By Pete LaFleur
The 40th anniversary of Title IX – the landmark educational amendment to the 1964 Civil Rights Act – has been commemorated on campuses throughout the nation, celebrating the tremendous growth of women’s collegiate athletics over the past four decades. At Notre Dame, the Title IX anniversary corresponds with the university’s co-educational era, which also launched in 1972.
Until recently, the early years of women’s athletics at Notre Dame were an unchronicled collection of fading memories. That all changed in 2011, when former multi-sport athletes Jane Lammers and Anne Dilenschneider launched the Early Women’s Athletes Project (EWAP) to recreate lost rosters of 200-plus women who played intercollegiate sports for Notre Dame from 1972-1977.
Way back in 1974, Lammers and Ellen Hughes-Cromwick convened Notre Dame team captains to form the Women’s Athletic Association (WAA). Lammers (tennis/ crew) was elected WAA president while Maureen “Moe” Maloney (field hockey/basketball) was vice-president and Hughes (golf) secretary.
“We needed a unified voice to get the attention and cooperation of the administration,” says Lammers, whose sister and fellow Dayton, Ohio, native Mary Lammers Vogelsang also was a founding athlete.
A women’s team’s quest for legitimacy was a three-tiered process: interest group, club and varsity. Interest-group organizers were on their own: locating athletes and volunteer coaches; arranging practices and competition; coordinating travel; and raising funds to cover uniforms, equipment, etc. The jump from club to varsity then usually took 3-5 years and was something Notre Dame men’s crew had been pursuing for several years.
Women’s tennis, crew and fencing enjoyed the earliest transitions, with fencing and tennis becoming Notre Dame’s first varsity women’s teams in the fall of 1976 (rowing did was not NCAA-sanctioned until 1998). Jane Lammers joined tennis teammate Mary Shukis and fencers Christina Marciniak, Kathy Valdiserri and Catherine Buzard as the first female varsity monogram winners.
The WAA twice had formal meetings with university administrators, but a series of petitions were denied – until word filtered out during the summer of 1976 that Notre Dame finally would have varsity women’s teams.
Lammers was one of two students selected to serve on Notre Dame’s 11-member Committee to Evaluate Coeducation, which recommended funding for club coach salaries, locker areas expansion, and grants-in-aid (scholarships).
Notre Dame had been an all-male school for 130 years, so the transition to co-education had a profound affect on a tradition-based comfort zone. Only 125 women were admitted as the first class (nearly one female student per 20 males), so the impact was immediate yet also gradual.
At many colleges, students are chomping at the bit to move off-campus. But a different dynamic played out at Notre Dame, as a series of beloved men’s dorms were transformed into women’s residence halls. Women’s liberation was picking up steam in 1973, when Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in their tennis “battle of the sexes.” Despite tension between the genders, plenty of Notre Dame men’s students played pivotal roles for women’s athletics.
Another key figure arrived in 1974, as Astrid Hotvedt became the school’s first female physical education teacher and helped Dominick Napolitano’s non-varsity department develop women’s club teams. Hotvedt’s knowledge of numerous sports and strong advocacy spirit paid immediate dividends.
Despite their relative short connections to Notre Dame, the pioneering women’s athletes embodied a deep pride for their university.
“We had earned the privilege to attend an esteemed university and stand for principles greater than ourselves,” says Maloney. “Notre Dame is a place where religion informs and influences how we are educated. It shapes what we choose to do beyond the classroom.
“There truly is an `ND way’ to pursue athletics, then and now.”
A sport-by-sport synopsis follows. Some of these women competed in multiple sports, had extensive family ties to Notre Dame, and even tried out for men’s teams.
ROWING (1973 interest group, 1974 club, 1998 varsity) – It’s no coincidence that crew (now called rowing) was a central force during these years, as rowing coaches historically recruit from other sports.
“Rowing caters to a melting pot of athletes and provided opportunity for women who were previous athletes or wished they had been,” says co-founder Jody Gormley, an Indianapolis native.
“That influx of untapped athleticism was responsible for the success of women’s crew. It’s the ultimate team sport because of the lack of stars and need to act as one. It’s also a metaphor for what women athletes were trying to establish in various sports – we all aimed, figuratively, to be rowing in the same direction.”
Another huge factor was the men’s crew team sharing their equipment. Fred Heydrich and Clete Graham were the first women’s coaches, despite resistance from some teammates, many who never had attended school with women.
Women’s rowing made its mark out east, the hotbed of collegiate rowing. They beat defending champ Radcliffe at the Eastern Sprints and placed 13th in a massive 42-boat field at Boston’s prestigious Head of the Charles. Most memorable was the 1977 MACRA event in Ohio, as Notre Dame lightweight 8 beat five heavyweight crews to win the Mid-American championship.
Saint Mary’s student Marilyn Crimmins Benkelman was the first crew captain, followed by West Lafayette, Ind., native Mary Fitzsimmons – who typically rowed the stroke seat, leading cadence and pace. Heydrich calls Fitzsimmons “one of the best rowers I’ve ever seen.” Gromley later became the program’s first female coach.
“The camaraderie between men’s and women’s crew was built on competition and respect,” says Crimmins, a vital link in bringing those teams together. Her father Bernie was a three-sport star before serving on Frank Leahy’s staff and coaching Heisman winner Johnny Lujack.
