Cathy Bender inducted to Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame

Bender, a former Vanderbilt women’s basketball star, was named a 2021 inductee to the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame.


Cathy Bender played for Vanderbilt from 1978-1982. (247Sports)

Simon Gibbs, Sports Editor

Former Vanderbilt women’s basketball star Cathy Bender was named a 2021 inductee to the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, the organization announced Tuesday morning.

Bender in 1978 became the second woman and first Black woman to receive a full athletic scholarship at Vanderbilt, where she went on to become a pillar of the women’s basketball team from 1978-82. In her four-year tenure, the Commodores steadily improved, eventually reaching 20 wins for the first time in program history during the 1981-82 season.

She finished with 410 assists in her 105-game career, which at the time ranked second-best—now tenth-best—in program history, and her 262-assist senior season still tops the Commodore record book. En route to her record-breaking passing performance, she became the first player in the program to notch a 14-assist game, which she accomplished on three separate occasions.

“Cathy Bender led the way for so many athletes that came after. Her playing career is made even more impressive knowing that she was the first African-American female with a full athletic scholarship at Vanderbilt,” executive director of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame Brad Willis said in a press release. “Her contributions to the Mid-State area continue to this day, and we’re thrilled to have her as part of our 2021 Class of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame.”

While Bender had a significant on-court impact, she played a critical role in both Vanderbilt and Nashville athletics after her time as a student-athlete came to a close. She was an active member of the Vanderbilt Alumni Association and co-chaired the school’s first Black endowed scholarships, while also serving on the Metropolitan Nashville Sports Authority Board.

Bender was informed of her induction on Monday during a surprise meeting with Willis and athletics director Candice Storey Lee.

Other inductees of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2021 U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone, former Middle Tennessee defensive standout Mike Caldwell and wheelchair basketball champion Brandon Rowland.

Most recently, Vanderbilt head baseball coach Tim Corbin was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame as part of its 2020 class.