KNOXVILLE – Joan Cronan estimates that she’s been to the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame “thousands” of times before this weekend.
While the former University of Tennessee women’s athletic director’s estimate might be overly generous, it’s no stretch to assume that she was the featured attraction on many of those occasions. She’s passed through the Hall’s doors countless times to be a featured speaker for companies that had reserved the facility for corporate gatherings.
“They have their beginning of the year meetings or their sales meetings or any type of motivational (meeting),” she said.
“So it really is fun to be here and use it like that.”
Cronan’s feelings about her latest visit have been much different. They’re more personal in nature and more mind-boggling. This hasn’t been business as usual but rather a distinct honor. She’s one of seven inductees comprising the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019.
During a media session on Friday, Cronan described the honor as “icing on the cake” for an administrative career that spanned five decades. She was the Lady Vols’ AD for 29 years (1983-2012).
“I was an OK player and coach but to be inducted as a contributor…,’’ she said. “On my tombstone, I hope it says, ‘I made a difference.’ This is kind of part of the making a difference thing. So I’m absolutely thrilled.”
A group of UT officials that included current athletic director Phillip Fulmer joined Cronan and the other inductees Friday night for a reception at the Hall. Fulmer congratulated Cronan via Twitter, saying: “Well deserved honor for a special lady! Enjoy your day!”
The official induction ceremony was Saturday night at the Tennessee Theatre in downtown Knoxville. During her speech, Cronan said that the honor “really gives me goose bumps.”
Cronan is inclined to think of the Women’s Hall in terms of players and coaches. She indicated on Friday that her career and any comments on her part ought to be considered in the context of former Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt’s legacy. Under Cronan’s watch, Summitt won eight national championships.
Cronan was one of three contributors inducted this year. The others were Nora Lynn Finch, the inaugural chair of the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee, and Beth Bass, former president of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association.
Bass played basketball for four years at East Tennessee State before coming to UT and serving as graduate assistant in media relations/marketing. She worked in the same athletic department with Cronan and Summitt.
“Somebody ought to do an ancestry.com for coaching and administration,” Bass said. “I think that would be interesting. How did you get in this business? Who were your mentors?
“You think about Joan’s family tree. I’m so proud. I’m the 14th person to be inducted who had some connection to Tennessee. I was really proud of that. Whether that’s Joan’s influence or whether that’s Pat’s, that meant a lot to me.”
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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri who covered University of Tennessee athletics for the Knoxville News Sentinel from 1988-2019. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org