Patrick Reusse
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The Star Tribune awakened the Minnesota Sports Hall of Fame honors in 2018 and quickly inducted Sid Hartman as its third media person, joining outdoors writer/trapshooter Jimmy Robinson in 1972 and sportswriter/announcer Halsey Hall in 1989.

The third group since Sid's lone entry will be inducted Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Mall of America rotunda. This is officially the Class of 2021 and it will consist of eight women: seven outstanding athletes with a deep Minnesota connection and Chris Voelz, the University of Minnesota women's athletic director from 1988 to 2002.

The 72 plaques for the pre-Sid honorees — awarded in varied classes from 1958 to 2006 — were displayed at the Metrodome. We blew that Dome up, and what will be 93 plaques after Wednesday's ceremony have not as yet found their walls of honor.

When that happens, we can only hope that when visitors encounter Sid's plaque, their eyes will not have to travel far to see the one honoring Voelz.

“Sorry, I'm only doing interviews with recovering sexists . . . Oh, right, it appears you might qualify.”
Chris Voelz to Patrick Reusse

Sid's gone now, at age 100½ years in 2020, so he can't complain about such placement. Plus, it would bring a smile for all of us who were inside that maze of disagreements between The Man and The Director.

"According to Sid, women's sports were going to ruin football at the university," Voelz said. "He made it sound like I was the one dropping passes in the end zone … or that I would've hired [Tim] Brewster."

This was part of a phone interview with Voelz last week that went for 53 minutes. It was outstanding even before it started, with this return text to the interview request from Voelz:

"Sorry, I'm only doing interviews with recovering sexists … oh, right, it appears you might qualify."

That wasn't the last of her texted responses. I used the word "obstinate" to describe her stance to create a better everything for women athletes at Minnesota.

Voelz convinced me that "headstrong" was a better choice. The next day, she sent this postscript:

"One of the best daily fundraising methods for me at Minnesota should be attributed to you and Sid. Every time you wrote in opposition to me, or Gopher women, or women in sports, I would get a call from Kathleen Ridder to meet her at the Minneapolis Club for lunch.

"She would sit with me in a prominent place and, as Sally Pillsbury, or Marilyn Tickle Bryant, or Maxine Nathanson, or Gladys Brooks, et al, walked by, they would refer to the article and get out their checkbooks. And I would go back to the Bierman Building with more resources for our women.

"Did you know about this?"

Heck, no. I would never have guessed the annual Turkey of the Year column on Thanksgiving morn could be a fundraiser. I checked this week and Voelz was an invited guest to the Turkey Banquet five times. She was never honored as the yearly winner, although she was cited for lifetime achievement.

And here's a sure sign of desperation for me, as Chairman of the Turkey Banquet: I used a Mother Teresa joke — as in the feisty Chris couldn't have gotten along with her — twice in a five-year period.

Voelz has been gone from the Minnesota scene for two decades. The old hockey arena that she fought to turn into a home for women's athletics — mainly, basketball and volleyball — has been branded "Maturi Pavilion." That's almost a taunt, as Joel Maturi was the athletic director after the men's and women's departments were put under one umbrella and Voelz departed in 2002.

Voelz was a Gophers builder, for sure.

The softball team has a ballpark named in honor of Jane Sage Cowles, a Voelz booster. The soccer team has a stadium named in honor of Elizabeth Robbie, mother of Voelz booster Deborah Olson. The Ridders, backers of Voelz, were lead donors for Ridder Arena, the home of women's hockey since 2002.

"I spent a lot of time every year at the State Legislature," Voelz said. "To start hockey, I told them, 'If the state puts up 50 percent of the money, we'll build an arena that celebrates women's hockey in Minnesota.

"We started the program in 1997. We were one of the first. We didn't have many teams to play.

"Initially, I went to Herbie Brooks to help us find support. Herbie was great. He was wildly in favor of hockey for all. We always needed male allies, and we found many more that were willing.

"We started a grassroots fundraising campaign, '100 Men, 100 Women.' Our male allies included Roy Smalley, Scott Studwell, Dave Casper. It was kind of a fundraising competition."

Voelz's earliest building effort involved a new, first-class aquatics center on the former site of Memorial Stadium. Before what's now the Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center arrived in 1990, the Gophers' pool was next door in ancient Cooke Hall.

One action that caused several of us to take after Voelz with enthusiasm was when she let go of Steph Schleuder as the Gophers volleyball coach in 1995. Schleuder had been in the job since 1982 and had reasonable success in a sport then dominated by West Coast programs.

Voelz was thinking bigger. She came up with what was then a hefty salary to hire Mike Hebert, who had turned Illinois into a Big Ten power.

"How did that work out?" she said last week. "If we hadn't had the Pavilion as a volleyball facility, we wouldn't have been able to hire Hebert. And if we didn't have Hebert build an outstanding program, you wouldn't have Hugh McCutcheon there now as one of the best coaches in America, filling up the arena for matches."

The Pavilion wasn't helping basketball late in the 1990s. Voelz hired Cheryl Littlejohn had some dreadful seasons. Littlejohn was let go with some controversy and Voelz hired Brenda Frese (then Oldfield) for the 2001-02 season. Out of nowhere, the Gophers had a 21-7 regular season and won an NCAA tournament game.

“According to Sid, women's sports were going to ruin football at the university. He made it sound like I was the one dropping passes in the end zone . . . or that I would've hired [Tim] Brewster.”
Chris Voelz

Frese took off for Maryland after that one season. She has turned the Terps into a power, including a 2006 national championship. Voelz was on the way out, but wanted to find the next coach.

"Lindsay [Whalen] was going to be a junior," Voelz said. "There were two leading candidates. I had Lindsay meet with both for breakfast on campus, explain the team we had coming back, and then give me her reaction.

"We went with Pam Borton and the Gophers were in the Final Four two years later."

Whalen, now the Gophers head coach, confirmed that story this week.

Voelz was inducted into the Gophers Hall of Fame in 2007. She lives in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, in the summer and Palm Springs, Calif., in the winter. She has served as the executive director for the Collegiate Women Sports Awards [CWSA] since 2012.

She's proud of the battles she fought — for facilities, for a truer definition of equality for women athletes — and remains a Gopher at heart.

This was demonstrated in 2019, when Taylor Reiss, a volleyball star at Southwest Minnesota State, received the CWSA award across all Division II sports.

Reiss' bio as the honoree included the information that growing up, her favorite volleyballer was Penn State's Megan Hodge.

"Chris Voelz congratulated me, and added she was disappointed to see I was a Penn State fan growing up more than a Gophers fan," Reiss said. "She was joking. Sort of."

I'm not sure there were any sort ofs in Voelz's view of the coverage she received from a couple of veteran Minneapolis sports scribes during her time at Minnesota.

What can be stated: She won, to the benefit of today's outstanding Gophers women's athletic program.