Feb. 14, 2013
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – As the clock ticked down on an eventual 64-42 victory for the University of Notre Dame women’s basketball team over Cincinnati, a very special group of onlookers got to soak in the growth of the program that they, themselves, had helped get its roots. All told, 27 former club players, coaches and members of the first women’s basketball varsity basketball team of 1977 made the return trek to campus to take in the festivities.
For a group that pioneered the game at the University, it was quite a sight to behold being back at the Joyce Center, but one that they knew could be expected once the growth of the sport was fully realized.
“You have to start somewhere,” said former Irish women’s club player Judy King. “When I was in grade school we were told that playing basketball wasn’t lady like. When I started playing in high school we played 6-man basketball. I was the first player at my high school to “rove” a complete game. No one had ever considered that possibility. It took Notre Dame a while to figure out what committing to co-education involved. I figured once they committed to scholarships and top notch coaching the program would excel. The fan base the team enjoys now is topping on the cake!”
While taking in the game was the main event of the reunion weekend, nearly all of the group arrived Friday afternoon to enjoy a Happy Hour of margaritas before partaking in an evening meal at Rocco’s. Later on, the early arrivers adjoined with all those unable to attend dinner to cap off the night.
Game day got underway with some of the players watching a few video sessions, walking the campus and meeting up for lunch on campus, before the full group made their way over to Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center for the game with the Bearcats. Next, they were provided with an opportunity to form the tunnel for the current crop of Irish players to run through as they came out of the locker room prior to tip-off. Once the game got underway, the reunion group was honored with a brief recognition on the video board.
To conclude the special game and special day, the former players were given the chance to meet with Irish head coach Muffet McGraw in the team room to discuss the growth of the game and the opportunities for women in sports now as compared to their time in the late 70’s.
“Muffet was welcoming and commiserated with us about the condition of women’s sports in the 70’s,” recounted King. “She was playing in the same era. She did talk about sharing four to a hotel room at away games; our budget didn’t allow even that. Our only overnight was at Marquette staying at players’ parent’s houses!”
Despite all that the players enjoyed during their reunion, there was one thing that, by happenstance, aligned with their return to campus. The contest with the Bearcats represented the fifth-annual “Pink Zone” game that raises money for cancer research and speaks to cancer awareness.
“It was a very special game all around,” expressed King. “We had two cancer survivors in our own group. Being at the Pink Zone game may have been destiny.”
As King recalled, the game has come a long way from the annual rivalry with local St. Mary’s College, but it was an experience she, nor any of those who were able to make it back to town, will soon forget.