First Black female athlete at Alabama revisits old stomping grounds


By WVUA 23 Sports Reporter Grace Brister

The sport of volleyball has changed since the 1970s, especially at the University of Alabama where it was not recognized as a sport for its first three seasons.

Ermelda Lee Polk was on the Alabama volleyball team for its first two seasons.  In 1972, she became the first Black female athlete to participate in any sport at the university.

“I had no idea that this was going to be an impact that future generations of young ladies,” Polk said.

Her teammate, Susan Saylor, said the team did not realize the impact Polk was making.

“We didn’t think about any significance,” Saylor said. “She was just one of our teammates.”

Polk was playing volleyball because she enjoyed it, not to bring attention to being a pioneer for future Black female athletes.

“It’s not something I envisioned, being a pioneer,” Polk said. “It’s a good feeling though, to know that I did something that was impactful for future generations of young ladies who are willing to play the sport.”

Polk and some of her teammates were able to attend the Alabama vs. Mississippi State game. The 2023 Alabama volleyball team was able to connect with some of the players from the 1972 team.

Polk was not the only one to make history. Head Coach Rashinda Reed is the first Black volleyball coach at the university.

“I thought it was really beautiful for our players to connect with those ladies and talk about their experiences right here in the same space which also is very important because this space, although the same, it’s continuing to evolve, but it is very much the route of volleyball,” Reed said. “This is where it began. I can only imagine how, walking into that same space, all those memories flooding back. I’m sure Polk didn’t think about how big of an impact that she was going to make in the sport, but it’s definitely something that is resonating right now.”

After Polk left the university, she became a teacher and high school volleyball coach in Detroit where she was able to pour into younger generations of volleyball players.

“The way those young ladies are playing, it’s awesome,” Polk said. “I would commend coach Reed on her ability to work with these young ladies and teaching them how to strategize in place, ball placement, and the way that they are able to spike the ball, set it up, the little tips that they do. This is all really a real good job that she’s doing.”
Polk said she did not realize the impact she was making, but she is happy she was able to make a difference in young players lives.
Categories: Alabama, College Sports, Local News, Sports