Jane Lammers and student manager Mary Spalding Burns also were among women’s crew founders, rising for 5:30 a.m. rowing on the St. Joseph River.
TENNIS (1973 interest group, 1974 club, 1976 varsity) – Betsy Fallon (Grand Rapids, Mich.) and ever-present Jane Lammers were the movers and shakers for women’s tennis. Fallon was the top player and an outspoken advocate. The fast-track to varsity gained a boost when history professor Carole Moore emerged as volunteer coach. The combination of Fallon, Lammers and Moore was a potent force for getting things done.
Fallon graduated a few months before varsity status, but her experience was valuable nonetheless.
“What women learn through athletics helps throughout life,” says Fallon, married to former pro tennis player Cecil Mella. “Athletics teaches you how to react to challenges and deal with success. Notre Dame still graduates kids who exemplify those traits.”
Other tennis founders included Ellen Callahan O’Connor and Sharon Sullivan. Callahan (originally from West Hartford, Conn.) has produced her own tennis-team roster with eight children, including current Irish lacrosse player Liam O’Connor. Sullivan (an Evanston, Ill., native) also has roots again at Notre Dame, with her son Jim embarking on his freshman year.
BASKETBALL (1974 interest group, 1975 club, 1977 varsity) – The basketball club was founded by Farley Hall dominant intramural team. Milwaukee-area natives and high school teammates Mary Clemency and Judy Shiely King combined with 5-9 center Patty Coogan Wyle (Cranford, N.J.) to form the team’s core, with Clemency, Coogan, Becky Banasiak Code and Maloney serving as captains while Sally Duffy was their coach.
Playing in the Athletic and Convocation Center (now Joyce Center) was a bonus. On one occasion, the women competed prior to a televised men’s game and Shiely made a big impression. Shiely could play all five positions and was deadly from long-range – prompting announcer Dick Enberg to marvel at her over-the-head set-shot, drawing comparisons to men’s guard Duck Williams.
Shiely continued to play basketball and volleyball in postgraduate leagues while Banasiak (an ROTC student) earned a spot on the all-Navy women’s basketball team.
Women’s basketball owed much of its success to Clemency’s inquiries and negotiations. Maloney (Camden, N.Y.) went on to become the youngest Division II women’s basketball coach (27), at San Francisco State. Yet another multi-sport athlete, Donna Losurdo Beaudet, tried out for the men’s basketball team and was profiled by the local media.
GOLF (1973 interest group, 1975 club, 1988 varsity) – Founding co-captain Hughes-Cromwick (Chittenango, N.Y.) served as a student assistant for associate athletic director Jack Stevens and observed women’s tennis evolving its program. Hughes and fellow captain Barb Bressmen (from the Youngstown, Ohio, area) obtained $150 in seed money from the Women’s Western Golf Association and secured tee times at Notre Dame Golf Course, previously reserved for only men.
FIELD HOCKEY (1974 interest group, 1975 club, 1978 varsity; discontinued 1986) – Hotvedt’s background kick-started formalization of a team and founders included athletes from other sports: Bonita Bradshaw, Dilenschneider (from the Columbus, Ohio, area), Hughes, Losurdo and Maloney. Losurdo – who left her hometown of Aurora, N.Y., to be one of the 125 initial enrollees – had the proper mixture of offensive and defensive skill to play center halfback.
“The early years were a rollercoaster, exciting yet frustrating,” says Losurdo. “We were unable to immediately compete at a high level and repeatedly had to prove ourselves.”
TRACK & CROSS COUNTRY (1974 interest group, 1975 club, 1986 varsity cross country & track in 1991) – Multi-sport talent Bradshaw was raised in Gary, Ind., before moving with her family to Compton, Calif., in 1965. Seven years later, she was excited to be making history at Notre Dame, but some others were not as confident.
“I’d been told by by my high school counselor and from some at Notre Dame that I likely wouldn’t make it there,” says Bradshaw. “I was driven by other’s doubts. True athletes love challenges and competition.”
Bradshaw was exposed to previously unknown sports while serving as Hotvedt’s office assistant, but basketball was her true love. The ballhawking defender had the thrill of playing Bookstore Basketball alongside men’s stars Tommy Hawkins, Adrian Dantley and Williams.
She later served as a personal assistant to bombastic men’s basketball coach Digger Phelps. “Despite all the screaming, we became good friends and remain so to this day,” laughs Bradshaw, who coached 18 years on the AAU, high school and junior college levels. When Phelps authored Tales from the Notre Dame Hardwood, he claimed Bradshaw was the school’s best female athlete of her era.
VOLLEYBALL (1976 interest group, 1978 club, 1980 varsity) – Despite struggles for court time, volleyball gained a foothold. Mary Ryan Amato (Kenilworth, Ill.) and King – part of the Farley Hall basketball squad – got the ball rolling, with Ryan also serving as commissioner for women’s Bookstore Basketball. As a five-year-old, Shiely proclaimed she was going to attend Notre Dame. When told women weren’t allowed to attend, the future five-sport athlete simply stated: “Not by the time I get there.”
Other Sports – Fencers had the benefit of joining legendary coach Mike DeCicco’s established co-ed program, with fewer perceived obstacles. Swimming did not register as an interest group until 1978, led by Josie and Teri Fitzsimmons. A formal softball team was put on hold until basketball was established, but softball made its varsity debut in 1989 (a year after women’s soccer; women’s lacrosse emerged in 1996).