NC State Selects First-Ever Hall of Fame Class | Complete Bios
Blazing a trail in the infancy of Title IX women’s collegiate sports, N.C. State Hall of Athletic Fame inductee and long-distance runner Julie Shea was declared the most valuable athlete in the Atlantic Coast Conference in both 1981 and 1982.
Shea captured the McKevlin Award – presented to the Athlete of the Year in the ACC as voted on by the male-dominated Atlantic Coast Conference Sportswriters Association.
The homegrown Raleigh native was the first and only female to win the award before the ACC split it into men’s and women’s categories in 1990. NC State basketball superstar David Thompson and UNC point guard Phil Ford were the only two ACC athletes to capture the McKelvin Award in back-to-back years prior to Shea’s elections.
She out-polled Maryland basketball’s Albert King and Duke cager Mike Gminski in 1981. The next year, Shea beat out UNC’s Lawrence Taylor and Virginia’s Ralph Sampson.
Ironically, Shea fell right in line with NC State’s other Title IX pioneers and fellow Hall of Athletic Fame inductees – coach Kay Yow and basketball player Genia Beasley.
The 1970’s and 80’s were indeed golden years for Wolfpack athletics in both men’s and women’s sports.
“Yes, I knew a lot of those guys (athletes and coaches),” Shea remembered in a recent interview. “Kay (Yow) was very supportive and I had breakfast with her once.”
Once at an event in Colorado, Shea met the owner of the NBA’s Denver Nuggets. That’s where David Thompson was playing professional basketball at the time.
“They loved David and thought of him as a son,” Shea recollected.
Shea, the daughter of former NC State physical education instructor Mike Shea, was “born to run” and at the young age of 10, appeared in Sport Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” in May of 1970.
She set the U.S. record for boys and girls 10 and under with a mile run of 5:33.5 – just .1 off the world mark. Earlier in an event in nearby Durham, the 10-year-old set a half-mile record for her age and sex at 2:35.4.
The Hall of Famer started running at age nine and was one of eight children (three sisters and five brothers). She credits her dad with the proper encouragement that got her started.
“All of the children participated in sports and dad treated each of us equally,” she continued. Shea said it was his belief that each child, male or female, could compete successfully in their chosen sport.
Running was an integral part of the Shea family line dating back to her great-great grandfather, who was “Knighted” by the Prince of Whales for a deed which required running plus a lot of intestinal fortitude.
Her father was the first athlete in either North or South Carolina to break the 10-minute two-mile barrier back in the 1930s.
At Cardinal Gibbons High School where she was named National Prep Athlete of the Year, she set a national high school mark for the mile at 4:43.1 as a senior in 1977. For the next 30 years, no one came within three seconds of that mark until 16-year-old Wesley Frazier broke it with a time of 4:42.78 while running for Ravenscroft High in the Adidas Dream Mile this past June.
After high school, Shea kept running “in order to travel” and see the world through international events. “At spring break and in the off-season I got to participate in international meets,” she noted.
And it wasn’t all fun and games, either.
“I remember as a sophomore in Glasgow, Scotland, of lining up against competition and girls built like men,” Shea commented. “Here I was a skinny girl from Raleigh lined up against them.”
She said that two or three of those competitors were disqualified for using steroids.
At NC State, Shea stressed that cross country coach Jack Bacheler was the major cog in her wheel of success and was one of the best mentors anywhere on the planet.
According to Shea, Bacheler, a two-time Olympic champion distance runner himself, coached only because of his pure love of the sport. Bacheler is still a professor at NC State and offers occasional lectures on agronomic crops.
“When we would compete in events out of the country, there were a lot of athletes who wanted his autograph. And when people teach you so much, they become like a member of the family.”
According to Shea, there was very little down time at NC State. “You had to create a balance between preparation, competing, going to class (school of design) and sleeping. You had to be disciplined. It required a lot of hard work. It was a love/hate relationship. It was no picnic.”
Shea’s sister, Mary, who held three national high school records at one time, joined her at State for a couple of years and earned all-american honors – a real bonus for the two athletes and the entire family.
Shea was named the top female collegiate athlete in the nation (Broderick Award) in 1980. She was also NC State’s top athlete as the Kennett Award winner in 1980-81.
She won seven collegiate titles in track and field and cross country prior to her entry into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1993.
In addition, she won 11 all-american designations and captured three national championships within a 24-hour period in 1980. She specialized in distance events, 3,000 meters, 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters and was a champion in each of those categories.
Shea holds the second fastest time in the 3,000-meter run (9:02.40) and third-best time in the 5,000 meters (15:41.28).
The long distance champion led the Wolfpack cross country teams to two ACC titles in 1979 and 1980. During those same years, she was a member of AIAW cross country national champions.
Shea was appreciative of election to the first NC State Hall of Athletic Fame, but emphasized that too much might be made of it today because Title IX has progressed to the point where there is no virtual differences in the sexes in relationship to modern athletic competition.
She pointed out that parents today get all of their children involved in competition. It’s all about competing and excelling in the various sports.
That is a totally different atmosphere then when Shea competed for the Wolfpack.
“We’d go off and compete and win and when we returned to Raleigh, I went back into obscurity. It was much different.”
Now living near Southern Pines, N.C., Shea doesn’t visit Raleigh as much as she might like.
“I’m still a Raleigh girl,” she proudly said. “I’d love to see all of the home football games this fall.”
After graduation, Shea continued to give to the community by coaching girls from 9-13 as part of the Cool Kids Run program. And she also was elected five times to the Raleigh City Council.
By George Cox, GoPack.com