Like mother, like daughter: How 4 KSU athletes followed their mothers into Division I sports

Amelia Perdue with both her parents at a volleyball tournament she participated in when she was in high school.

Pilar Lewis Sports Reporter

For decades, sons have followed their fathers into athletics. Before they played in the National Football League, Peyton Manning starred at University of Tennessee and Eli Manning played at University of Mississippi. A generation earlier, their father, Archie, quarterbacked at Mississippi and later for the New Orleans Saints. 

Before Title IX brought women’s athletics into the mainstream in the 1970s, that wasn’t true for women. But now, a number of Kent State athletes have followed their mothers into college sports. 

Here are the stories of four female Flashes and their mothers.

Jennifer and Amelia Perdue: “I just was around volleyball so much, and I loved the sport.”

Jennifer Poage Perdue, Syracuse University volleyball outside hitter, 1979-82. Shares school record for most matches played in a season. First freshman to captain the team.

Amelia Perdue: Kent State freshman defensive specialist and setter in 2020-21. Played in 55 matches. Second in team in assists at 55.

Kent State volleyball player Amelia Perdue jokes that she was on the court before she was born.

Her mother, Jennifer, was pregnant with her when she was a coach at Tallmadge Middle School in Tallmadge, Ohio.

“I remember being there when she was inside me,” Jennifer said. “I thought, ‘Oh, she’s on the court pretty early here.’”

By the time she could walk and talk, Amelia was already watching her mom coach games and hanging out with the team. She calls her younger self a “gym rat.”

“After I would get out of my elementary school, my mom would be at practice coaching, and I would walk into the gym. All of her players would shout, ‘Amelia!’”

Jennifer had started young, too, though not quite as young as her daughter.

“I tried out for volleyball as an eighth grader,” Jennifer said. “I just absolutely loved the sport, and it really clicked for me.”

Jennifer went on to play volleyball at Syracuse, then coached volleyball while being a physical education teacher. 

Amelia bounced through many sports before she settled on volleyball.

“I just want her to be happy,” Jennifer said. “I wouldn’t care if she did dance, ballet or band, but Amelia just happened to be one that liked volleyball.”

When Amelia was small, she also played softball, basketball and did a little bit of swimming and gymnastics.

“But because my mom continued to coach as I was growing up, I was just around volleyball so much,” Amelia said. “In the end, I loved that sport.”

Amelia made her high school varsity team as a freshman and was recruited as a setter/defensive specialist for Kent State. 

Jennifer remembers going through some of the same experiences Amelia went through this season.

“We practiced every day,” Jennifer said. “We didn’t have a lot of time off that I remember. We were traveling on the weekends and practicing throughout the week. I got burned out pretty badly.”

But Jennifer has tried to teach her daughter that commitment is important, even through hard times.

“It’s a lot of pressure to be an athlete, but that’s a privilege,” Jenifer said. “It makes you a stronger person, it can make you learn how to manage your time and it makes you physically fit. A lot of good can come from sports.”

Amelia has tried to learn that mentality.

“My mom is the most competitive person still to this day and she’s 59 years old,” Amelia said. “As I’ve grown into my collegiate level, she’s my biggest supporter.”

Jennifer says volleyball today isn’t quite the same sport she played.

“Girls are hitting the volleyball harder,” Jennifer said. “They are more powerful, and I think they are showing a lot more athletic ability and strength.”

The sport is also higher profile than when Jennifer was playing.

“This is the first year that our NCAA volleyball tournament has been all across ESPN,” Amelia said. “In the past, it’s been on Big Ten networks that you had to pay for to see the games. Now it’s on ESPN, and everyone’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s so awesome!’”

And if they played one-on-one, who would win?

“I definitely would want to beat her, but I think that she is just a great player,” Amelia said. “So I think her IQ of the game is a little bit better than mine.”

Shauna and Kaitlyn Miller: “We would go out in the backyard, and she would hit me ground balls.” 

Shauna Bowman-Miller: The Ohio State University softball third baseman,1988-91. Helped lead OSU to its first Big Ten title in 1990. Third team All-American in 1991. First softball player inducted into the Varsity “O” Hall of Fame.

Kaitlyn Miller: Kent State senior softball infielder. All-Mid-American Conference freshman team in 2018. Hit .378 in 2020, ninth in the MAC.

Both KSU senior Kaitlyn Miller and her mother were playing softball by the time they were in kindergarten.

“I just could not get enough of it,” Shauna said. “So I did encourage Kaitlyn to play. I’d throw balls, and she had this little foam bat. I had her in T-ball when she was in kindergarten.”

“My mom didn’t force me to play softball,” Kaitlyn said. “But when I was younger, we would go out in the backyard, and she would hit me ground balls or fly balls.” 

Both Shaun and Kaitlyn made it to college softball, but the duo said the sport is a lot different today. 

“What athletes do today is just light-years ahead of where we were,” Shauna said. “I can’t imagine how good I would have been if I would have had equipment that players have today.

“The bat that I used in college was a 34-inch, 29-ounce bat. It was like swinging a tree trunk.

“And I played with a white ball that wasn’t hard, so you couldn’t hit it as far. Our pitcher’s mound was from 40 feet away instead of what’s now 43 feet, so the ball got there a lot quicker. All the games were really low scoring because people couldn’t hit the ball far.”

Kaitlyn never had to worry about her 24-ounce bat weighing her down. 

“Technology has brought the game to a completely different level,” Kaitlyn said. 

Strength and conditioning is different too.

“I started lifting weights on my own my sophomore year in high school, but conditioning was much different than what it is today,” Shauna said. “Our strength and conditioning coach was someone who probably really wanted to be doing football.” 

