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Title IX at Notre Dame: What Though the Odds be Great or Small

This is truly a day to celebrate! For the past year, 230 women, primarily from the University of Notre Dame's Classes of 1977 and 1976, and their coaches have worked diligently to recreate the rosters of the first women's sports teams at the University.
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This is truly a day to celebrate! For the past year, 230 women, primarily from the University of Notre Dame's Classes of 1977 and 1976, and their coaches have worked diligently to recreate the rosters of the first women's sports teams at the University.

The story of women's athletics at the University of Notre Dame begins in 1972, when the university welcomed its first women undergraduate students. That year, Mary Lammers and Kathy Gallogly began working out with the men's diving team under coach Dennis Stark. Sally Fischer, and then Kathy Valdiserri, competed on the fencing team with the help of coach Mike DeCicco. Women began playing tennis for Notre Dame in the spring of 1973 when Betsy Fallon organized a team. Tennis players Sharon Sullivan, Ellen Callahan, Carol Simmons and Jane Lammers joined her in the fall, when the second class of women arrived at Notre Dame. There were now 767 women on campus. These 18 and 19 year-old women recruited teams and coaches, found practice time, and scheduled intercollegiate competitions in basketball, crew, fencing, golf, sailing, skiing, and tennis. A number of women, including myself, also began to teach swimming for the Physical Education Department, worked as the first women lifeguards at the Rockne Memorial pool, and taught the First Aid classes that were required for all dormitory staff members. In the spring of 1974, Ellen Hughes and Jane Lammers convened the captains of the women's athletic teams and created the Women's Athletic Association. The WAA was instrumental in advocating for the women's teams with the University's administration and the Athletic Department. In addition, as a student manager, Mary Spalding began to organize and promote the women's sports teams. That fall, women began competing in field hockey. Soon after, Bonita Bradshaw and other women were running cross-country and track. In 1976, Mary Ryan and Judy Shiely began the volleyball team.

However, six years ago, as the University of Notre Dame prepared to celebrate the history of its women's athletic program, it turned out that there was very little information about the first years of women's sports. Like the men's teams, each women's team had to recruit players, find a coach, train, and then play a full intercollegiate schedule as an "Interest Group," without funding for equipment, coaches, or travel. After a year or more of intercollegiate play, the team could apply for "Club" status and receive $600 towards its needs. Then, after another year or more of competition at the Club level, a team could finally apply for Varsity status. During those early years, from 1972 to 1977, the teams that played as Interest Groups were rarely covered by the campus reporters, and there were few records of their rosters or schedules.

When we learned this, a number of us who had played on the first women's teams decided it was time to add this chapter to the history of Notre Dame. We knew that our best resource was each other, and we already had an email list that included most of the 317 women of the Class of 1977. So, on August 18, 2011, a request was sent to the women of our class, asking anyone who played on a team for Notre Dame, or who knew anyone who played, to connect with the Early Women Athletes Project. The request was also posted on the Notre Dame Women '77 Facebook page. Later that day, the first of 2,428 emails came in. That first email was from Beth Corbin Murphy who had rowed on the first women's crew. Pat Klepper emailed a few minutes later, and reported that she had a copy of a South Bend Tribune article.

Jane Lammers found WAA records and contacted the captains of the early teams. Then, as names were submitted, captains and leaders -- including Jody Gormley and Mary Fitzsimons of crew, Mary Clemency of basketball and Donna Losurdo of field hockey -- created email lists so the women of each team could work together to reconstruct their history. Christina Marciniak (fencing), Becky Banasiak (field hockey), Barb Breesmen (golf), and many other women athletes returned to their parents' homes and scoured their own attics or garages to find their boxes of college memorabilia. They found letters, diaries, certificates, award dinner programs, photographs, and articles about the teams that they had saved from The Observer, South Bend Tribune, Chicago Tribune, Scholastic Magazine, Notre Dame Magazine, and Notre Dame football programs. Marilyn Crimmins, who had captained crew, had volumes of detailed records, including daily work out regimens.

The women contacted their coaches. One of the first women's basketball coaches, Sr. Sally Duffy, who is now the Director of the Sisters of Charity Foundation, took time after completing the Sisters of the Cloth documentary in New Orleans to return to her family home and retrieve information she had stored there. Coaches Astrid Hotvedt, Carole Moore, Kathy Cordes, and Jeanne Earley also provided invaluable information about their teams. Gregg Bangs, who had been the editor of The Observer during the early days of women's sports at Notre Dame, recounted stories of basketball and volleyball, as did student-coaches Dave Wheaton and John Donahue of tennis, and Clete Graham and Fred Heydrick of crew.

Based on the information we received, I designed an initial set of rosters. Over the next eight months, these rosters were circulated 16 times among the 230 women athletes and their coaches. The women from each team vetted the names of their athletes year by year, team by team. They made sure that each name was listed correctly. Then, as new information came to light, the rosters were updated. Jane Lammers connected with a number of the early women athletes and coaches for additional clarification, and solicited more detailed accounts. Mary Hums, Terry Molony, and many other athletes shared story after story of those early years. The 230 women were anonymous no longer!

This effort also created connections with current women athletes at the University. When the Irish women's basketball team made it to the NCAA finals in Denver earlier this year, the women of the first women's basketball team, including team founders Mary Clemency, Patty Coogan Wyle, and Judy Shiely King, as well as Maureen Maloney, Barb Frey, Academic All-American Carol Shield, and others, took out a full-page ad in the campus paper, The Observer, before the big game to support the current team's efforts and accomplishments.

Thanks to the letters, phone calls, and 2,428 emails that have been received since the first request was made in August 2011, it has been possible to reconstruct the rosters of the women who played on Notre Dame's first women's teams from 1972 to 1977. Displaying the same teamwork that helped them succeed during those early years of women's sports at the University, over the past year each player and coach has made valuable contributions to the larger story. In addition, nearly 75 players and coaches sent personal accounts of those early years and, earlier this month, nearly 2 and a half hours of interviews with Notre Dame's early women athletes were video-recorded for the University archives.

These women have much to say about the impact that playing for Notre Dame has had on their lives. They have become team players in their communities and their professions as doctors, lawyers, judges, professors, teachers, clergy, psychologists, architects, engineers, accountants, economists, and businesswomen. As mothers and grandmothers, they have encouraged their children and grandchildren to be their best and give their best.

My daughter, Clara Holtsnider, put it this way on her Facebook page on February 2, 2102:

In case you missed it, yesterday was National Girls and Women in Sports Day, celebrating females in athletics. Many thanks to women like my mom, a member of the first women's field hockey team in 1974 at the University of Notre Dame. Without fancy locker rooms and without funding for equipment, they competed with the best of them and were a force to be reckoned with. If it weren't for you and your teammates, Anne Dilenschneider, I wouldn't have had the chance to swim in high school, row crew at SDSU, or do half the things I've done since. The continuation of passionate and committed women has ultimately given my own daughter the ability to choose between soccer, basketball, dance, karate, hockey, swimming, gymnastics, etc. Keep it up, ladies!

Over the past year, we have been able to recreate our history as Notre Dame's early women athletes. We want to encourage other girls' and women's teams across the country to do the same, so that these stories will not be lost. Our hope is that our stories will inspire future generations to try new things and attempt the impossible, "what though the odds be great or small."

Thanks to Jane Lammers for her invaluable assistance with this article!