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Review Magazine Uncategorized

100 Years of Women’s Athletics

Over the last 100 years, Millersville has been at the forefront of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education’s (PASSHE) plans to expand women’s athletics. Women’s teams have won 21 of Millersville’s 48 Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) championships.

Sunflower Greene ’19 was beaming. Her smile a mile wide as she quickly climbed two steps and stood up straight, flanked by three athletes on the right and four on the left. Greene was handed a trophy—but not just any trophy—one that was inscribed “NCAA Division II National Champion.” Greene had traveled over 1,000 miles to Pittsburg, Kansas to represent Millersville at the NCAA Indoor Championships in shot put where she accomplished a career best 53-4 1/4 and pulled off one of the great athletic feats in Millersville University (MU) history.

“Pure adrenaline,” Greene said of the moment. “But winning the title didn’t really hit me until later on, and the magnitude of my achievement didn’t hit me until I saw the reaction of my friends, family and teammates. I feel proud of that moment, to be able to show what hard work can accomplish, and to represent my team well at the national level.”

Nearly a century earlier, in the spring of 1919, the Millersville’s women’s basketball team piled into a car and left campus traveling to Quarryville High School. It was the first time a Millersville women’s team played outside competition. It was the humble beginning of a transformation in the athletics department that would pave the way for athletes like Greene.

Women’s Basketball 1926

Over the next 100 years, Millersville would be at the forefront of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education’s (PASSHE) plans to expand women’s athletics, and women’s teams would win 21 of Millersville’s 48 Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) championships.

Nationwide, there were battles fought over the importance and perception of women’s athletics, but Millersville was fortunate to have advocates like former coach and administrator Marge Trout, former president Dr. Joseph Caputo and others who were committed to expanding the reach of women’s teams.

Athletic competition is about more than just winning and losing at MU. For both the men’s and women’s teams, it is about opportunities for competition, friendship, development, work ethic, accomplishment and teamwork. Holding the title of Marauder means something different for each of the thousands of women who competed at Millersville, but there is no denying the positive impact women’s athletics has had and continues to have at the institution.

It all began with one sport

It was 1918. World War I was raging and a flu epidemic was taking a toll on enrollment when the first women’s basketball team was formed. That year’s yearbook, “The Touchstone” read:

Women’s Basketball 1928

“The year of 1919 was the first time in many years that a girls’ basketball team was organized at the Normal. Although we
were rather late in getting a team organized, the basketball season of 1919 can rightly
be claimed a most interesting and
successful one.”

While the players had very little experience in “the science of the game,” two teams were developed and played inter-squad scrimmages until a varsity team was picked. The team was coached by physical education professor Gordon Grainger and the squad of seven was captained by Emma Cully. The first game was played against Strasburg High School, resulting in a 38-3 win for Millersville. The season finished with two games—a 19-17 win and a 20-14 loss—against Quarryville High School.

Intercollegiate competition began with a women’s basketball game against Shippensburg in 1921. East Stroudsburg joined the schedule of YMCA and high school teams in 1923. The first female coach was Wilma Trimble in 1924 and she was followed by Lucille “Billy” Wilcox in 1926. Those two led Millersville to a combined
32-6-1 record over four seasons.

“Only two sports that we could participate in…”

That was just the beginning for women’s sports at Millersville. Field hockey became a school favorite, popping up as an on campus, inter-class competition in the 1920s. But from 1929-1945, intercollegiate competition disappeared completely.

Over the next 15-plus years, sports like volleyball, tumbling and archery were featured at Millersville, but only as inter-class competitions.

Kay Liebl ’20

However, society was changing with women flooding into the workplace and establishing professional sports teams during World War II. In fall 1945, women’s intercollegiate athletics were revived at Millersville under the direction of Katherine Griffith, with field hockey in the fall and basketball in the winter.

Griffith, and later, Dr. Mary Elizabeth Dixon became central figures in building a foundation for women’s athletics at post-World War II Millersville. Griffith coached the field hockey and women’s basketball teams from 1945-50. Dixon succeeded Griffith as coach of both programs for eight and 12 years respectively. Dixon served Millersville
as a health and physical education professor until 1981 and was inducted into the Millersville University Athletics Hall of Fame in 1997.

“No area of student life seemed more invigorated than athletics,” wrote professor emeritus, Dr. Dennis Downey, in his history of Millersville, “We Sing to Thee.” “As the veterans returned and as the trustees came to a new appreciation of the recruiting and recreational value of a full sports program, men’s and women’s athletics came into their own…Women threw themselves into athletic competition with a passion equal to the men, confident their femininity
was preserved.”

Alayah Hall ’18

Virginia Hampton Malson was one stand-out field hockey and basketball player under Dixon and Griffith’s guidance. The self-described tomboy came to Millersville at the suggestion of her brother’s girlfriend, and nearly 50 years later, became one of two women inducted in the first Millersville University Athletics Hall of Fame class.

“You just went out for the sport and the coach picked the players she wanted to be on the team,” Malson said of getting on the team. “At the time there were no scholarships and athletes were not recruited based on ability. “We had practice every day after classes behind the pond. We wore a black tunic with a gold letter and black shorts. That was it. Nothing fancy.”

