When requested to write an article on women’s athletic history at Lake Superior State College/University, I of course said yes. Reflecting on my coaching journey took me back forty- eight years and the implementation of Title IX fifty years. This is a lot of time and changes to “reflect and recall.” Women coaches and players who were in the trenches as women’s athletics developed can understand how careers, playing opportunities, laws, and administrative decisions all contributed to where we are today. Keep in mind that nothing stays static, but we can only hope that efforts pioneer women coaches supported will continue to be enhanced by new leaders in the field and that young women athletes know why they have the opportunity to participate today. Note also that coaching careers for women were shaped by Title IX. There is so much more to be said about the growth of women’s sports at LSSC/LSSU.
Purposely I didn’t include many names of players and other coaches as I would inadvertently omit some. It might be entertaining and enlightening to hear some of the women athlete alumni’s stories by decades.
I asked Gunile Myers DeVault to contribute to this article because she was the first woman to be hired at LSSC to coach and administer women’s athletics.
Pre Title IX
Growing up in Sault, Michigan and graduating from Sault High School in 1970, there were no girls’ athletic teams. An alternative was GAA the Girls Athletic Association that played half- court basketball on Saturday mornings in the gym and intramural offerings during lunch time.
Attending LSSC from 1970 to 1972, there were no organized sports for women. The alternative again was intramurals. From 1972 which is the inception of Title IX, opportunities began to change. The larger issue now was how to incorporate, monitor, provide fiscal support, create schedules, hire coaches, and ready facilities for this mandated federal law. The general public thinks Title IX was for athletics only, but it impacted all educational programs in schools receiving federal funding so this would include academics, music, art, theater as examples which already in most instances provided equal participation. There of course was a fear on the male coaching side that starting women’s programs would decimate well organized men’s programs. In some cases, it did, and it certainly was a scare tactic. I give credit to those athletic directors who provided positive leadership during a trying transition. The “good old boys” now had to include the “new girls.”
Although Title IX has existed for fifty years, (signed into law on June 23, 1972) discrepancies in (male vs. female) salaries, locker rooms, practice times, budgets, game schedules, traveling, assistant coaches, scholarships etc. all took time to rectify with advocacy and some are still being challenged today.
Women who were provided the opportunity to participate in organized scholastic and collegiate athletic programs at the onset of Title IX value that experience. They lived through the challenges, growth spurts, inequities, formed friendships with teammates that still exist today, and celebrate that they were “pioneers.”
The Early Development of Women’s Athletics at LSSC
Thoughts from Gunile Myers DeVault
“After the passing of the Educational Amendments of 1972, which included the “Title Nine” regulations, I was hired to coach women’s basketball and women’s tennis*, teach Physical Education courses, and was designated the Coordinator of Women’s Athletics at LSSC. My hiring occurred because LSSC needed to comply with Title Nine and I had some basketball experience. My involvement with women’s basketball was as a four-year player at Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS. As a player, the fun of playing and competing with other teams were the main goals, with little thought about budgets, scholarships, recruitment, scheduling, locker rooms, uniforms, or equipment.
I came to LSSC and found that no clear plan had been developed to prepare for starting a women’s basketball team or a women’s tennis team. I quickly learned that my position would evolve into more than just coaching and teaching. There were many administrative issues with developing women’s programs that needed to be resolved. LSSC was a small Division II institution in which budget development was always on the table. Bud Cooper, the Athletic Director, and I had many difficult discussions about finding money for the women’s programs, some of the money coming from the other athletic team’s budgets.
In retrospect, some of the issues that needed to be resolved are amusing to recall.
One of the first situations that needed to be addressed was where my office should be located. In order to accommodate a new female coach/instructor, the men’s basketball coach and the men’s hockey coach, each of whom had a private office, were required to share a single office. This was a quick and sure way for me to get acquainted with the two coaches.
Other issues involved space and the use of locker and weight rooms for women’s athletics, practice and game scheduling times in the one small gymnasium (used by all teams except hockey), trainer personnel, equipment, practice and game uniforms, game administrative personnel, and competition/travel scheduling.
The facility for competition, which was also used to teach required P.E. courses, was a single gymnasium (currently the Fletcher Center) which included two small restrooms, a small ticket space and three offices for coaches and instructors. An upstairs office housed the Athletic Director and his secretary. The basement area had showers, toilets, lockers rooms, a weight room for male athletes and students and an equipment/laundry room.
