Barbara Kelly, former women’s basketball coach and director of women’s sports, passes away

A 38-year employee of the University, Kelly worked tirelessly to advance women’s sports programs


Kelly was the recipient of several accolades throughout her lifetime, including the Woman of Achievement Award from the University’s Women’s Faculty and Professional Association.

Courtesy Virginia Athletics

Barbara Kelly, former women’s basketball coach and director of women’s sports at the University, passed away in her hometown of Garner, N.C. this week. 

Kelly attended Garner High School, where she played varsity basketball for four years. Although she was recruited to play both semi-professional softball and collegiate basketball, Kelly chose to pursue her associate’s degree at Campbell University before attending East Carolina University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education. 

Before her time at the University, Kelly taught physical health and education in the Norfolk school system for 10 years, directed several camp programs for the Norfolk Recreation Department and refereed numerous sports. 

In 1971, Kelly was appointed assistant manager of intramurals and physical education, making her the first full-time female athletic staff member at the University. She supervised the implementation of women’s intramural and club programs, the development of the University’s first varsity women’s teams and organized the athletic archives of women’s sports.

“I always dreamed of the time when our girls would be playing on intercollegiate teams and I can hardly believe we’ve finally made it,” Kelly said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily in 1973, just after the first three women’s varsity programs were established.

Kelly coached women’s basketball during the team’s first two seasons as a varsity sport, and she both founded and directed the first ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament. The team’s overall record during Kelly’s tenure as head coach was 25-12.

“No hurdle was too high for Barbara, and her dream of having an ACC Tournament in women's basketball quickly became a reality because of her persistence,” former women’s basketball coach Debbie Ryan said.

Kelly later resigned from her position as head coach in order to concentrate on the advancement of women’s sports programs more broadly. She went on to found the University’s Women’s Faculty and Professional Association, from which she received the Woman of Achievement Award. 

“Her foresight made so many things possible for women in sport today,” Ryan said.

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