While the men competed in the newly formed Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC), there were no PSAC Championships to be won when Malson was a Marauder. Women’s athletics at Millersville was about the love of the game.

“There are so many sports now,” said Malson. “We only had two that we could participate in. If we had more sports, then I would have played more.”

“Mrs. Trout always fought for us…”

It was not long after Malson graduated from Millersville that Marge Trout received a phone call from Ray Runkel, who was the head of the Department of Health and Physical Education and Director of Athletics. He offered her a part-time position coaching basketball and teaching a half-load of classes. Two years later, she was hired full-time to teach and coach both basketball as well as the newly-added women’s lacrosse.

Trout became women’s athletics greatest advocate.

Field Hockey 1948

“Mrs. Trout always fought for us to have equality and fairness,” said Barb Waltman, a 1973 Elwood J. Finley Award winner and 2018 hall of fame inductee. “In some ways we were treated pretty unfairly, but we got what we needed to compete. We never felt like we were second-class citizens because she was such an advocate for us. We started to get more uniforms and equipment and court time for practice.”

Over the next 30 years, Trout oversaw the addition of eight new sports. Her trailblazing got a helpful kick start in 1972 when

Title IX was signed into law. At the time of the law’s passage, fewer than 32,000 women were competing in intercollegiate athletics. Today, estimates put the total near 200,000. At Millersville alone, almost 60 percent of its 450 student-athletes are women.

“It was all about the interests and needs for the students,” said Trout. “I would take a survey every year to find out what students were interested in playing. It was needed. Women’s athletics was always in the shadow. What we had to do when we got started was unbelievable.

“Title IX helped,” Trout admitted, “but we approached Title IX positively, and we never hurt men’s programs. That meant a lot to me.”

Trout led the way to extensive changes in women’s athletics at Millersville. In 1975, Waltman was the first coach-only employee ever hired in the state system. She helped coach three sports.

“He really promoted parity.”

A watershed moment came in the early 1980s when the PSAC, after almost 30 years of offering championships exclusively for men’s sports, began including women’s teams. Millersville made the jump from the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) to NCAA Division II, which brought scholarships into the equation.

Field Hockey 1929

Millersville president Dr. William Duncan was at the fore of pushing the PSAC to include women’s championships. Dr. Joseph Caputo, Duncan’s successor, authorized the hire of Debra Schlegel as the women’s basketball coach in 1980—the system’s first full-time coach for a single sport.

Trout was insistent that Millersville divide its athletic department in two. Caputo agreed, putting the women’s sports on equal footing with the men. Caputo also followed Trout’s advice that both the men and women’s departments have a vote in PSAC matters.

“When we started to expand women’s programs, the athletic directors were not interested in women’s programs,” said Trout, who received the Lancaster Sports Hall of Fame Kirchner Award this year. “At that time, there was a conversation about if each school should have one or two votes—one for the men and one for the women. I said, ‘If the athletic directors could throw the women’s programs out the window they would.’ Dr. Caputo made the decision then to go with two votes, even if it meant that Millersville’s votes would cancel each other out. He really promoted parity.”

Millersville was a trendsetter, and that paid dividends for on-field and on-court success. In 1982, Waltman’s lacrosse team won the AIAW national championship. Two years later, women’s basketball won the PSAC Championship—the first for a women’s sport at Millersville. In 1999-2000, Millersville won the Dixon Trophy, which is award to the PSAC school with the best total finish across its sports. Millersville’s women scored 56.5 points—exactly the same amount as the men.

“The success of those teams showed that we were more than just in the background,” said Trout. “It was beautiful when we won the Dixon Trophy and the points were equal. That was a great motivator, showing that women’s athletics was important.”

Kiara Allen ’16

Today, 52 members of the Millersville University Athletics Hall of Fame are women. The national championship-winning 2014 field hockey team and athletes like Sunflower Greene carry on the tradition of championship-quality athletics.

Malson never forgot the first field hockey game she played. It was on the Lock Haven football field, and she was so exhausted afterward that all she could do was cry. Games like this have been discussed with her teammates for more than half a century.

“Toni Thompson and I, actually 10 of us, would get together every summer, meet at a restaurant,” said Malson. “The left back and fullback on that team, we keep in contact to this day and I’ve been out of college for 66 years. We were good friends. That’s something you never lose—a friendship like that. It was camaraderie and the love of sports.”

Greene echoes Malson on the importance of athletics and the impact it makes.

“Being a student-athlete has brought me so many lifelong friendships,” said Greene. “I met my best friend freshman year and we stayed close. The team is a second family to me. They’re there if I need someone to talk to and also there to push me.”

Millersville women’s athletics has always represented opportunity for success, in and out of competition. To Greene in 2019, that is clearer than ever.

“Being an athlete is a huge part of my life,” Greene said. “Being an athlete gave me time management skills, leadership skills, mental strength, hard work and so many more skills. Women’s athletics has come a long way. I’m a believer that women can do anything that men can do, and do it better. There’s still a long way to go but I am grateful to be on a women’s team surrounded by fellow strong women who are there to support each other to be greater.”

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