"The greater the work the more
important it is to establish it on
a solid foundation. Thus it will
not only be more perfect; it
will also be more lasting.”

St. Louise de Marillac

The following article is reprinted with the permission of the South Bend Tribune and NDInsider.com.

Title IX at 50: It’s a Process of Evolving

Sister Sally Duffy (back row, far right) poses with former coach Muffet McGraw in the Notre Dame women’s basketball locker room in 2013 during a reunion of the mid-’70s club basketball teams. COURTESY SISTER SALLY DUFFY.\

Notre Dame women’s sports pioneers remember early days of Title IX

Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw won two national championships. MATT ASHORE/USA TODAY SPORTS

Sally Duffy could hardly believe her eyes.

The date was Jan. 24, 1976, and the second-ever Notre Dame women’s basketball club team had just upset Northwestern University. Serving as the warmup act for the Irish men’s team at the Athletic and Convocation Center, Duffy’s players were still in the afterglow as they prepared to watch UCLA in the main event.

Suddenly, Duffy looked up and saw John Wooden striding toward her. In his first post-retirement season after a Hall of Fame coaching career at UCLA, one that got its start at South Bend Central High School, the Wizard of Westwood had a message to deliver.

“He put out his hand and he took mine,” Duffy, now Sister Sally after joining the Sisters of Charity in 1977, recalled in a recent phone interview. “He just said, ‘Congratulations, coach. That was a great victory.’”

Despite her initial shock, Duffy was able to return the compliment.

“I just said, ‘Well, thank you, coach Wooden,’” Duffy recalled. “‘And you need to know, I am deeply grateful for everything you’ve done for the game of basketball.’ He just smiled and said, ‘Well, thank you.’ It was a quick exchange, but he took the initiative to come over after the game to seek me out.”

As the women’s sports world celebrates the 50th anniversary of Title IX, signed into law by President Richard Nixon on June 23, 1972, a flood of memories come rushing back for Duffy and her fellow Notre Dame sports pioneers.

The fall of 1972 also marked the arrival of women as part of the Notre Dame student population. It also saw Betsy Fallon, after failing to win a spot on the men’s tennis team, form the Notre Dame Women’s Tennis Club for intercollegiate competition.

In 1973 Jane Lammers and golf cocaptain Ellen Hughes arrived to start the Women’s Athletic Association, a group that would grow to include the captains of a burgeoning collection of women’s club sports teams. Lammers, whose late father Paul had played basketball and baseball for the Irish in the 1940s, teamed with Fallon to form the women’s tennis team in the fall of 1973.

Under the guidance of tennis coach Kathy Cordes — Notre Dame’s first female varsity coach — Lammers would become part of the initial five-woman class of Monogram Club members when women’s tennis and women’s fencing became varsity sports in 1976.

Joining her in that select company were Mary Shukis Behler (tennis) and fencers Chris Marciniak, Catherine Buzard Sazdanoff and Kathy Valdiserri.

Former Notre Dame women’s club rowers still row today as NDames. Their boathouse facilities have improved significantly over the years. COURTESY JILL DELUCIA

Overdue distinction

On Thursday’s anniversary, Notre Dame announced it would award more than 250 honorary monograms to women, including Duffy’s former players, who had paved the way.

Their courage and vision helped construct the bridge that enabled competitive sports for women and girls to go from a poorly funded afterthought (at best) to a viable career path for the most dedicated and talented athletes among them.

“There are many tears of joy,” said Duffy, no doubt speaking for the group. “They put in the hours and they put in the effort. (Varsity competition) just wasn’t an option for them.”

Duffy, 72, went on to a distinguished career in Cincinnati that has seen her serve as CEO of a hospital and a grantwriting organization. Had she not experienced a religious calling while working and coaching at Notre Dame, she might have made her career on the sideline.

She distinctly remembers a conversation with Moose Krause, Notre Dame’s legendary athletic director, about the school’s plans to make women’s basketball a varsity sport. Duffy would have been the natural choice to launch that effort in 1977-78, but she had higher orders.

