40 in 40 - The Founding of WMU Women's Athletics
Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Title IX, wmubroncos.com takes a look at 40 key moments/females in the history of women’s athletics at Western Michigan University. Though the selection process, an effort was made to highlight a moment and player/coach from each of our current women’s sports programs, as well pay respect to our women’s legacy sports. A different feature will be released each of the 40 days, July 24 through Sept. 1.
The Founding of WMU Women's Athletics
Pre-Title IX Years
Through the early part of athletics, at Western Michigan and across the nation, women's teams and coaches received little to no financial assistance. With very few resources, equipment and travel expenses came out of pocket.
Prior to Title IX, the entire women's athletic budget at WMU was $1,000, growing to $10,000 the year after Title IX passed (1973-74). By the 1978-79 academic year, WMU began offering female athletic scholarships. Growth continued in the 1980's and through the 1990's, when Western Michigan made a serious financial commitment to women's sports. Today, female athletics account for nearly half of WMU's $25 million-dollar intercollegiate budget.
Records show that the first opportunities in athletics for females at Western Michigan were through tennis and speed swimming post World War I, in the mid 1920's. These teams would only exist for a few years, and tennis was re-introduced in 1935, making it the longest running women's athletic program at the university.
Synchronized swimming, also known as the Water Sprites, began in 1948 and for the most part was non-competitive, rather a recreation activity provided for women, and was carried through 1979.
Golf became the next sport to be offered in 1959, followed by women's basketball, volleyball and field hockey in 1960. Through the 1960's and into the 1970's several other sports would be introduced, including bowling (1964), speed swimming (1968), gymnastics (1969), track & field (1972), softball (1975) and cross country (1978). Two other sports, soccer (1996) and synchronized skating (1998) began in the 1990's.
In present day, 10 women's varsity sports are offered at Western Michigan - basketball, cross country, golf, gymnastics, soccer, softball, tennis, volleyball, indoor track & field and outdoor track & field.
In the first 40 years of female sports, athletics at WMU were run through the Department of Physical Education for Women (DPEW) on an intramural and in a few cases extramural basis. These extramural contests typically involved competing against other schools within the state (Michigan State, Hope, Calvin, to name a few) and it was standard that the "sporting event" itself was followed by a social gathering/mixer between the ladies after.
Some of the first women to provide structure for athletics through the DPEW were Candace Roell, who chaired the department from 1959-67, and Marge Miner who started the Women's Recreation Association (WRA) in 1958, and was in charge of both extramural and intramural sports programs. Roell received special recognition in 1997 from the WMU Athletic Hall of Fame for her foresight and commitment.
In 1972-73, women's varsity athletics under the DPEW merged with men, under the current Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Dr. Ruth Ann Meyer served as the Assistant Director of Women's Athletics from 1972-76, after taking over the lead role of WRA from Miner in 1967. She also coached volleyball for 10 years (1965-75).
The legendary Jean Friedel served as the first coach of five different programs - basketball, field hockey, volleyball, gymnastics and track & field, also coaching golf and synchronized swimming. Fran Ebert was another coaching pioneer, taking over basketball in 1964 and starting softball in 1975. Chris Hoyles was appointed Associate Athletics Director in 1976 and oversaw Western Michigan's growth as it moved towards equality between male and female sports over the next decade and a half.
Outside of smaller in-state committees in the 1950 & 1960's, the first female sports affiliation for Western Michigan was the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), which was founded in 1971 to govern collegiate women's athletics in the United States and to administer national championships. WMU would later become part of the NCAA in 1982, the same year that the Mid-American Conference began recognizing women's sports.