Ola Bundy: Illinois Girls’ Sports Greatest Advocate

By Mike Pearson

Ola Bundy was a 1958 University of Illinois graduate
Bundy was a 1958 Illinois graduate.

In February of 2006, when Ola Bundy died at the age of 70, Chicago Tribune prep writer Barry Temkin paid the legendary Illinois High School Association (IHSA) administrator an ultimate compliment.

Temkin wrote, “Girls (of today) should know that if Ola Bundy wasn’t the mother of girls scholastic sports in Illinois, she was certainly the midwife.”

The small-town girl, who split her childhood between her birthplace of Allerton and her teenage home of Champaign, was known for her bulldog spirit. As a child, she tagged along with her brothers, Caleb and Eugene, to the local courts and ball fields. So tough and athletic was Bundy, the neighborhood boys frequently chose her for their touch football teams. 

As a physical education major at the University of Illinois in the 1950s, Bundy specialized in tennis, volleyball and basketball. She taught herself to play golf and eventually excelled at that, too, representing her school at the Second Annual AIAW Women’s Intercollegiate Golf Tournament.

Bundy became a teacher following her graduation from Illinois in 1958, serving at three high schools: Grant Park, Thornton Fractional South and Champaign Central. In August of 1967, her appointment to administer girls’ sports for the IHSA proved to be a game-changer for young ladies in the state of Illinois.

At that juncture, the IHSA only allowed female interscholastic competition in golf, tennis, archery and badminton, all individual sports that avoided contact. It was said that much of the educational establishment believed that athletic competition would damage girls’ fragile frames and psyches. Bundy vociferously disagreed and, in 1972, nine additional girls’ sports—including several team sports—were added to the IHSA’s sponsorship.

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Because of Bundy’s perseverance, drive, determination and dedication, girls’ sports programs at the high school level in Illinois were transformed into one of America’s best. At the time of her retirement, nearly 120,000 girls were participating in sports throughout the Land of Lincoln.

Bundy at the time of her retirement with the IHSA
Bundy at the time of her IHSA retirement.

In a 1995 Bloomington Pantagraph story, former IHSA executive director Dave Fry told the reporter, “There is nobody in the nation who has poured her heart and soul more into the development of interscholastic programs that have the interest of the greatest number of girls than Ola Bundy. There have been a lot of battles fought and Ola had spearheaded that … not just to create opportunities, but to protect those opportunities.”

Jan Wrigley, Bundy’s assistant for 19 years, said that girls’ “state tournaments were her crowning moments.”

When hurdles and barriers were thrown in her path, Wrigley said that Bundy became doggedly determined to accomplish her goals.

“Ola became even more resolved and wouldn’t let things get her down,” Wrigley said. “She knew she had to work that much harder to get things done. Ola wasn’t afraid to face a challenge. Yes, she would get frustrated, but she knew she had to keep fighting. But the thing that always stuck with me about Ola was she wanted the kids to receive all the recognition, not her.”

Bundy was accorded myriad individual honors during her 29-year IHSA career, including service on the U.S. Olympic Women’s Volleyball Committee for the 1972 and ’76 Games and becoming the first person inducted into the Illinois Girls Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Her biggest honor, however, came on July 6, 1996 when, on her last day as an IHSA employee, she was inducted into the prestigious National High School Sports Hall of Fame. At that time, the only other Illinois female inductee was world track superstar Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

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In typical fashion, Bundy insisted on involving others with her impressive accolade.

“It will be all the coaches and girls of Illinois who will share that honor with me,” she said.

Girls state championships sanctioned by the IHSA while Ola Bundy was the administrator

  • 1972 – Tennis
  • 1973 – Bowling
  • 1973 – Track & Field
  • 1975 – Field Hockey
  • 1975 – Golf
  • 1975 – Swimming & Diving
  • 1975 – Volleyball
  • 1976 – Archery
  • 1976 – Softball 
  • 1977 – Badminton
  • 1977 – Basketball
  • 1977 – Gymnastics
  • 1979 – Cross Country
  • 1988 – Soccer