Female students and female athletes used the small women’s restroom or their dorm rooms to change clothes for classes and team practice. On basketball game nights, the basement spaces were used for the visiting and LSSC men’s and women’s teams. The explanation of how that worked would be too long to tell but we had to carefully coordinate who was in the showers, who needed to use the restroom area and who needed the locker room spaces, all of which were interconnected.
The adding of women’s sports required the men’s coaches and their teams, as well as other activities (classes, intramural activities) to adjust their established times for using the gymnasium. Even the janitor had to modify his scheduled times for getting his work done. Occasionally the women’s tennis team needed indoor practice time because of inclement weather preventing practice outdoors. I am sure there were many discussions, ones I was not part of, about the changes required because of the passage of Title Nine.
As the Coordinator for Women’s Athletics, I worked with other coaches in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in developing conference competition schedules. These schedules had to be worked in with previously established men’s conference schedules, forcing some unwelcome changes.
Women’s collegiate basketball rules were different than men’s and different than girls high school rules. Many basketball officials that were hired had little or no experience with women’s collegiate rules. At one away game, the opposing coach and the hired officials were ready to begin the game using high school girl’s rules! Our game was delayed over 30 minutes as I shared my rule book with the officials. The officials were not particularly happy with me.
The addition of a second women’s coach/instructor caused more changes including, once again, the need for additional office space. Osborn Hall, a female dormitory, had a mail room that became a shared office for the new coach and me while continuing to serve as a mail room.
The opening of the Norris Center, replacing the gymnasium, was a great addition to the campus. New office spaces were provided but there were still concerns for women athletics with only three locker rooms (excluding the hockey rink facility), one for varsity men’s sports, one for male students and the public, and one for women to be used by women athletes, female students and the public.
The implementation of Title Nine requirements allowed women to attend LSSC to participate in sports while getting an education. Women athletes arrived each year with more athletic experience and talent. It was fun to watch and guide the athletes as they achieved success in their sports.”
*Prior to my arrival, I was told that Mary Beth Coon had worked with the Women’s Club Tennis Team.
Reflections from Deb McPherson-Doyle 1976 to 1993
Early Title IX
I was the third woman coach to be hired at LSSC replacing Marty Orloff, the Women’s Volleyball and Softball coach in the fall of 1976. Softball began in spring of 1974 and Volleyball in the fall of 1974, so had been in existence for two seasons.
Graduating from NMU in Health Physical Education and Recreation in January of 1975 my first teaching position was at New Buffalo High School. Physical Education and Health classes were supplemented with coaching girls’ varsity basketball, junior varsity volleyball, and track and field. In 1975 these were competitive programs in the Red Arrow Conference. Keep in mind that I had no interscholastic or collegiate playing experience. I did play city league fast pitch as a pitcher with some very high- profile local women players.
In the summer of 1976, I received a call from Athletic Director Bud Cooper at LSSC, asking if I could coach women’s volleyball, softball, cheerleading, teach physical education classes and courses in the new recreation management major that was just beginning. I said yes, and an interview was arranged. This was a tenure track position. I was also asked to interview for an Admission Counselor position but chose the teaching and coaching. Discussing a salary with Dr. Shouldice, he said not to worry about it because some nice man would marry and take care of me, really! The faculty union put an end to this approach with women.
I did not meet Gunile Myers until after I was hired. Strange process not to have the Women’s Coordinator as part of the hiring process. Although a bit intimidating at first, Gunile was an attribute and staunch advocate for the development of women’s sports at LSSC. As she indicated, many battles ensued on many fronts. We have remained friends. The two departments (Athletics and Recreation and Criminal Justice) were collegial and social. Strong bonds developed as well as some turf wars.
Title IX…50 Years Later
Thoughts from Jamie Besson-Berge
“No person in the United State shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to other discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
I still get goosebumps when I read these 37 words that changed the lives of so very many people. For me, it was all about sports, but in reality, it was about so much more. Growing up in the U.P. where sports and outdoor activities rule, I didn’t fully grasp that there was gender discrimination when it came to education and sport activities. I have 4 sisters and our parents raised us to believe we could do anything we set our hearts on. And so, we did our best to achieve our dreams, no matter the barriers. In the late 60s and early 70s in the Ewen-Trout Creek School District, girls were blessed to have opportunities to play sports in certain formats and we were blind to the fact that they were not at all on the same level as the boys’ sports programs. We just wanted to play!