Her mom “was still a killer third baseman,” Kaitlyn said.

“I always felt like I had an edge up with softball because of what she would talk about with her experiences,” Kaitlyn said. “It did impact how I mentally and physically performed.”

“We’ve worked a lot on the mental part of the game,” Shauna said, “and how important it is to be responsible for the energy that you bring to a place. I’ve always tried not to push too hard or make her (Kaitlyn) feel like you got to get a hit every time. ”

When Shauna played, “It was in that bridge between Title IX and what athletics is today, and I still think we get the short end of the stick,” she said.

Her team didn’t have softball uniforms; they had “smaller, polyester men’s stuff.”

Kaitlyn believes things are better today.

“Gender equality has definitely gotten a lot better — not perfect obviously,” Kaitlyn said. “But I think it’s a lot better now.”

Shauna says she has always tried to make sure Kaitlyn knew that women’s sports were just as important as men’s.

“Be proud,” Shauna said. “Be proud of who you are, who you’re representing, your teammates, your university, your community. Don’t let the boys hold you down. They’ve really won if you let that happen.”

Nell and Nila Blackford: “My mom was really supportive. She would coach me and give me really good advice.” 

Nell Knox-Blackford: University of Louisville basketball center. Graduated as all-time leading scorer with 1,899 points. Earned All-Metro Conference honors in 1993. 131 career blocks, second all-time for the Cardinals. 

Nila Blackford: Kent State basketball sophomore forward. Made the MAC all-freshman team. Second-team all-MAC in 2020-21. One of three players in the league to average a double-double.

Nell Knox-Blackford was a star basketball player at the University of Louisville, but her daughter was pulled into the sport by friends.

“I knew my mom played in college and it was a big deal for her, but she never pushed me to play,” Nila said. “I just got thrown into the mix because my friends and I were all trying to play the same sport.”

Her mom focused on helping Nila find what sport she loved the most. 

“I wanted to introduce my children to different sports and see which one they fell in love with,” Nell said. “Nila started out in soccer and loved it. She was great because she was fast, but she just had no foot skill. Over time, it began to change from soccer to basketball.”

By seventh grade, Nila and her friends had landed on the court.

“I didn’t take it seriously at first,” Nila said. “But then I really started to enjoy it more and more, as I played more.”

Nila was a finalist for Miss Basketball in Kentucky after her senior season.

So who was better?

“She’s a pretty good defender, but I was always a scorer,” Nell said. “And being left handed, I always had the advantage of being able to score at will. It would be a toss up. I don’t know who would win.”

Nell acknowledged that the sport has advanced through the years, saying that the level of play is different, girls are starting to train early and they’re getting specialist coaches.

Both Nell and Nila had strong support systems to succeed in the classroom.

“At times, it was challenging,” Nell said. “But we had all the resources in place. We had academic counseling offices, tutors and everything we needed to help us succeed in the class. So if you wanted to succeed, you would and could.”

Nila made the MAC all-academic team this season.

One big difference for Nell and her daughter is how much more publicity the sport is getting now.  

Nila said her mom would talk to her about how men’s basketball teams were always more popular with fans and were the moneymakers of the sport. 

However, Nila does think gender equality in the NCAA has improved. 

“It has gotten better,” Nila said. “I think a lot more people are women’s sports fans.”

Her mom agrees. 

“The one positive thing is the amount of publicity that they’re giving women sports,” Nell said. “That was a big challenge for us in college. It was always about the men’s scores, but I’m seeing an increase each and every day and I’m so grateful for that. That certainly continues to help the game and our young women athletes in the future.”

Division I sports “was a little intimidating and scary in the beginning,” Nell said. “But I would encourage anyone to do it.”

Nell treasures her time in sports and is glad to see Nila’s success. “My mom was really supportive,” Nila said. “She would often coach me and give me really good advice. As I became more serious with it, she would help me even more whether it was giving me tips or telling me how to deal with certain situations. So I look up to my mom.”

Beth and Amanda Winquist: “Since I could walk, I’ve done soccer.” 

Beth Schaefer-Winquist: North Carolina State No. 1 singles and doubles tennis player from 1991-94. Team captain her senior year and ranked as high as 30th in Division I.

Amanda Winquist: Kent State  freshman soccer forward. Second-team All-Ohio in high school. Member of the 2017 North American Cup club soccer champion team.

Many student-athletes excel in the same sport that their parent did, but freshman soccer player Amanda Winquist took a different path.

Her mom, Beth Winquist, starred in tennis at North Carolina State.

And while Amanda enjoys playing tennis with her mom, she always knew soccer was her sport. 

“Since I could walk, I’ve done soccer,” Amanda said. “I did softball and swimming, but soccer is just what I wanted to do.”

Amanda says her mother would tell her, “‘Well, if you don’t like tennis, then you don’t have to, but I would like you to play some type of sport.’”

“My two older brothers took on soccer, and my mom decided that it’d be a good idea to put me in soccer. She was like ‘You can go to practice with your brothers.’”

Even in different sports, Amanda and Beth both went through similar experiences. 

Amanda tore her ACL this season and played only five games.

In a sad coincidence, her mom suffered the same injury at N.C. State.

“She told me that it’s not going to be easy, and I knew that going into it,” Amanda said.

Her mother would tell her, “It gets hard, but you have to keep going. Don’t ever give up because I know you’re capable of doing a lot more than you think you can.’”

“You’ve gotta want it because it’s a grind. It’s not always going to be happy or easy, but it’s an experience that you’ll never forget. You meet friends from all over the world. To this day, a lot of my friends are ones I met in college playing tennis.”

Pilar is a sports reporter. Contact her at [email protected].