking, earn the first top-10 finish at an NCAA Championship and win the university’s first Southwest Conference title. As her career evolved, Lewis did double-duty as a coach and administrator, taking over as Director of Women’s Athletics in 1989. She handed over her coaching responsibilities in 1990, dedicating herself to the advancement of Arkansas’ women’s athletics program through her administrative role. For nearly two decades, Lewis oversaw a separate Department of Women’s Athletics that served the unique needs of the female student-athlete. The addition of four sports, the construction of the largest women’s only strength and conditioning center, and the addition of nutrition and mental health programs are just a few of the many advancements Lewis engineered.

Lewis received one of her greatest personal honors as Bob and Marilyn Bogle requested that a newly constructed administration building dedicated to women’s athletics be named the Bev Lewis Center for Women’s Athletics in 2003. Lewis’ leadership was also key to the construction of Bogle Park and Razorback Field, the home to Razorback softball and Razorback soccer, respectively. Lewis served collegiate athletics at the highest level as an administrator, as a member of the NCAA Management Council, the NCAA Championship Cabinet and the Southeastern Conference Executive Committee. In 1998, she was voted into the University of Arkansas Hall of Honor for her contributions as a coach and administrator.