Title IX was signed by President Nixon in 1972 and the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) took a step towards equality by instituting the first Girls’ State Basketball Championship tournament. Being a member of the 1973 inaugural Class D state championship team at E-TC is still one of the biggest highlights of my life. Thank you, Lake Superior State University, for giving me the opportunity to continue playing four more years in an atmosphere that allowed me to experience the joy of Title IX. Thank you, Representatives Patsy Mink (HI) and Edith Green (OR), and so many others, for your work in crafting and fighting for enaction of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act. There have been many attempts to weaken Title IX. Fortunately, so far, all have failed. Schools were given 3 years to get in compliance with Title IX. Though much progress has been made over the last 50 years, sadly equality has not been fully achieved and no penalties have ever been levied. Athletics in school contribute greatly to a student’s education by teaching lifelong lessons about teamwork, physical and emotional health, self-esteem and community pride. We should always want that for all students.
To today’s young girls and women, I would say, “Know your rules, it makes you a better player, in sports and in life. Know your rights and fight for them. And if you lose (you will), learn from it and never give up. We owe it to those who fought so hard for our benefit.”
Until 1976 a national trend was combining Athletics and Physical Education into one administrative department under the Athletic Director. Coaches were given supplemental physical education activity courses to teach. (Ron Mason was my tennis instructor while attending LSSC). There was also a Physical Education minor in place with classes taught by coaches.
In 1976, the Recreation Management major was developed under Dr. Russell Bruce. The Physical Education minor classes and PE activity courses were now under academics and Russ.
This took major coordinating to assign both teaching and coaching loads and I am still not sure the percentage breakdown was even. Supposedly 50/50. The inception of a faculty union required credit loads for academic courses and equated coaching as release time credits. Coaches reported to two administrators.
Consider the prospect of tenured coaches today. Beginning In the 1980’s coaches were hired on separate contracts, not tenure track, and could teach supplemental activity courses. The physical education minor was eliminated when the education program was dissolved, and PE courses became activity courses of which two credits were required by General Education for graduation. The majority of tenure track coaches had moved on. When I resigned from coaching in 1993, I retained my tenure status as a full-time faculty member. The last coach with tenure.
LSSC Challenges with Title IX
Gunile addressed the early challenges and complications of implementing Title IX from her first- hand experiences. Now mine.
Starting my first season of coaching volleyball in fall of 1976, the team practiced at the Loretto High School gymnasium and played matches in what is now the Fletcher Center. Of all the antiquated gyms in the conference ours was the smallest. Moving into the James Norris Center our second season we hosted one of the best facilities in the conference and it was a recruiting tool until other colleges and universities began updating their facilities. The locker room logistics of sharing with the public remained a battle until Locker Room 3. Bill Rabe wrote a great article on this untitled locker room and referred to it as “unisex.” That encouraged finally dedicating it for public women and to be shared with women athletic teams that were in season.
Laundry services and athletic training were available to all. Prime practice times were 2-4, 4-6, and 6-8 as mornings were reserved for activity courses. Volleyball, tennis, and preseason basketball vied for space. The gym could be sectioned into three courts so at times we used two for volleyball and tennis was on the third if the weather was bad. We had to constantly watch out for those sneaky yellow tennis balls rolling onto our courts. It was finally agreed that the in-season sport maintained their scheduled time until the season was completed. We operated on trimesters at the time. The Norris Center manager and custodians were wonderful, supported women’s sports and were much appreciated.
Softball was another story. There was a terrible field on Meridian where the outdoor tennis courts are today that was used for practice in the early years. We soon entered into a cooperative agreement with the City of Sault Ste. Marie to practice and schedule our home games on the men’s fast pitch field on 4th Avenue. The physical plant workers prepped and lined the field (thank you Alden Campbell) and Bud Clark (City Recreation Director) made sure we had access to bathrooms. Preseason practices started in the ice arena with bleachers being moved against the wall, and as soon as the hockey season was over, we moved to the rink area (ice removed). An actual infield fit within the rink. The team was not allowed to hit high flies due to hitting the scoreboard on previous practices. Outfield practice took place in the Norris parking lot until the field dried up from winter snows. Many early home games were rescheduled in Petoskey until the snow was gone. This was a spring trimester sport at the time operating from March through the middle of May. On semesters softball began in January and ended the end of April.
Title IX proved challenging for the athletic budget overall. Not a lot of new funding to support four women’s sports teams as Gunile had indicated. Instead of coaches creating a team budget based on needs (uniforms, equipment, travel, lodging, refs, etc.) Mr. C would allocate a specific amount for each sport and coaches made the determination of how to spend it. New to this process, I quickly learned to spend it all because any monies left over were not carried over and the next year’s budget would have less. We had four girls to a room versus two guys to a room when traveling (saves money). Recruiting trips that entailed high school invitationals proved beneficial versus attending one match to see two teams only.
