Bunny Daugherty

By Jennifer Smith

There once was a tiger named Bunny.

Bunny Daugherty was humble and quiet. She shied away from cameras and microphones. But when it came to promoting the cause of females in athletics, Daugherty was never shy.

The former Sacred Heart Academy coach and administrator was as fierce as they come. She was a tiger.

"You never could tell Bunny no," said Joyce Seymour, a long-time friend. "She wasn’t just a coach; she was a team player in trying to better things for young girls across Kentucky."

When Daugherty would approach high school athletics officials about creating new opportunities for young women, principals would balk.

They would talk about the possibility of injuries.

Daugherty would scoff and remind them that boys get hurt, too, but that sports were good for all young people, not just boys.

"She just thought girls should have that opportunity, long before Title IX was even thought about," Seymour said. "This state had to have someone who was brave and forward enough to step up to the plate and say, ‘Why not for our girls; why not for our daughters?’ Bunny would look you in the eye and say: ‘Why can’t we do this?’"

Every girl who has played sports in Kentucky owes a small debt of gratitude to Daugherty, say two of her former players at Sacred Heart.

"She was ahead of her time," said Donna Moir, current basketball coach and athletics director at Sacred Heart in Louisville. "She was really progressive for our community and for girls’ sports across the entire state."

Daugherty’s 13 state championships in four different sports are impressive, but not as impressive as her legacy of promoting female athletes across Kentucky, said Susan Yates Ely, who set the Valkyries’ all-time scoring record in basketball under Daugherty in the 1980s.

"She really was a trailblazer and such a strong advocate for female athletics," Ely said. "She wanted girls to have the same opportunities as boys and knew that we could be great in athletics as well as boys. Her advocacy for the advancement of female athletics is unmatched."

Daugherty’s can-do attitude led to the formation of several of the state’s top tournaments, including the Louisville Invitational Tournament, which will celebrate its 40th anniversary in January, as well as the Apple Tournament in field hockey.

When Seymour and Daugherty started the girls’ LIT 40 years ago, they paid officials out of their own pockets. They bought their own basketballs and printed their own programs.

After the first tournament ended, Daugherty didn’t rest. She smiled and said, "Well, we’ve got the first year under our belt and now we’re going to grow,’" Seymour recalled. "And it did."

Daugherty was so much more than just a basketball coach. In her 49 years in athletics, she coached 200-plus seasons, including 40 of basketball, 37 of field hockey and volleyball, 25 of track, golf and tennis as well as 10 each of gymnastics and swimming.

The coach won 13 state titles in basketball, golf, tennis and field hockey.

"It wasn’t just basketball," Seymour said. "It was everything. If there were girls interested in a particular sport and there was no one else to step up to help or to be the coach, she’d coach it."

Moir can attest to that. She played on Daugherty’s 1976 state championship basketball team and witnessed first hand how the coach had a hand in every sport.

"I couldn’t even imagine coaching two sports now," Moir said laughing. "And Bunny would coach volleyball and field hockey in the same season. She’d go from field hockey practice, go up the back steps, take a deep breath and start volleyball practice."

And it didn’t matter if you were a star, Moir said. Daugherty had a way of making you feel important. "She always made you feel special, each player in her own way," Moir said. "She was always challenging you to be better, to make a difference. She’s one of the reasons I got into coaching. She stressed how important it was to give back to the kids."

When Daugherty passed away in 1998 at the age 67, a Louisville sports columnist couldn’t help but imagine Daugherty up in heaven advancing her cause:

"In the beginning on Bunny Daugherty’s first day in heaven, she started a field hockey team, for girls, of course," Earl Cox wrote. "On the second day, it was basketball. On the third day, it was volleyball. On the fourth day, she doubled up tennis and golf. It rained on the fifth day, ‘Hmm,’ said Bunny. ‘Today, it will be swimming.’ On the sixth day, came gymnastics and track. On the seventh day, there was no rest for Bunny or for God. ‘God,’ she said. ‘I’ve got this idea and you’ll just love it because I know how you feel about a certain kind of fruit tree. Let’s start a field hockey tournament and we’ll call it the Apple Tournament.’"

Her sister, Judy Holiday (at left), made acceptance remarks for the late Bunny Daugherty.

Even though Daugherty has passed away, her legacy lives on every time a girl in the state of Kentucky dribbles a basketball, putts for birdie or scores the winning goal.

"Bunny would be very proud and happy with how far female athletics has come," Ely said.

Seymour agreed. "She’d be pleased with how far we’ve come, but she’d always manage to find more that we could do."

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