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Notre Dame's Womens Athletics: A Love and A Legacy

Can you imagine Notre Dame today without women? Women have been critical to the success of Notre Dame in academics and athletics over the last thirty-eight years - as students, professors, heads of colleges, administrators, Fellows, on the Board of Trustees and on the Monogram Club Board.

Notre Dame has become a national powerhouse in such women's sports as tennis, soccer, basketball as well as on the fencing team and winning Big East championships in many other sports. So, it may be hard to imagine the time when Notre Dame women were first admitted. A class of 350 women were the first pioneers in the fall of 1972. Some had athletic dreams in addition to academic and careers goals and were willing to fight for them.

Betsy Fallon was one such Notre Dame woman.

The First Class

Outnumbered 17 to 1 by males at ND, with no organized sports for women, and with Title IX a newborn, athletics for Irish women for that first class in 1972 had been forgotten. Unfazed, Betsy tried out for the men's tennis team. Betsy grew up with tennis. She had been a success in high school, travelling as a member of the Junior Wightman's Cup team. Her Uncle Bill had been captain of the Notre Dame tennis team. Another uncle and her father graduated from Notre Dame in addition to a brother, a number of cousins - and now nephews and nieces.

Notre Dame and tennis were a love and a legacy for Betsy.

Fighting For Tennis

Making the men's team would have been the stuff of legends. Women's tennis at Notre Dame was born when Betsy did not. She created the Women's Tennis Club. In those days, without any funding from the University, Betsy had to recruit other women for the team, fight for court time with men's tennis, raise money for equipment and travel expenses, arrange a schedule with nearby teams, and meet with the administration - Father Joyce and Moose Krause - to obtain support for women's tennis.

Betsy enlisted the aid of Dr. Carole Moore, one of Notre Dame's first female professors in the spring of 1972. Moore not only took on the scheduling, financing and paperwork for the women's tennis team, but became an aggressive advocate for all of women's sports at Notre Dame. Dr. Moore was "taken aback" there was "no support for the women who played tennis."

Dr. Moore has described Betsy's pioneer contributions: "Betsy is absolutely hands down the driving force behind women's tennis at Notre Dame. To recognize anybody else first is extremely short-sighted."

Fallon deflects any individual accolades: "We were able to make the sport what it really is -- about individuals learning together and maximizing their potential and not strictly about winning and losing. It was truly a group of us that made this possible. Together, we were committed to our goal and we were happier and healthier as a result of our efforts."

A Group Effort

In the fall of 1973, Jane Lammers enrolled in the second class of women at Notre Dame and became a co-captain with Betsy of the new team. Jane and Betsy would compete through their three years together for No. 1 on the team. In Jane's senior year, women's tennis - along with fencing - became the first women's varsity sports.

Jane received one of the first five monograms given to women athletes at Notre Dame. Betsy, who had come to ND on an academic scholarship, graduated summa cum laude from Notre Dame four months before Women's Tennis played their first varsity game.

Moore reflects on those pioneering years for women's sports at Notre Dame: "From 1972 through 1976, it was incredibly difficult. But the obstacles created camaraderie. A sense of leadership was forged in pursuit of their goal. If these women had not been as passionate and as proud of what they were accomplishing, nothing would have happened." Moore received an honorary monogram for her contributions to Notre Dame athletics.

What happened due to their leadership, passion, and pride of women like Betsy and Jane is that women's tennis received a solid foundation to build upon. The Notre Dame women's tennis team has gone to the national semifinals the last two years. I'm sure Betsy is waiting to celebrate their first national championship.

Challenges and Success

One of Father Hesburgh's proudest achievements was to bring coeducation to Notre Dame. "So, to all the daughters of Notre Dame, I would like to say I can't tell you how proud I am of the fact that you all bear Notre Dame degrees. By your lives and your goodness, you have changed the world in many ways."

After serving one year in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Betsy earned her MBA from Northwestern University. She has worked for over thirty years now in health care administration. She still advocates for women's athletics and Notre Dame education: "What women learn through athletics helps them be successful throughout life. You will always face challenges. Athletics teaches you how to react to these, and how to deal with success when you achieve it. Women's sports keep that balance and Notre Dame still graduates kids that exemplify it."

Part of the Family

Other universities have retroactively honored their women sports pioneers with monograms. Michigan, Indiana and Washington among many others have bestowed on their women athletes honorary monograms. With a long history of coeducation, these schools have dug into their sports archives to identify those who made significant contributions to their sports long before Title IX or the 1970s.

Trish Bostrom, a University of Washington tennis player and 1972 grad, was one of 200 women presented with an honorary monogram by their school in 2008. Bostrom said: "It's very good for the university to host this event (and) say, 'Yes, we stand up and recognize these athletes. Yes, we have a rich heritage and great tradition of women's athletics. Yes, they're part of the family.'"

Shaughn Gorman, a 1965 grad who played tennis, field hockey and basketball at UW, described what her monogram meant to her: "I'm not going to put it in a box somewhere. I'm going to be proud of it and pass it on to my grandkids. Four of them are little girls, and they're all playing sports right now. It's wonderful to see."

Notre Dame with its "rich heritage and great tradition of women's athletics" should do no less than to also honor their pioneers in Irish women's sports.

To those women, Notre Dame will always be a love and a legacy.

Quotes from:

Thanking Father Ted, Chapter "Getting Started: Betsy Fallon leads the drive to start women's athletics at Notre Dame" pp 37-40

Letter-perfect day of validation for former UW athletes

Other articles:

Women's Athletics at Notre Dame

Notre Dame Trailblazers

A time-out for celebrating women's sports at Notre Dame

Notre Dame Women's Tennis website