During this Women's History Month, we're putting a spotlight on a couple of she-roes in our local sports community. Each of them are the first women to serve as athletic directors in their respective school districts here in the Coastal Bend.
If you've been anywhere around the West Oso community, you definitely know Cheryl Fillmore dating back to her time as a student and top-notch athlete.
"I participated in every sport and ... did fairly well in all of them. And had some honors -- state honors, regional honors," Fillmore recalls about her high school years.
After taking that talent to the collegiate level at then-Texas A&I in Kingsville, Fillmore came back home to the West Oso school district in 1992. Since then, she's been a teacher, counselor, and also coach of basketball, volleyball, track, and tennis.
Fillmore remains the head coach of the girl's basketball team, and now she also serves as West Oso ISD's athletic director. She is the first African-American and woman to hold that title.
"I've served here so long and did so many different positions, it was just another position," Fillmore says she first thought about the promotion. But she says she soon realized the significance of her new title after talking with others.
"As people -- past athletes, my athletes, and just co-workers -- started telling me, 'You know, you've made history.' It really didn't hit me until they started telling me those things."
Right alongside Fillmore in those historic ranks is Brenda Marshall, Corpus Christ ISD's first female athletic director. Although she's a familiar face now with 32 years in CCISD's Athletics Office -- the last 12 years as a AD -- she didn't always get the warmest of welcomes.
"We went to a local athletic directors meeting. Chipper and Joey took me there, and the other A-D's thought that I was their secretary. And Joey was very quick to say, 'No, this is our new assistant athletic director,'" Marshall remembers.
Fillmore says even now it can be challenging when she meets up with her male counterparts.
"And I just have to suck it up and keep my head up and just walk in as though I'm one of them because, in actuality, I am one of them," Fillmore says.
Brenda Marshall was "one of them" during a time when few women were.
She explains,"There was only five women at that time in the state of Texas in the 80s -- two were athletic directors, and then 3 of us were assistant ADs."
Marshall was a trailblazer even before she started in the CCISD Athletics Office. When she attended Ray High School in the 1970s, only tennis and swimming were offered for girls. So, she played city league softball and moved on to play at the collegiate level at the University of Texas at Arlington, advancing to a couple of appearances in the College World Series.
During her time at UTA, she played softball under Jodi Conrad, largely known as a women's basketball coaching legend. Then, Marshall picked up coaching herself, heading to what was then West Texas State.
"I started the softball program at the age of 22 -- Division I," Marshall says. "Two players were older than I was."
Along the way, Marshall was also a member of the first women's softball team to represent the United States at the Pan American Games.
Now, she's taking that passion and pouring it into serving the students of CCISD. Since she joined in 1986, the district's athletics office has added multiple sports for boys and girls, including cross country, golf, and wrestling.
"We now offer every sport that UIL offers for the females and males. You want to make sure you take care of the kids and give them a good place to play and try to offer them all the things that you can," Marshall says.
Fillmore carries the same mentality, relishing in her new role of service to West Oso's students. She says she's humbled to be the trailblazer in her community to show young people that hard work and discipline are rewarded -- no matter your background or gender.
"Not everybody believes in West Oso the way I believe in West Oso, and the way the people -- the coaches here, and administrators and staff believe in us," Fillmore says. "Our kids can do it too."
We applaud the dedication and accomplishments of both Cheryl Fillmore and Brenda Marshall, who are true trailblazers in the Coastal Bend.
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