This is the first of a week-long series of articles celebrating 40 years of Title IX and the impact it has had on Seattle University Athletics.
When Title IX became federal law June 23, 1972, it was the hope of those supporting the legislation that it would help create a culture in which college women were given equal opportunities to compete in sports.
That culture already existed at Seattle University dating back 20 years, when Pat Lesser joined the men's golf team. Janet Hopps would become a member of the men's tennis team, and Ruth Jessen would follow Lesser on the golf squad in the mid-1950s.
In the men's basketball media guides of the 1970s, there would be a statement within the biography of long-time athletic director Ed O'Brien saying, "Ed has always sponsored the idea that women should participate in intercollegiate athletics if they choose to do so. Despite the severe financial problems which are evident in athletics everywhere, progress is being made."
That progress was fulfilled with the establishment of intercollegiate track and field, gymnastics, and volleyball teams at Seattle U during the first years of Title IX. In 1977, the Seattle U women's basketball program made its debut under head coach Cathy Benedetto, a member of the United States team at the 1967 World University Games and Pan-American Games. The team would reach the AIAW regional finals in two of its first three seasons of existence.
Hopps would return to Seattle U as coach of the men's and women's tennis programs in the 1980s, earning NAIA Division Coach of the Year honors five times. The 1980s also saw the establishment of the women's soccer program at the school, a sport that over the past 25 years has become one of the most successful teams within the Seattle U athletics department.
Swimming would join the department in the mid-1990s, with the women's swim team finishing second at the 2002 NAIA National Championships. With the dawn of the 21st century came the reestablishment of the volleyball and track and field programs and the addition of the cross country and softball teams, all of which found success within NCAA Division II quickly.
When Seattle U started the reclassification process towards NCAA Division I membership in 2007, the decision was made to bring back women's tennis and finally establish a separate women's golf program. This past academic year, crew became the 11th female intercollegiate sport currently sponsored by the Seattle U athletics program, with former Olympian Portia McGee tapped as the head coach to build the team for the 2012-13 academic year.
Seattle U has kept right in step with the national collegiate athletics organizations when it comes to the progress of women's sports. Ana Gutierrez, a member of the women's soccer team, was one of nine finalists for the NCAA Woman of the Year Award in 2007, with women's basketball player Jackie Thomas reaching the 30-person semifinal stage in 2008.
In terms of facilities, Championship Field is one of the best collegiate soccer fields in the region, while the Connolly Center North Court offers the women's basketball and volleyball programs an intimate setting for their home contests. The softball team will enjoy a significantly improved Logan Field beginning in 2012-13, and the tennis squad will be able to use a brand new indoor complex at Sand Point.
With the move into the Western Athletic Conference, Seattle U Athletics will realize many more opportunities for recognition and championships as it begins its second NCAA Division I era. The female sports will be at the forefront of those opportunities, thanks to the progress brought about by Title IX for the past 40 years.