When Nunnelly first arrived on The Plains, not only was there no Coliseum, but the Alumni Gym, built in 1916, still stood next to Foy Hall.
“I did undergraduate work at Auburn, and I entered as a freshman in 1966,” Nunnelly said. “I was a member of the Auburn Marching Band and Concert Band in those years. It was a great experience, so the band has a special place in my heart.”
Upon graduation, Nunnelly earned a graduate assistantship at the University of Tennessee, considered one of the top programs in physical education at the time. However, the declining health of her mother forced Nunnelly to move closer to home, and she accepted a position at Berry High School, now known as Hoover High School, in Birmingham. Soon, her passion turned to athletic officiating.
“When they would have tournaments back in those days with women’s athletics, if you brought an official, you didn’t have to pay an entry fee,” Nunnelly said. “I loved blowing a whistle. I always went as the volleyball or basketball official when they were playing their tournaments or games, and the more and more I got into it, the more and more I really loved officiating.”
When an opportunity to return to Auburn presented himself, Nunnelly jumped at the chance. In 1973, she took the reins as the women’s basketball coach, fielding the program’s first team to play at Beard-Eaves.
“We had no scholarships,” Nunnelly said. “The kids played because of a love of the game. We had to buy our own tennis shoes, and we drove our own cars to games and things like that. Like in high school, we had to have sales and car washes to get the money to be able to buy whatever we wanted to do.”
After three years as coach, Nunnelly was offered an administrative job at Auburn, but she remained on athletic panels on the local and national levels.
One such panel was the NCAA’s Rules Committee, responsible for introducing smaller basketballs to better fit the feminine physique.
“Obviously, with the lady’s hand being smaller than most men and trying to grasp the ball, to even dunk it would not have been a realistic thing to think about,” Nunnelly said. “It also helped develop junior high and high school students once they went from a junior ball in elementary school to that size ball. Finally, we did some research and it showed that their skill development helped a great deal by playing with the smaller ball.”
Because of the far-reaching implications of the committee’s decision, Nunnelly’s name is enshrined in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.
Nunnelly has served in a variety of posts on campus through the years. Her jobs have ranged from Coliseum P.A. announcer to faculty adviser for the Auburn Cheerleaders, who recently named an endowment scholarship in her honor.
However, it is through her time with Auburn’s freshman orientation program, Camp War Eagle, that most students know the short, silver-haired figure known as “The Nun.”
For more than 15 years, Nunnelly has been a fixture at pep rallies and other spirit-related events throughout the summer.
“Camp War Eagle, with the experience I had at the beginning, to see how far that program has come with [director] Mark [Armstrong] and his staff, is just great,” Nunnelly said. “I know, from my days as an incoming freshman, with what orientation was at that point, had I not been an Auburn person my entire life, I don’t know if I would have thought ‘Have I made the right choice here?’ The Auburn Spirit, you still felt it, but it wasn’t presented then like it’s presented now. You know they feel it or they wouldn’t be here.”
Whether she is jolting a freshman class awake on a hot summer night in Jordan-Hare Stadium or spurring on the basketball program over an arena microphone, “The Nun” continues to respond whenever her beloved alma mater calls.
“I’ve just been so blessed and have been at the right place at the right time,” Nunnelly said. “A lot of the chances I’ve had with my professional career have been because I was just lucky, and I think the Lord always has a plan for all of us. You just have to wait on the journey to see when it will be fulfilled.”