Belle and Mike Hunt have attended every Lady Topper home basketball game and almost every away game for several years.
They have supported the program financially in the past. But yesterday, the couple announced they would be giving a $175,000 gift to the the Lady Topper Basketball Enhancement Fund. The money will be used for program needs, including recruitment, scholarships, travel and staff development.
The Hunt gift has helped the fund pass the halfway point of its $500,000 goal.
Tom Hiles, vice president for Institutional Advancement, said yesterday the donation was one of the larger gifts given to any women’s sports program in the country.
“It was an opportunity for them and several other key donors to provide a vote of confidence in the program – and help return the program to national prominence,” he said.
Hiles said he hopes the enhancement fund’s goal can be reached by the end of the academic year, if not by the end of basketball season.
Although the Hunts are fans of men’s and women’s basketball, the Lady Toppers are their first love, Belle Hunt said.
“The men’s program gets more financial support, so we decided to help out the Lady Toppers,” she said.
Athletics Director Wood Selig is taking notice. He says the donation will be a stern shot in the arm for Coach Mary Taylor Cowles.
“This will help provide a margin of excellence and a great likelihood to return the Lady Topper program to one of the country’s finer programs,” he said. “. Most important about this is when we hired Mary Taylor Cowles, we promised her that we’d fund her program beyond what the current state allocations would allow.”
Belle Hunt said she became a Lady Topper basketball fan after watching them practice in 1980.
Her husband, Mike, didn’t become a fan until watching a 1992 Western-Maryland game during the NCAA Regional Tournament in Indiana. The Lady Toppers were national runners up that year.
Since then, he has become a hardcore fan. Although he lives in Murfreesboro, Tenn., during the week, Mike Hunt drives up for every home game.
“He’s an extremely loyal fan,” Belle Hunt said. “He loves those girls.”
Now that Belle Hunt has retired from teaching, she said it has allowed more time for the couple to work out their schedules and attend as many Lady Topper games as possible. They have made friends with the players, their parents, the coaching staff and other fans.
“It’s a nice way of life,” she said.