This is the second of a week-long series of articles celebrating 40 years of Title IX and the impact it has had on Seattle University Athletics.
Seattle University women's basketball head coach Joan Bonvicini is one of the most successful coaches in women's collegiate basketball history. Her success, however, has not come easy, and she recounts her experiences surrounding the time during which Title IX was enacted, and some of her experiences in the 40 years since that historic time.
"I was involved in sports from the moment I can remember growing up," said Bonvicini. "Baseball was my first sport, [and] I played every day with the kids in the neighborhood, but I wasn't allowed to play Little League. Girls, at that time, were not allowed, which was crushing for me, because I was better than all the boys."
She also played softball and football as a child and laughs as she recalls, "I remember one time I was playing tackle football and I was really upset because I went to tackle this guy, and rode on his back in for a touchdown. I felt really bad until he played for the Giants and won a Super Bowl. Then I didn't feel so bad."
When she was nine years old, Bonvicini started playing basketball, and found the sport she truly loved and would eventually pursue through high school, college, and in a career.
"I got recruited to play in college, but the colleges at that time did not give scholarships, so I picked my college because they had a good basketball team and because of the coach there."
After Title IX became federal law on June 23, 1972 at the end of Bonvicini's freshman year, she and the other members of the Southern Connecticut State women's basketball team had the opportunity to play in the first national championship for women. Her team went to AIAW (Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women) Nationals all four years she was on the team, placing third in 1973 and 1974. She was named the AIAW Regional MVP and Honorable Mention All-America in 1975, and led the nation in assists and steals per game her senior season. She was also a finalist for the first women's U.S. Olympic basketball team in 1976.
"Even though Title IX was enacted in 1972, we still didn't receive scholarships. But I feel very honored to have started coaching right away after college."
She began her coaching career as an assistant coach at Cal Poly Pomona for two years, before moving on to Long Beach State University. She served as an assistant coach at Long Beach State for another two years before being promoted to her first head coaching job at age 25.
"My coach always thought I should coach, and I didn't really think I would. At the time, it wasn't big salaries. I was so focused and hard on myself as an athlete that I never thought I could do that to other people, and what do you know? I did," Bonvicini says with a laugh. "And I realized that not only was I good at it, I enjoyed it."
Bonvicini remarks at the differences between coaching salaries for females then and now, "At Cal Poly, I was paid $1000 per year as an assistant coach. I did that for two years and, obviously, had to have a full-time job on the side. When I went to Long Beach State as an assistant, I think I was initially making $6500 annually. I quit my other job and got up to $10-12,000 and that was my full-time job. My parents thought I was crazy, but I really just threw myself into it, and became a head coach at 25 years old."
At Long Beach State, she posted a 325-71 record (.821) in 12 seasons and led the 49ers to 24+ wins during all 12 seasons. They earned 10 conference championships and 10 straight berths in the NCAA Tournament, including Final Four appearances in 1987 and 1988. In 1981, she was named the NCAA Division I Coach of the Year and the Region VIII and PCAA Coach of the Year in 1986. She was named 1984 WCAA Coach of the Year, and was honored by the city of Long Beach as their 1989 "Citizen of the Year".
In 1991, she made the move to head coach of Pacific-10 powerhouse Arizona, where she stayed until 2008. While there, 54 of her student-athletes earned Pac-10 accolades and 21 earned conference academic honors. She accumulated a 287-223 (.563) in 17 seasons, leading the Wildcats to nine postseason appearances, including seven NCAA tournament berths and the WNIT Championship in 1996. In February 2007, she became the 18th coach in NCAA Division I women's basketball history to reach the 600-win mark.
During her career, she has been named to five halls of fame: Southern Connecticut State Hall of Fame (1989), Connecticut Women's Basketball Hall of Fame (1994), Long Beach State Athletic Hall of Fame (1996), the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame (2005), and the New England Basketball Hall of Fame (2007).
Throughout her historic playing and coaching career, Bonvicini has met many incredible women who have helped pave the way for women's equality in sport and who were influential in her life. "One of my very good friends, Anne Meyers Drysdale, is listed in the ESPN Top 40 athletes, and was the first woman to ever get a full scholarship at UCLA. She was a phenomenal basketball player and was on the first US Olympic team in 1976; that was a big thing for her and for women."
Bonvicini also played softball with Donna Lopiano, who served as the CEO of the Women's Sports Foundation from 1992-2007, and was named one of the "The 10 Most Powerful Women in Sports" by Fox Sports. Lopiano also served as the Director of Women's Athletics at the University of Texas for 17 years, as well as President of the AIAW. "So many of these people are good friends of mine and have been around for so long, so it's really cool to watch this law and how it's changed so many lives."
Amidst all the leaders and trailblazers she has known over the years, Bonvicini says "the person who really mentored me in sports was my college coach, Louise O'Neill. She was way ahead of our time, in how we were treated and what was expected of us as athletes, so it helped me as I became a coach and what I expected."
Since becoming head coach of the Redhawks in 2009, Bonvicini is leading Seattle University women's basketball through one of the most successful times in program history. In 2011, she led the team to their first NCAA Division I postseason appearance in school history and their first 20-win season as an NCAA Division I program. She has now amassed an impressive 646-352 (.647) career record and is 11th on the NCAA Division I all-time wins list for women's college basketball. She also boasts 21 20-win seasons over her historic coaching career.
"Forty years, it has definitely been a journey. For girls, now, they just accept that the WNBA is around, because that's all they know, and the same thing for scholarships. I think that it's really important that we continue to advocate for fair opportunities, that both girls and young women have opportunities to play sports. I feel very fortunate that I'm a leader of young women and that so many women, including myself, have had opportunities to make this into a career."