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The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Documentary to tell UA alumna Roberta Alison story

Bestselling author, filmmaker and critically acclaimed sports writer Keith Dunnavant will film “Roberta The First Lady of Southern Sports,” his newest documentary this summer.

The film will focus on the story of Roberta Alison, an alumna of The University of Alabama, who was the first woman at the University to receive an athletic scholarship.

Alison, who began her collegiate tennis career after being scouted by the University’s tennis coach, not only played tennis for the Capstone but broke the gender barrier. Coach Jason Morton and Athletics Director Paul “ Bear” Bryant helped convince the SEC to allow Alison to join the all-men’s tennis team.

“Allison was a true pioneer who helped pave the way for the women’s sports landscape we know today, and, yet, her story is largely unknown, even at The University of Alabama,” Dunnavant said.

Dunnavant, a UA alumnus, wanted to tell a story that has not yet been told.

“In the early 1960s, when women’s sports did not exist in the SEC, or hardly anywhere, Alison was such a gifted tennis player, earned her way onto the men’s tennis team at The University of Alabama,” he said. “In the process, she became the first woman to earn an athletic scholarship in the SEC a decade before Title IX.”

The project is being funded on Kickstarter, a funding platform for creative projects, where Alison is quoted saying the sport is at the heart of her motivation.

“I didn’t go into it wanting to be a pioneer,” the late Alison said . “I just wanted to play tennis.”

Dunnavant said Alison was quite the contender. The tennis star received respect from many of the male players, and it wasn’t an uncommon occurrence to have opponents drop out of matches against her to avoid losing to a woman.

Alison’s career ended at the peak of the open era where professional tennis players were allowed to play with amateurs. Alison retired and moved back to her hometown of Alexander City, Ala., where she began a family and later died in 2009.

The tennis building at the University was dedicated to her in 2012. Though the building is a physical symbol of her legacy, Dunnavant said her story, which has the potential for being an inspiration for women, is still an unknown story.

“It has taken individuals with talent, drive and determination to break down the barriers that we now take for granted. Alison was one such person, representative of so many others,” Dunnavant said.

Joseph Rinaldi, Dunnavant’s public relations agent of 10 years, has yet to see production for the film but said he is “sure it will be terrific.”

Filming for the documentary will not begin until sometime this summer and is set to be released in 2014. More information can be found on


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