The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference
The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference

Roberta Alison Baumgardner - Talent, Legend, Pioneer

35 days ago
SEC Staff
Photo: SEC Staff

Roberta Alison Baumgardner, born in Alexander City, Ala., attended the University of Alabama as a tennis player in 1963, seventeen years before women's tennis would be sponsored by the Southeastern Conference.

Discovered by then-Alabama tennis coach Jason Morton, as she was preparing for the U.S. Open on local grass courts in Tuscaloosa, he encouraged her to join the men's team after a 1963 decision by the Southeastern Conference allowed women to compete on men's varsity teams.

While being the first woman to play a varsity sport in the SEC is an accomplishment, the fact that Baumgardner was pursued to join a men's team speaks of her immense talent. She played at Alabama for three years, playing at the No. 4 position her first year but moving to the No. 1 or No. 2 position in her two final years.

She won the women's collegiate tennis title in 1962 and 1963 and joined up with Justina Bricka of Missouri for the 1963 doubles national title. She was also a four time Blue-Gray champion and a three-time Southern Tennis champion.

Alison went on to have a successful career on the Women's Amateur Tennis Circuit. She was a singles finalist for the event in Cincinnati in 1962 and 1965 and won the doubles championship in 1962 (partnered with Mary Habicht of Brazil), 1963 (Linda Lou Crosby) and in 1965 (Stephanie DeFina).

In 1989, she was elected to the Southern Tennis Hall of Fame. She has also been enshrined in the Southern Lawn Tennis Hall of Fame, the National Tennis Women's Hall of Fame, and a member of the University of Alabama Tennis Hall of Fame.

After she retired from tennis, she returned home to Alexander City, Ala., where she spent her remaining days until her death in 2009. In 2012, the University of Alabama opened its new indoor tennis building, named in her honor, called the Roberta Alison Baumgardner Tennis Facility.

The Roberta Alison Fall Tennis Classic has been held every October since 1988 and invites every women's tennis team from the institutions from around the south. It is now a lasting reminder of Alison's substantial meaning to college athletics.