Mildrette Netter helped spark social change in 1968 Olympics

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Mildrette Netter, Mississippi’s first woman Olympic medalist, was the catalyst for change in women’s track. “I wanted to go and experience a better life,” Netter said.Netter grew up in Rosedale, Mississippi.”Two things I was at a disadvantage for was being from Mississippi and being short,” she said.This was the reason given by the coach at Tennessee State when he declined to give her a scholarship in 1967.”There were no women’s track programs in the state of Mississippi at all,” Netter said.She thought her career was over until Alcorn State University head track coach Grant Dungee reached out to her.”She was the only girl,” Dungee said. “Some of the guys she could beat.”Netter competed in out-of-state meets, shocking the competition as the short girl from Mississippi exploded onto the scene and into the 1968 Olympic 4 by 100-meter team.”It made me eager and hungry,” Netter said.Her personal struggle was set against the backdrop of the civil rights movement and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., just months before her Olympic debut.Netter’s husband, Alcorn teammate and Vietnam vet Willie, experienced the struggle firsthand.”He had so much spirit, it put chills through you. That night that he was assassinated, we were at Alcorn College. Something happened there on base, they came on base, we got beat up on base on campus that night,” Willie said.”That was a very turmoil time in our country,” Netter said.Tommie Smith and John Carlos protested through their raised fist on the podium.”Everyone protests in their own way,” she added.The lesser-known story of American social justice from the 1968 Olympics was Netter’s effect on the state of Mississippi.”They can see me, then hey, maybe they can be me,” she said.The Magnolia State was watching, and after seeing Netter help Team USA set a new world record in the 4 by 100 meters, it started to change.”The next year, that’s when they formed the team,” Netter said.Alcorn was one of the first, and other schools followed. No longer did Mississippi women have to go out of state to pursue their track and field dreams.Netter wasn’t the first woman to play sports in Mississippi, but she very well may have been the most important.

Mildrette Netter, Mississippi’s first woman Olympic medalist, was the catalyst for change in women’s track.

“I wanted to go and experience a better life,” Netter said.

Netter grew up in Rosedale, Mississippi.

“Two things I was at a disadvantage for was being from Mississippi and being short,” she said.

This was the reason given by the coach at Tennessee State when he declined to give her a scholarship in 1967.

“There were no women’s track programs in the state of Mississippi at all,” Netter said.

She thought her career was over until Alcorn State University head track coach Grant Dungee reached out to her.

“She was the only girl,” Dungee said. “Some of the guys she could beat.”

Netter competed in out-of-state meets, shocking the competition as the short girl from Mississippi exploded onto the scene and into the 1968 Olympic 4 by 100-meter team.

“It made me eager and hungry,” Netter said.

Her personal struggle was set against the backdrop of the civil rights movement and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., just months before her Olympic debut.

Netter’s husband, Alcorn teammate and Vietnam vet Willie, experienced the struggle firsthand.

“He had so much spirit, it put chills through you. That night that he was assassinated, we were at Alcorn College. Something happened there on base, they came on base, we got beat up on base on campus that night,” Willie said.

“That was a very turmoil time in our country,” Netter said.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos protested through their raised fist on the podium.

“Everyone protests in their own way,” she added.

The lesser-known story of American social justice from the 1968 Olympics was Netter’s effect on the state of Mississippi.

“They can see me, then hey, maybe they can be me,” she said.

The Magnolia State was watching, and after seeing Netter help Team USA set a new world record in the 4 by 100 meters, it started to change.

“The next year, that’s when they formed the team,” Netter said.

Alcorn was one of the first, and other schools followed. No longer did Mississippi women have to go out of state to pursue their track and field dreams.

Netter wasn’t the first woman to play sports in Mississippi, but she very well may have been the most important.

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