In A Class By Itself
Forty years ago another class arrived at Our Lady’s University with all the thoughts of each new class. What’s my roommate like. Who will my friends be. When will my parents leave. Isn’t it great to be finally independent. Would it be cooler to open a window or keep it closed on this hot humid Indiana afternoon.
Promising, accomplished high school seniors had dreamed of this day, of walking where many of their fathers and uncles had walked. The Golden Dome shone brighter for them that day, it seemed. They talked into the night of who they were, of family experiences, of hopes fulfilled and fell asleep to dream of their academic - and for some, athletic - success at Notre Dame.
When time came to pick up their rackets, basketballs, golfclubs or oars, put on track shoes, or don swimsuits, they discovered the Athletic Department, headed by the legendary Moose Krause, was not ready for them. Title IX was a newly born gleam in some eyes, a compromise law on the books yet without any teeth.
Krause had not been convinced Notre Dame was the place women should be. Providing funding and facilities was his decision.
The Good Fight
In the seventies, these women were used to fighting for their dreams and rights. Some were so accomplished in their sports that had been on our national teams. Not likely they would fail to pick up the challenge in front of them.
They found other players, organized teams, fought for court or practice time, raised money for travel, expenses and equipment, contacted other nearby universities for games, and became a Women’s Athletic Association at Notre Dame to advocate for funding, to organize the different women’s sports, and to connect to women educators and administrators who would fight for women’s sports.
More than the first women athletes, these women served as their own managers, coaches and de facto women’s athletic department.
At their graduation, the women of the class of ‘76 celebrated their academic successes, the lifelong friends they made, and the knowledge that women’s sports had taken root at Notre Dame. They celebrated fulfilling their athletic dreams - and those of future women at Notre Dame, mostly by their own efforts. They achieved varsity status for some sports for that fall.
Four Decades of Success
Four decades later, the thirteen varsity women’s sports at Notre Dame have seen numerous national titles, conference championships that are too many to count, and celebrated many All-Americans. Many Irish women’s teams are annually national powerhouses, attracting the top high school athletes in the country with scholarship offers.
The NCAA illustrated how Title IX and the women who fought for it impacted women and sports as we know it today.
Before Title IX, fewer than 300,000 high school girls — one in 27 — played sports; there were less than 32,000 female athletes at the collegiate level. By 1974, just two years after the passage of Title IX, the number of high schoolers participating in sports had skyrocketed to 1.3 million.
Now more than 3 million high school girls — one in two — play sports. More than 191,000 females played NCAA sports in 2010-11.
The article, Title IX Legacy Goes Beyond Numbers, leads with a picture of Skylar Diggins.
Notre Dame women student-athletes move into all walks of life throughout the country, contributing to their communities. Some are even fixtures in the Notre Dame Monogram Club and in the Athletic Department Krause once ran.
“who began the slow, arduous task of building our women’s athletic heritage almost simultaneous to that joyous day in 1972 when Notre Dame opened its doors to women. If we failed to celebrate the accomplishments of those women who started the clubs, drove the vans, bought their own uniforms, and did it all for the love of the game, we would be missing the whole point.”
Haley Scott DeMaria, class of ‘95, swimming, is First Vice President of the Monogram Club and will be the Monogram Club’s President from 2013-15. In her recent Commencement Address to Notre Dame’s 2012 class, Scott DeMaria emphasized:
“As a member of the Notre Dame family, I learned what is truly important in life: gratitude and making a difference. It is easy to make a living; it is more gratifying to make a difference.”
A Question of Honor
Universities like Michigan, Boston College, Indiana, Washington and others have chosen to award honorary monograms to selected women from women’s sports. Their women honorees excelled in their sports prior to becoming a varsity sport and made important contributions to women’s athletics at their respective universities.
Notre Dame’s Monogram Club has chosen a different, more corporate path.
At Notre Dame, monograms are awarded to those in varsity sports. Honorary monograms are awarded almost entirely to non-graduates who have significantly contributed to and furthered Our Lady’s university’s athletic department’s goals - coaches, athletic directors, benefactors, Father Jenkins, and various people involved in the growth and popularity of Notre Dame athletics.
The Monogram Club has honored more female recipients with honorary monograms over the last decade - an administrator brought in by these pioneer women athletes, long-serving Athletic Department employees, benefactors, coach’s wives, former women’s sports coaches.
Certainly a huge gap exists between the contributions of honorary monogram awardee, Sergeant Tim McCarthy, for example, and the women athletes “began the slow, arduous taks of building our women’s athletic heritage... and did it for the love of the game” in Conboy’s words.
How can you compare a few minutes at seven football games a year over more than a decade to four years of work that blossomed into Notre Dame’s national footprint in women’s athletics?
Northwestern chose a path that closed that gap. Northwestern’s Athletic Department after two years of study made 265 women athletes from the ‘30s thourgh the ‘70s eligible for varsity monograms, inducting them into their Monogram Club retroactively in a huge celebration of their achievements and contributions to Northwestern’s athletics.
Which Path Notre Dame?
Whether Notre Dame will choose any of these ways to honor their pioneers in women’s sports and how they will choose to celebrate forty years of women’s athletics is yet to be announced.
But I am sure that every female student-athlete from that class of 1976 feels the same way Scott DeMaria does:
“As a member of the Notre Dame family, I learned what is truly important in life: gratitude and making a difference....it is more gratifying to make a difference.”
I'd like to take a moment to thank all those women of Notre Dame over the past forty years for their contributions to Notre Dame in so many ways, especially that first class. We are family.