Experiencing It All

Amy Ruley

They say records are made to be broken, and I believe that to be true, but it puts a grin on my face to say I have a record that will never be broken.

In 1975, Purdue women’s basketball became an intercollegiate sport and I scored the first points in the history of the program.

Ever since I was a freshman at Purdue, I knew sports – particularly basketball – were always going to be a major focal point in my life.

Once my playing days were over, I wasn’t ready to leave the basketball court.

I also didn’t think the basketball court was ready for me to leave.

I had a connection to the sport in that way, so coaching became a natural transition for me.

When Title IX passed in 1972, it opened up a world of opportunities for me, including a coaching career that would span almost 30 years.

I was fortunate that Title IX passed just a few years before I enrolled in college. The timing was almost perfect because not only did I have the chance to play on the first women’s team at Purdue, but I was in the position to help kick-start other programs as a coach when my playing days were over.

More than anything, I wanted to coach, teach, and give young women the same joy and love of the game I experienced in my time as a Boilermaker.

A Bison for life

I was 23 years old when I accepted my first coaching position as the head coach at North Dakota State University.

Being a head coach at 23 is unheard of these days, but I was hungry and willing to study and learn as much as I could.

I attended quite a few different coaching clinics – including Bobby Knight’s – and was determined to learn from some of the best coaches in the country on all the various strategies and philosophies in this profession.

Starting this women’s basketball program at NDSU, and being the first full-time head coach, I knew there would be a series of challenges.

But those challenges always kept me around. They motivated me as I began to help build and evolve this program as the years went on.

We went from the AIAW (Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women) in the first couple seasons until 1982 to transitioning to NCAA Division II (where we won multiple national titles) and ultimately reaching Division I status at the end of my career at NDSU.

All these transitions gave me something to look forward to as I went to work each day.

I always had something to keep driving me.

 I had no reason to ever leave NDSU because I was able to play such an exciting role in elevating this program to the pinnacle of Division I competition in a process that spanned three decades.

It was a thrill to be a part of that journey, and it’s something I’ll always cherish as I look back on my time at NDSU.

Starting this women’s basketball program at NDSU, and being the first full-time head coach, I knew there would be a series of challenges. But those challenges always kept me around. They motivated me as I began to help build and evolve this program as the years went on.

Lessons through adversity

If you’re fortunate enough to be involved in coaching for almost 30 years like I was, it’s inevitable that you’ll deal with plenty of adversity along the way.

It just comes with the territory.

I had my own personal adversity to overcome when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in the early 2000s.

That was an interesting time period for me because as the head coach, I was the one always stressing to the team the importance of overcoming struggles and adversity – both on and off the court. And here I was going through my own fight with breast cancer.

It became an opportunity for me to practice what I preach.

To my amazement, my battle with cancer became a ‘positive’ situation that benefited the team. They saw me going through my treatments and doing everything in my power to fight this thing.

I continued to coach and go about my business on the court just like I always have, and I think that became a huge source of inspiration to the team.

They went through this journey with me and saw how I was able to both survive and thrive. I didn’t let cancer negatively impact my everyday life and love of coaching, and I believe that gave the team quite a bit of hope when they were faced with similar challenges.

A positive mindset and a great support system worked wonders for me in defeating cancer, and that was a lesson I was beyond grateful to have passed on to my athletes.

Always a coach

When I look back at my 29 years of coaching, what stands out the most is how women’s sports have evolved.

Surely the biggest development has to be full athletic scholarships for women to play sports at the collegiate level and have their education paid for.

From a coaching standpoint, the evolution of having full-time coaches is one of the biggest changes during that 29-year span.

Some people might not realize that when I was coaching at NDSU in the early 80s, it was a position that involved 50% coaching, 50% teaching.

Then, as the years went on and Title IX grew more elaborate, it was 100% coaching, and I was able to focus on my duties on the basketball court.

And women’s sports – all intercollegiate sports in general – will continue to develop and enhance going forward.

Since I retired in 2008, it’s a completely different ball game now with the transfer portal, NIL, etc.

As a purist, I just hope the monetary value of athletics today doesn’t overshadow the intrinsic value of a high-quality education and experience like I received in my playing days at Purdue and my 29 years coaching at NDSU.

I think we sometimes forget that there are so few athletes that have the opportunity to take their game to the professional level. I worry that we’re overlooking the power of education and the value of being on a college campus and how that sets student-athletes up for success for the rest of their life.

These are all thoughts I feel incredibly passionate about. While I’m no longer in coaching, I still care deeply about the profession and intercollegiate athletics and want them to continue to be a blessing for so many others like they were for me.

I may not be on the sidelines anymore, but I’m still a coach.

I’m still a teacher.

And it’s my privilege to continue to make an impact and help others succeed in any way that I can – on the basketball court or off.

It’s what I do.

It’s what I’ve always known.