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Chairs in the Carrier Dome on Sunday morning were littered with towels dawning the No. 33. The No. 33s were not just sitting on the bleachers, but they were also on the backs of numerous fans and family members there for the jersey retirement ceremony.
But this ceremony was different than others before it. For the first time in Syracuse University history, the name of a female athlete was embroidered above the Orange number, honoring Felisha Legette-Jack.
“There’s nothing special about me,” Legette-Jack said during the halftime ceremony after seeing her jersey lifted into the rafters. “I just put in the work.”
SU received criticism for the absence of retired female jerseys, but with Syracuse’s announcement celebrating 50 years of female athletics, the university began to recognize some of the “incredible” accomplishments of female athletes, said Barbara Jacobs, Syracuse’s head coach for Legette-Jack’s team. Multiple female athletes are getting their jerseys retired this season, including Katie Rowan Thomson and Anna Goodale, but Legette-Jack is the first.
“I’ve never done this for me. I just think that I am the vessel that (Wildhack) chose for others to be recognized as well,” Legette-Jack said. “Now other women are going to be recognized for the work that they’ve done as well.”
After four seasons with the Orange, Legette-Jack finished with 1,526 points and 927 rebounds, graduating as the all-time leading scorer and rebounder in SU history. As a freshman, she won 1985 Big East Freshman of the Year, and SU beat Villanova by one point to win the conference championship.
Legette-Jack said it was “surreal” when she got the call from Syracuse athletic director John Wildhack that her jersey was going to be retired. The achievement showed her that a kid with a dream of playing for Syracuse from Nottingham High School, under the “hill” of the university, could go up the hill and find success. Legette-Jack lived right at the bottom of the hill in elementary school and said that the only way she was able to attend college was with a basketball scholarship, choosing Syracuse from a list of over 300 schools.
More importantly, Legette-Jack said that her No. 33 could serve the same importance as the No. 44 on Syracuse’s campus. Legette-Jack said that she wants members of the community to walk into a store and pick out the No. 33 jersey as she said people buying the No. 44 “want to be somebody.”
“I hope what happens with that 33 is it signifies what I call P-dubs, which is phenomenal women,” Legette-Jack said.
Legette-Jack is now the head coach of the University of Buffalo’s women’s basketball team, and she tells her players not to fall to the level that society wants women to be at. Legette-Jack empowers women, Buffalo forward Summer Hemphill said.
“She’s very passionate about us owning our womanhood, knowing that we matter as women,” Hemphill said. “Through this game of basketball, we can let each of our individual stories be known to the world.”
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