Roberta Alison Baumgardner was a noted female professional tennis player from the United States. She was born on December 13, 1943 in Alexander City, Alabama, and passed away on March 20, 2009 in the city where she was born in.
Alison was known for being one of the female players who helped pave the way for women’s participation in varsity athletics. This was when she joined the University of Alabama’s tennis team for men in 1963, while she was just 19 years old. The tennis coach at Alabama, Jason Morton, found Alison on the grass courts of Tuscaloosa when she was training in preparation for the U.S. Open – then called the U.S. National Championship. Morton convinced Alison to attend Alabama, and to play on the men’s tennis team. This has been recognized as the first official move that paved the way for women’s participation in athletics for NCAA’s Southeastern Conference.
For three years, Alison played as a part of the men’s team. During her first year, she was ranked as No. 4, but in later years, she was playing No. 1 or No. 2 afterwards. The reaction of some varsity teams of the competing schools that Alison went up against had chosen to default, rather than risk the chance of going against a woman and then end up losing.
Alison had many victories during the years afterward, and was even a member of the Southern Lawn Tennis Hall of Fame, the Women’s Intercollegiate Tennis Hall of Fame, as well as the Southern Tennis Hall of Fame. In fact, she was also a part of the first class that was enshrined into University of Alabama’s Hall of Fame for tennis. As another tribute, the University of Alabama holds the Roberta Alison Tennis Classic every year.