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Barnum was a trailblazer for girls athletics in South Dakota

In a time when organized athletics didn't exist for girls, Blanche Barnum was a trailblazer.

Barnum, who taught all levels in the Mitchell School District from 1951-1969, is a 2018 South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame "Legends" inductee for being "a pioneer in physical education for girls in the state."

According to Barnum's daughter, Lee Ann Overbay, Barnum advocated heavily for female athletics and fitness.

"She would say: 'We might not have competitive sports, but there's no excuse for not staying fit and participating in some type of lifelong sport,'" Overbay said. "She believed in staying active her whole life. Sports were extremely important. She was really glad when Title IX came in because that gave the girls a chance."

Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 is a federal law that states: "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."

But before Title IX existed, Barnum had formed Girls Athletic Association while teaching physical education at the middle school because there was no program at the high school level. The GAA organized sports for girls in Mitchell and in 1960, Barnum was named the supervisor for physical education in the Mitchell School District.

"It was the first time girls in Mitchell got to compete in any kind of sport at all," Overbay said.

"She liked teaching and being more hands on, so she went back to teaching physical education."

Overbay said her mother's passion for sports and fitness began at early age. Barnum played basketball and tennis while attending high school at Southern State Normal School in Springfield. In basketball, Barnum would be the "running center" which was the lone player that could play full court, while five players could only play on half of the court.

Barnum attended and graduated from the University of California in Berkeley, California. She played tennis for California, which only had around 7,000 students at the time, and she also worked for the Berkeley recreation department.

After receiving her degree in health and physical education and a minor in English, Barnum accepted her first coaching job in Winner in 1925. She taught English and coached basketball before moving to Mitchell in 1950. She stayed in Mitchell for the rest of her life before she died at the age of 94.

"She played golf until she was 90 and she played tennis until she was about 83," Overbay said. "She was extremely active. Even after she retired, she went to all the basketball games and track and field events."

Barnum's recognition, which will be delayed until 2019 because winter weather forced the 2018 banquet to be canceled, came as quite the surprise to Overbay and her family.

"It's such an honor. I know my mother would have absolutely loved it. She was known all across the state," Overbay said. "I'm excited for her and it's a super honor for her."

For Overbay, Barnum provided the perfect role model. A teacher for 51 years, Overbay recently stopped teaching to take care of her husband. She earned Mitchell's 2017 Teacher of the Year award at the middle school and has fond memories of her trailblazing mother.

"I followed in my mom's footsteps," Overbay said. "She was certainly someone to look up to and admire. We had a great family life and she had a wonderful professional life as well."

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