My first two years were true learning experiences and with college athletics there seemed to be ever changing conference rules (GLIAC) and governing bodies (AIAW and NCAA). In 1978 when the volleyball team won the GLIAC and went on to play in the SMAIAW (state) finals, it came as a true surprise to Mr. C and Dr. Shouldice. Championship tournament play was not budgeted so monies had to be found to cover the expenses to the tournament in Spring Arbor. It was funded. AIAW the governing body for women’s sport from 1971 to 1983 did not cover cost of championship play.
In order to supplement the volleyball budget an annual International Volleyball Tournament began in 1979. Up to twenty- four teams participated over two days in the Norris Center. This fund raiser was also an excellent recruiting source for many years to come. It also gave local teams an opportunity to play Canadian and downstate teams.
The majority of LSSC sports teams traveled by vans that coaches or assistants (if you had one) drove. LSSC did have a bus appropriately named “Asthma” that the hockey and men’s basketball teams used in the early years. The vans were eventually upgraded to mini-busses that held sixteen passengers and a driver. A true luxury over the vans where you needed two or more to accommodate a team.
Many trips especially tournaments out of state, found us returning at 2 or 3 in the morning. This saved lodging dollars which allowed more travel. I refer to this as the “thrifty but risky” approach to budget savings.
It was amazing to discover how many Upper Peninsula and Canadian players had never crossed the Mackinac Bridge or traveled. There were players that laid on the floor as we crossed the straits due to their fear of heights.
One aspect of our traveling was to make sure the team had new experiences. Downtown Detroit and Greektown for dinner, the St. Louis Arch and eating on a riverboat, and yes shopping was included, “power shopping.” A real wakeup call was playing at Wayne State. We were not familiar with so much security, locks on everything. The softball field was on Trumball and across the street (from the backstop) were bars from which guys would wander over inebriated and hang on the back stop. My players pointed out a few interesting, suited characters exchanging dollars for who knows what. Life in the big city!
In 1992 my bus caught on fire and burned up outside Coleman, Michigan returning from a volleyball match at Northwood University in Midland. This event prompted new checks on vehicles in the motor pool and also accident insurance coverage as we lost everything. That same year a car drove through the front window of a restaurant the team was eating in……this was my wakeup call. I retired from coaching in 1993.
A totally new concept and adventure. Coaching at the high school level, the players come to you to try out for the team. At the collegiate level the challenge to find the best players from a variety of stellar schools and sports programs is a must. This however was a true challenge based on our location. My first year at LSSC the teams were comprised of players who had participated previously for the former coach, and a few new freshmen. Some stayed with the program my second year, and some moved on.
Recruiting began. There were not many high school volleyball programs yet developed in the Upper Peninsula. Sault, Ontario and Northern Ontario however were well ahead of Northern Michigan. Junior National Team player Helen Vukovich came in 1977-78 along with a few other Canadian players. An outstanding hitter out of Dearborn, Kristin Campbell also joined the team that year. The three of us all attended an Olympic Training Camp in Mattawa, Ontario that summer. Even though the Canadian players used international rules (much preferred) versus the NAGWS rules, the skill development and strategies presented by Olympic coaches (Bill Neville for one) were a definite benefit to this coach.
Other recruiting locations in Ontario included Marathon and Sudbury. There were no other competitor coaches recruiting in these areas!
Developing high school feeder programs took off with Coach Jo Lake’s daughter Shaun committing to volleyball for the 1978 season. Jo coached Flint Holy Rosary and Kearsley and is a National High School Coach Awardee. Over the years seven outstanding players were to follow Shaun from the Flint schools. Three are in the LSSU sports hall of fame.
Title IX did have a huge impact on expanding sports experiences for high school girls. The opportunity to attend a college/university on a sports scholarship became a passion for many. In the early years, these collegiate players became role models, and really encouraged the development of high school volleyball teams in the Eastern Upper Peninsula. My players participated in skill development camps to assist in growing the sport.
Softball was tough to recruit for and travel incurred during June to sign mostly pitchers and catchers. Since there were no local teams at the time most of the recruiting was done below the bridge and with good success. Keep in mind that volleyball and basketball players could play softball when we were on the trimesters when their other seasons were completed.