Duffy arrived at Notre Dame in 1975 as the rector at Lewis Hall. She had built a girls basketball powerhouse over the previous seven seasons at Bishop Watterson High School in Columbus, Ohio, and to this day she can’t watch a women’s basketball game on television without encountering what she terms an “occupational hazard.”

“When I’m watching a women’s game – not a men’s game, but a women’s game – I immediately am (drawn) into the coaching mode,” she said. “I think, ‘Let’s do this play’ or ‘This player has a tendency to do this’ or ‘We need to be switching defense.’ Did I miss it? Yes, I miss it.”

Briefly, she wondered if she might be able to do both: serve God and coach women’s basketball at Notre Dame. She quickly realized that wouldn’t be possible, but those formative years of athletic competition have served her well. 

“Candidly, I feel like I’ve been coaching all my life,” she said. “It didn’t stop. It just continued in different settings. I’ve always felt that calling to be a coach and to be a coach that’s hopefully filled with the joy of the gospel.”

Jill DeLucia poses for a portrait on
Wednesday near the Notre Dame and

Creating the template

For Jill DeLucia, the 50th anniversary of Title IX brings back memories of rush-hour commutes down Douglas Road to a makeshift Notre Dame boathouse just upstream from the Twin Branch Dam in Mishawaka.

“It was quite a haul to get there,” DeLucia said. “When University Park Mall was built (in 1979), what had been a 15- or 20-minute drive became a 40-minute drive. We had classes to get back to.”

A women’s club rower from 1975-78 and its coach from 1980-84, DeLucia felt fortunate to arrive on campus just when the women’s sports movement was gaining momentum.

“When I got there, women were already part of the (rowing) club and they were very competitive right away,” DeLucia said. “They were the pioneers, not so much me. I was just young enough to take advantage at that point.”

Jody Gormley, Linda Sisson and Mary Spalding were three of the earliest women rowers to join a men’s club team that had been around since the mid-1960s. They were welcomed into the fold by the male rowers, but funding for equipment and travel to out-of-state competitions remained a challenge until women’s rowing finally became a varsity sport in 1998.

“We were out there competing basically on a shoestring,” DeLucia said. “We went and got matching T-shirts of some sort as our uniform. We always rented our equipment from the other school, and of course they never gave us the fastest boat, but it’s what we had. To have the opportunity to wear a Notre Dame uniform in any sport, that was terrific. I was pretty happy.”

Having grown up in a small town in New York’s Hudson Valley, DeLucia was the beneficiary of a community that made girls sports a priority earlier than most. She got started as a seventh-grader in team sports like softball, basketball and soccer, and with an older brother playing baseball it all seemed logical enough.

Upon her arrival at Notre Dame, she quickly developed a camaraderie with other aspiring female student-athletes who didn’t have varsity sports as an option. Trailblazers like Fallon and Lammers, having “made the template for how you go after some support to turn just an interest group into a sport,” earned instant credibility around campus.

“I didn’t know them personally, but I would see them,” DeLucia said. “All the teams would work out at the ACC, so our paths crossed. We were kindred spirits, I guess you could say.”

DeLucia, who played baritone horn all four years in a gender-balanced Notre Dame Marching Band, got a chuckle along with many of her contemporaries when the lyrics to the “Notre Dame Victory March” were recently amended to read “loyal sons and daughters” in a nod to the 50th anniversary of co-education at Notre Dame.

“Quite honestly, even back in the ‘70s, we were singing the words they just adopted now,” DeLucia said. “I was at the reunion when they made the announcement.

That was kind of the reaction: ‘What took so long? We’ve been singing it this way for 50 years and you just now decided to acknowledge that the words are what they should’ve been.’ ”

Sally Duffy, left, shares a laugh with former players as they watch a video before a NCAA women’s basketball game between Notre Dame and Cincinnati in 2013, at the Purcell Pavilion at Notre Dame. JAMES BROSHER/SOUTH BEND TRIBUNE

Raising the bar

Sally Derengoski also considers herself a beneficiary of the early women’s sports pioneers.

