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Henderson State Athletics mourns the passing of Bettye Wallace

By HSU Sports Information

Henderson State Athletics suffered the loss of one of its great icons on Tuesday when Reddie legend Bettye Wallace passed away at the age of 92.

Known as a trailblazer for women’s athletics, Wallace was one of the most recognizable figures in Henderson’s storied history and served as the embodiment of the Reddie Spirit to all those in the red and gray. 

“It is hard to put into words the positive impact that Bettye Wallace made at Henderson State and beyond,” Athletics Director Shawn Jones said. “Bettye was a pioneer for women’s sports not just in Arkansas, but in our country, and was as true a mentor and coach as I have ever seen. Her influence and spirit brought out the best in everyone she encountered, and she touched the lives of thousands over the course of her life as a teacher and coach. Her legacy will live on forever at Henderson State and her infectious Reddie Spirit will be greatly missed by all of us who knew and loved her.”

A 1950 graduate of Henderson State, Wallace returned to work at HSU as a physical education teacher in 1963 and spent just under 25 years at the university. In addition to her teaching duties, Wallace coached tennis and founded the Reddies volleyball program in 1965. Wallace was the first woman in the state of Arkansas to be hired as the athletic director in charge of women’s athletics. 

In 1966, Wallace was instrumental in the development of an intercollegiate athletic conference for women, known as the Arkansas Women’s Intercollegiate Sports Association (AWISA). Her impact was felt on a national scale just two years later in 1968 when she spearheaded the construction of the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), which ensured women could compete beyond the state level. 

As a coach, Wallace led the Reddies to AWISA championships in tennis in 1965, 1969 and 1972, and in volleyball in 1972 and 1975. She was twice named AWISA Tennis Coach of the Year in 1980 and 1981, and then earned the honor as a volleyball coach the following year in 1982. 

Wallace’s impact on her student-athletes was so profound that her players from 1977-80 began calling themselves “Bettye’s Reddies,” a name which stuck and became intertwined with Wallace and her legacy at the school. Bettye’s Reddies is still active today in it’s support of both Wallace and the Henderson State volleyball program. 

In 1988, Wallace retired from Henderson as Associate Professor Emeritus for Health, Physical Education and Recreation. She received the “H” Award from HSU in 1995 and was a member of the inaugural class of the Reddie Athletics Hall of Honor in 1997. Wallace was further enshrined in 2018 when she was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame as a part of its 60th class. The tennis courts at Henderson State are named in her honor. 

Memorial service arrangements are pending and the information will be shared when it becomes available.

Statement from Dr. Charles Welch, Arkansas State University System President and former President of Henderson State University:
“Bettye Wallace was one of the towering figures of Henderson State University and the impact of her life and work is immeasurable. Her unwavering passion to grow opportunities for women in college athletics helped pave the way for meaningful change not only in Arkansas but nationally. We were all blessed to know Bettye, and like the stalwart pine trees and mem’ries of living shadows, she will forever be synonymous with Henderson State.”

Statement from Dr. Chuck Ambrose, Chancellor of Henderson State University:
“When you join a new community, it becomes apparent quickly who the truly impactful, foundational figures are. It was evident to me from my very first day at Henderson State that Bettye Wallace was one of those people. Her life’s work was spent blazing a path for women in college athletics and her commitment to the university and its mission was unparalleled. Although we will miss her joyful spirit, we know that her story will be told at Henderson for generations to come.”–

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