Athletic scholarships (referred to as full rides) were definitely not equal between the women’s and men’s sports teams in the early years. Conferences (GLIAC) and later national associations (NCAA) governed maximum full rides but not minimum for each sport and division playing in.
Reflecting back, I had two full rides each for volleyball and softball. To bring in the caliber of athlete needed to advance the sports it took some manipulating, but I learned that a high- profile volleyball player who also played softball could come in on softball funds and vice versa. A real key was recruiting athletes that had academic scholarships. When the college was on trimesters many women athletes could play more than one sport…some did three in the academic year. A change to semesters, governing organizations changing some playing seasons, and NCAA rules essentially eliminated those opportunities. Overtime the number of full rides increased but never reached the max allowed.
The Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Association (GLIAC) was founded in 1972 and LSSC was a founding member. The conference addressed academic standards, playing rules, and recruiting among others that also had to conform to three governing associations at the time, including NAIA, NCAA, and AIAW. Some private colleges in the GLIAC maintained affiliation with NAIA and larger schools transitioned to NCAA for men’s sports. Women’s sports were governed by AIAW until 1981 when LSSC moved women’s sports to NCAA. I specifically remember discussions on transfer rules at conference meetings. GLIAC meetings had the Athletic Director, Women’s Coordinator, and Faculty Rep from each member school. The women’s coordinator caucus was always a learning experience as issues were raised and proposals created as to solving them.
AIAW was the first governing association for women’s intercollegiate sports. Schools were divided into small and large college divisions based on the student population of their school. LSSC belonged to the small college division although many conference schools played in the large college division. State, regional, and national championships were played in each division. In 1978 and 1980 LSSU Volleyball won the State of Michigan Association Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (SMAIAW) and then went on to play in the regional finals for the Midwest (MWAIAW). A team had to win each level to move on. There was no committee to assess criteria for tournament selection as in the NCAA.
LSSC volleyball teams competed against what today are NCAA Division I schools during the playing season especially at invitational tournaments that brought many regional teams together. Favorite tournaments were in Duluth, Milwaukee, Ann Arbor, Fargo, St. Louis, Dayton, Windsor etc. and we would receive annual invites and schedule at least three per year. Numerous championship trophies were accrued, and it was excellent exposure. The only large school in Michigan that we never beat was CMU.
Softball invitational tournaments were also scheduled as a preseason opener and even during the season.
AIAW saw its’ demise around 1981 and in 1982 filed an antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA which they lost. Numerous schools and conferences especially large schools chose NCAA as they promised to pay for all tournament expenses and provide TV coverage for women’s basketball.
NCAA affiliation became the norm and now three divisions were established. LSSC chose Division II for all sports with the exception of hockey which went Division I. Because tournament selection was based on criteria such as win/loss records, strength of schedule was also a determinant and large schools stopped playing lower divisions. Invitational tournaments were primarily within the division you played.
Each division had more rules and more regulations. I remember the first time I had to take a test on recruiting rules.
In the early 70’s the majority of coaches of women’s sports were women and a Woman Coordinator was designated at each school to attend the annual conventions. I filled in for Gunile as these were scheduled during her basketball season. Memorable conventions were in Atlanta, (first time flying), DC, Los Angeles, and the last in Detroit that Michigan hosted. Many NCAA Division I and II athletic programs had women’s athletic directors for the women’s sports programs as well.
The GLIAC and NCAA Division II are very competitive and LSSU is the smallest state university in Michigan. As a coach you need to step out and develop recruiting niches providing a reason why players would want to venture to the “far north.” There needs to be a healthy investment and attitude to creating a “winning program” from the top down, academic programs and professors that encourage their student athletes, and a community base that takes pride in the accomplishments of student athletes.
Recruits want to sign with winners, winners develop with coaches who can meld combinations of players to work as a team, have the same goals and a desire to strive for success. Coaches can teach and instill that philosophy, but you have to find the “right clay’ to mold and also have the budgetary support necessary to compete.
In my seventeen years of coaching, the early years were the most memorable. We were building a legacy based on legislation that was to promote equal opportunity for women. The women coaches in the early years of Title IX were fighters. If they recognized an imbalance, they addressed it. Sometimes results were slow, there was a definite learning curve for male athletic directors and coaches. The breadth of women’s sports programs in place today began fifty years ago. There is no room for complacency and challenges remain.
If you played from 1974 to 1984, please submit your comments and we can review them for the next issue of the Laker Log.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Lake Superior State University.