COLUMBUS, Ohio – Our very own Karen Dennis has made her way into the Michigan State Athletics Hall of Fame 2019 class the university announced on Tuesday, July 30. Dennis was a track & field athlete from 1974-1977 and head track coach from 1981-1992.
“Karen Dennis was a pioneer in the sport of women’s track and field, excelling both as an athlete and a coach, while helping build the foundation for the Spartan program,” MSU Director of Athletics Bill Beekman said. “She was the first Spartan woman to win an AIAW (or NCAA) Championship in 1975 and seven years later she was serving as head coach and guiding the Spartans to their first Big Ten championship.”
Dennis enjoyed a successful collegiate career as a standout sprinter at Michigan State, where she helped the 1975 Spartans to a fourth-place finish at the AIAW National Championship. She was the Spartans’ first female national champion with a victory in the 220-yard dash with a time of 24.90. Dennis ended her MSU career as a two-time All-American in the 220-yard dash and the 440-yard relay in 1975. She is one of four Spartan women to win a national championship in either indoor or outdoor seasons.
“Women have tentacles. We’re like octopuses, we have lots of arms. But it’s all about the support system you have. Gil Michael was my advisor, Dr. (Clarence) Underwood was always there to support me; Coach Bibbs and his family, they did a heavy load for me by keeping my daughter while I was on the road. She really grew up in the Bibbs’ home when she wasn’t in my home,” Dennis said. “It was a juggling match but at the same time I had my family, I had the Bibbs family, I had my Spartan family, that just sort of surrounded me. I loved the sport; I loved track. I wanted to be able to do my best in track despite being a mother. I wanted to participate in a sport that I loved, and Michigan State gave me that opportunity.”
She also gained valuable experience competing internationally. Dennis was part of a world record-setting 4×160-yard relay team for Michigan State and a fifth-place finisher in the 220-yard dash at the 1968 U.S. Olympic Trials.
“I think that wanting to reach the highest level of athleticism in your sport is a goal and to be a national champion at Michigan State, that was obviously one of the highlights of my athletic career,” Dennis said. “Then to proceed with helping other athletes, other students, achieve that same level of success as a coach were probably the more memorable and more significant moments in my life. But it was exciting, our whole team finished fourth in the country in 1975 with Sue Latter. We had a 4×100; Sue ran the 800. I think I ran the 400. We had a 2×100. It was a small team but a quality team nonetheless.”
As Dennis was collecting accolades and shaping not only the athleticism but minds of women throughout her career, she was too busy to think about the trailblazing legacy she was creating. She was crashing through a glass ceiling as an African-American woman in a male dominated sport.
“I don’t see myself as a legend but it’s very humbling receiving reorganization for all the hard-work I’ve put in throughout my career thus far. Where you got your first start is very special and I can’t wait to celebrate the induction with the whole class in East Lansing, Mich.,” Dennis expressed.
“When you are in it, I find it hard to see myself as a trailblazer. I am starting to see it now as time goes on. I have always thought that women should be able to do anything that men do. I was lucky to have Coach Bibbs to support me as a coach,” added Dennis.
As the current director of track and field/cross country at Ohio State, Dennis has continued her success at the Big Ten level. She was unanimously selected as the Big Ten Coach of the Year for the third time in her career in 2018, leading the Buckeyes to their third Big Ten indoor title after similar victories in 2011 and 2015. She was previously inducted into the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Coaches Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2018. The legendary coach was honored for her many accomplishments as a cross country and track & field coach as well as the impact her contributions have had and will continue to have on the sport and young people that are under her direction. Dennis is only the second Ohio State coach to be inducted into the USTFCCCA Coaches Hall of Fame.
Michigan State will induct four other Spartans into its Athletics Hall of Fame on Thursday, Oct. 24 as part of its annual “Celebrate” weekend. The 2019 Hall of Fame Class includes: Dan Bass (football), Mike Donnelly (hockey), Tom Milkovich (wrestling) and Mike Robinson (basketball).
More on Karen Dennis: https://go.osu.edu/KarenDennis