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Former longtime state commissioner Russell dies

August 17, 2009 |  9:22 pm

William "Bill" Russell, a former longtime California Interscholastic Federation commissioner who was instrumental in the rise of girls' high school sports, died Aug. 9 at his home in Santa Barbara. He had brain cancer. He was 94.

Russell helped formulate the first athletic code enabling schools to sponsor girls' teams, with rules adopted statewide in 1967. Those regulations came five years before the enactment of Title IX, landmark legislation requiring equal federal funding for boys' and girls' programs.

"His help with initiating girls' sports in interscholastic play was his pet project because it was done for boys, and he and his cohorts thought, Well, why not for girls?" said Russell's daughter, Diana Russell Vandervoort.

Russell served as commissioner of the CIF's Southern Section from 1950-56 before being promoted to state commissioner. Over the next 25 years, he helped broaden the scope of athletic by creating team play in swimming, volleyball, gymnastics, golf and nontraditional sports such as snow skiing and surfing. He retired in 1980.

"Bill was an innovator anda  legend in the CIF," said Dean Crowley, who served as Southern Section commissioner from 1993-2000. "Even though he was retired, he was a mentor to me when I was a rookie commissioner in 1993. He had a lot of wisdom and history of the traditions of the CIF."

Russell also worked for other sports governing bodies, serving as commissioner of the Metropolitan Conference of Southern California junior colleges for 20 years, starting in 1961.

In the early 1960s, Russell helped the NCAA prevail in an arbitration dispute with the Amateur Athletic Union, allowing college track and field athletes to participate in the Olympics. He was then elected president of the newly formed U.S. Track and Field Federation.

Born June 25, 1915, in St. Louis, Russell attended 11 elementary and junior high schools by age 13 because his father's job with Missouri Life Insurance Co. required the family to move frequently.

Russell graduated from Santa Barbara High in 1932 at age 16 but had to delay his college plans to help support his family during the Great Depression. He eventually played baseball and basketball at Santa Barbara State College (now UC Santa Barbara) before graduating in 1940.

When the United States entered World War II, Russell spent three years as a volunteer with the American Red Cross in Alaska. He returned to Santa Barbara after the war and worked as graduate manager of athletics and student activities for UC Santa Barbara before starting his work with the CIF.

Russell's wife of more than 60 years, Dorathy, died in 2002.

Besides his daughter, he is survived by a granddaughter.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday at Welch-Ryce-Haider Mortuary, 15 E. Sola Street, Santa Barbara, with a reception to follow.

--Ben Bolch

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