UA Women’s Athletics Has Come A Long Way

By Ken MacDonald, Director Emeritus, Sports Information

This past June 23rd marked the 40th anniversary of the passing of Title IX. While the specific legislation does not mention sports directly, the impact of Title IX has been most felt in the sports community, especially in the sports for girls and women.

Title IX states that “no person in the United Sates shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” Needless to say, Title IX paved the way for equality on the athletic field at The University of Akron and all over the United States.

Women have been involved in athletics on the UA campus since they formed a tennis club in 1889. In 1899, basketball was played by female students two years before the men played their first intercollegiate game and by 1906, Buchtel College coeds had formed the Women's Athletic Association. This organization, which over the years evolved into the Women's Recreation Association, the Women's Physical Education Club and back to the Women's Athletic Association, fostered the growth of women's sports and provided a solid foundation for UA's current successful women’s athletic program.

Throughout those formative years, women were making the way for the future. It was freshman Margaret Hamlin, who in 1926 suggested that "Zippers" (later shortened to "Zips" in 1950) would be a great nickname for UA athletic teams. It was Evelyn Hooker, later the wife of Akron Judge Theodore Price, who played on the 1942 golf team and became the first female to earn a letter in a varsity sport.

There wouldn't be another women earn a letter until Jean Linton became the school’s first four-year letter winner while competing with the riflery teams of 1960-64. In the process Linton also became UA’s first female athlete to be accorded All-America honors, not once but, twice in 1961 and ’62. In 1981 Linton was the first of 34 coeds, to date, to be inducted into UA's Sport Hall of Fame and, two years later, softball infielder Kay Piper became the first athlete from a women's sports team to earn first team All-America honors.

   However, the beginning of women’s intercollegiate sports was not prompted by the passing of Title IX legislation. In the fall of 1969, freshman Linda Kampfer from Canton organized a group of interested former high school athletes involved with the Women’s Athletic Association and arranged basketball games with nearby colleges at the expense of each player. The following year, Kampfer and teammates Carolyn Bower, Molly Gerber, Debbie Heinlein, Karen Kennedy, Karen Mitchen and Cathy Schweitzer approached graduate student Lynda Smole with the idea of starting a basketball club team.

Smole took the proposal to Andy Maluke, Department Head of Physical Education, who told Smole he had no problem with a women’s basketball team as long as, “they always act like ladies, dress like ladies and behave both on and off the campus like ladies.” With Maluke’s help, Smole got $300 from the Student Activity Fund. Although this club team did play a college schedule, its wins and losses have been lost to antiquity.

A year later, Athletic Director Gordon Larson evidently saw the handwriting on the wall, that UA women’s intercollegiate athletics was inevitable, and hired Mary Ann Tripodi to coach the basketball team and start a volleyball program. The two programs grew quickly out of their club sport status and in the fall of 1974, the basketball and volleyball programs officially became varsity sports.

Tennis and softball were added three years later and women athletes were granted athletic scholarships for the first time. Cross country and indoor and outdoor track joined the fold in 1981. Since then UA has added swimming (1998), soccer (2006) and golf (2008) to its athletic program for women.