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WVU pioneer Martha Thorn dies at 83

West Virginia University lost one of the bedrocks of its athletic department this past weekend when former women’s tennis coach Martha Thorn passed away at the age of 83.

A native of Hinton, Thorn graduated from James Madison University in 1959, where she played basketball and field hockey. Thorn obtained her master’s degree in health and physical education from West Virginia University in 1963. After a short stint teaching and coaching in high school, she returned to WVU as a member of its physical education faculty, and remained there until her retirement in 2000.

After the federal government enacted Title IX in 1972, Thorn and two other members of West Virginia’s faculty — Dr. Wince Ann Carruth and Kittie Blakemore — went to newly hired Mountaineer athletic director Dr. Leland Byrd and requested that his athletic department begin sponsoring varsity sports programs for females. Byrd took their advice and with very small budgets started women’s teams in gymnastics, basketball and tennis in 1973. Seven other women’s programs would follow in the future.

Thorn would coach the Mountaineer women’s tennis team for 27 years, while Blakemore led the women’s basketball team until 1992.

Thorn, Blakemore and Carruth are all members of the WVU College of Physical Activity and Sports Sciences (CPASS) Hall of Fame. All three have now passed away — Carruth in 1995, Blakemore in 2020 and Thorn on April 4.

Martha is survived by her husband, Gordon, and three children — Susan, Sarah and John.