NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Cathy Bender, a standout on the women’s basketball team from 1978-82 and a 2015 Vanderbilt Hall of Fame inductee, has been named a 2021 inductee of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame as announced Tuesday morning.
Bender joins U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone, former Middle Tennessee defensive standout Mike Caldwell and wheelchair basketball champion Brandon Rowland as inductees of the Class of 2021. The full class of 11 will be announced over the coming weeks.
“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,” said Brad Willis, executive director of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. “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.”
Bender was told of her inclusion Monday during a surprise meeting with Willis and Vanderbilt athletics director Candice Lee.
Bender was a trailblazer in her family and for other high-achieving student-athletes that would follow in her footsteps in the decades to come. A basketball student-athlete at Vanderbilt from 1978-1982, Bender was the first Black woman at Vanderbilt to receive a full athletic scholarship.
In her time as a Commodore, Bender set a program record that stands to this day with 262 assists during the 1981-82 season while passing out 14 assists in a game three times during the campaign. That number also still stands as the third-best mark in a game to date. She also stands third for steals in a season with 111 that same season.
During Bender’s tenure, the Commodores improved every season and reached 20 wins for the time first during her senior campaign in 1981-82. Bender helped the team reach AIAW postseason play in 1979-80 and 1980-81.
Bender was an active member of the Vanderbilt and Nashville community as a board member of the Vanderbilt Alumni Association, co-chairing the school’s first Black endowed scholarships, and serving on the Metropolitan Nashville Sports Authority Board.