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PODCAST: Interview with legendary Arizona head athletics trainer Sue Hillman in 50th anniversary of Title IX

Sue Hillman is one of the historic hires by Arizona athletic administrative legend Mary Roby in the 1980s in her role as a pioneer for the advancement of women’s athletics, not only at the university but nationally.

Hillman, the subject of this podcast, earned the distinction of being the first female head athletics trainer to oversee the men’s and women’s athletics programs in 1983 through Roby’s recommendation to athletic director Cedric Dempsey.

In addition to Hillman being the first female head athletics trainer to oversee the men’s and women’s athletics program in 1983, Meg Ritchie became the first female head strength and conditioning coach at Arizona in 1985.

“Cedric Dempsey and Mary Roby were very, very supportive of me, and they hired Meg Ritchie as well,” Hillman said. “So quickly, I was not alone in the athletic department in student services. Meg and I were both there. And then Mary retired (in 1989) and Rocky La Rose took over and she was a former student-athlete (as a softball player). She was fantastic.

“So the administration was all supportive. After that period of time, after ’82, it seemed like more and more women started filtering into the ranks of the athletic department.”

Sue Hillman was the first female athletic trainer in the NFL when she was with the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1977 to 1979 (Steelers video)

We are in the 50th anniversary of the federal law mandating that female athletes receive equal rights as their male counterparts — known as Title IX.

In that year of 1972, when Title IX came into fruition, Roby founded the Arizona women’s athletic department, becoming the first and only “Director of Women’s Athletics” for Arizona.

The monumental hires of Roby and Dempsey from 1972 to when she retired in 1989 included males to coach women’s teams such as Mike Candrea in softball, Jim Gault in gymnastics, Dave Murray in track and field and Frank Busch in swimming and diving.

Hillman remained at Arizona for 13 years until the the university ended its graduate program in which she taught student athletic trainers.

She left Arizona and became the associate professor and director of human anatomy at the Arizona School of Health Sciences, a division of the A.T. Still University in Phoenix.

Two years after that, in 1997, Hillman became an athletic trainer for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the first female in the NFL to have that role. Former Arizona graduate student Rick Burkholder, taught by Hillman, was on the Steelers’ staff when he sought her to join him with the Steelers.

Burkholder is now the vice president of sports medicine and performance for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Hillman has a background of earning a master’s degree in physical therapy from Stanford and a master’s degree in physical education and athletic training from Arizona as well as a bachelor’s degree in the same field from Purdue.

She retired and owned a bed and breakfast establishment in Costa Rica for seven years before returning to teach in the occupational therapy anatomy program for Northern Arizona University in Phoenix. She also taught in the physical therapy program, physician assistant program and medical school for NAU.

She remains in Phoenix, and she said she will possibly teach at Arizona’s campus there in the next school year.

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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