By the time she enrolled at Indiana University in 1977, varsity sports opportunities were available in women’s tennis, her primary sport growing up a mile from the Michigan State campus in East  Lansing, as well as in basketball and volleyball.

The final cut as a freshman from a budding women’s tennis powerhouse, Derengoski had a tryout with the Hoosiers women’s basketball team but knee problems cut short her playing career. After earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology, she headed to Notre Dame, where she earned her master’s in business administration and would spend the next three decades as a leading recreational sports administrator.

“When I got to IU, they were probably just a little bit ahead of Notre Dame,” said Derengoski, 63. “I don’t know that. I’d sense it. I got to ride the wave. I just happened to be at the right place in high school and college to see varsity sports (for women).”

After arriving in South Bend as the daughter of a Double Domer, Derengoski saw a steady increase in the number of varsity women’s sports. Field hockey had become Notre Dame’s fourth women’s varsity sport in 1978, followed by volleyball (1980), swimming and diving
(1981), cross country (1986), soccer, golf and softball (1989), track and field (1991), lacrosse (1996) and finally rowing (1998).

Field hockey was dropped in 1988, and Notre Dame has long since settled in at 13 varsity sports on both the men’s and women’s side.

“I have to give Notre Dame a lot of credit,” Derengoski said. “At a time when college sports has not been stable in a lot of areas because of finances, Notre Dame has been able to sustain their ‘13 and 13’ and enhance those programs. We’ve been able to identify the rightsize
sports program for us.”

Derengoski, who also served as director of Burke Golf Course, credits athletic directors such as Gene Corrigan, Dick Rosenthal, Kevin White and Jack Swarbrick for steady advancements in terms of equity for women’s sports.

She cites Tom Kelly and Rich O’Leary as key early proponents of women’s sports from their posts in the Non-Varsity Sports (later Recreational Sports) department, as well as Sharon Petro in her roles as women’s basketball (1977- 80) and tennis coach and an assistant
AD for women’s sports alongside Corrigan.

Yet, Derengoski also vividly remembers the growing pains along the way. For instance, it took several requests before the Burke pro shop could stock women’s golf shirts rather than expect women coaches and administrators to simply wear a men’s small with billowing sleeves.

And while Duffy recalls her men’s basketball counterpart Digger Phelps being “very supportive” in those early days – “He would often check in with me and say, ‘Is there more we should be doing?’ “ — Derengoski quickly noted the “sizable difference” in the office space for the women’s and men’s basketball programs.

For seven seasons (1980-87) directly before Muffet McGraw’s arrival, Mary DiStanislao fought those battles over practice time slots, uniforms, equipment and the like.

“She was a fiery East Coast person,” Derengoski said. “They got those things, but it was really slow, looking back. Now it seems so obvious to me.”

At the outset, Derengoski recalls, “There was some uncertainty about what women’s varsity sports would look like in terms of what their needs would be: financial, facilities, coaches.”

Many women’s national championships later, including two for women’s basketball (2001 and 2018), three for women’s soccer (1995, 2004 and 2010), and a string of combined titles for women’s fencing, which also won outright in 1987, the bar has been set extremely high.

“You just have to remember, when you’re in history, it’s a process of evolving,” Derengoski said. “Everything from facilities management to budget to grants-in-aid to attitudes about the athletes and coaches themselves, that just all took time.”

Over the past half century, the gains of the Title IX generation are undeniable. Yet, it’s also important to remember how easy it was for society to keep things imbalanced for as long as they were.

“For most people, at least, it seems so self-evident women’s programs should’ve been included at an equal level, but back then that just wasn’t the perspective at all,” Derengoski said. “I’m not even sure a lot of women fully appreciate (today) that it should just be equal. We didn’t have that perspective, even those of us who dearly loved sports.”

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