CHAMPAIGN — On a day when Illini women’s basketball celebrated the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the only female athlete with a banner in the Assembly Hall rafters was on hand to mark the occasion.
Ashley Berggren joined about 25 other women — among them former Illini athletes as well as others who have made a difference through their service and achievements — at Sunday’s game. Each was introduced on the court at halftime.
The impact of Title IX — the landmark legislation that banned gender discrimination in any education program or activity receiving federal aid — was well established by the time Berggren reached the UI in the late summer of 1994. For the three-time Illini women’s basketball MVP, Sunday was an opportunity to meet Illini athletes who predated the passage of Title IX.
“It’s amazing to see the progress that’s been made,” Berggren said. “To hear about the facilities and what they had to go through and to see how it’s changed in such a beneficial way. It’s truly great to meet the pioneers and see how it’s evolved in such a positive way.”
During Berggren’s Illini career, the women’s basketball team played all but a handful of its home games at Huff Hall. Since the 1998-99 season, the program has held its home games at the Assembly Hall.
For some who remember the large crowds and pulsating atmosphere in the final seasons at Huff Hall before the move, the debate continues over whether the UI women should move back or remain at Assembly Hall.
Berggren, who teaches special education and is the varsity girls’ basketball coach at Schaumburg High School, liked what she saw and heard in the Assembly Hall stands on her return. Sunday’s attendance of 2,495 was the Illini’s second largest of the season and the largest at which admission was charged.
“We’ve got a great turnout here today,” Berggren said, “and if excitement around women’s basketball continues to grow, I think it’s very possible that we could have that same type of atmosphere here at Assembly Hall that we did at Huff Hall.”
The three-time All-American made it clear, however, that she still has a special fondness for Huff Hall.
“I don’t know if Assembly Hall could ever get as loud as Huff Hall, just because of the design of the old building,” said Berggren, the first Illini woman to score more than 2,000 career points. “And there’ll always be that old charm and history that Assembly Hall could never replicate.
“But Assembly Hall definitely has that potential to create an atmosphere of excitement.”