From skirts and 3 on 3 to division 1 athletes:
The evolution of womens sports at wcs
By: Ellen paddock
In the grand scheme of history it was just yesterday that women were confined to either the spectator or cheering section at any athletic event. There is nothing wrong with these roles, but for something so increasingly salient in society as athletics, it is humbling to think that women are just getting their start.
2017 WCS Hall of Fame inductee, Ruthanne Vitagliano of the 1970’s basketball team said that her team’s unique success meant more than they were aware of at the time.
“We were kind of opening the door,” Vitagliano said, “Helping people understand that women needed to have the same rights as men.”
The 1970’s women's basketball team was part of a pilot program that pioneered 5 on 5 play in the women's game. Prior to 1970, women were restricted to 3 on 3 half court play. This transition was a huge step forward in the evolution of women’s athletics as a whole; it was done successfully, proving the athletic capability of women.
Women have had a history of being underestimated- especially in athletics. Former Track and Field coach Bill Santora explained that in just 1978 the longest running race for women was 800 meters because it was thought that women couldn't run any further than that.
This was eleven years after Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to cross the Boston Marathon finish line with men trying to pull her down from all sides to keep her from finishing. It still took another five years after this dramatic finish for women to be legally allowed to run the marathon. It was said that women’s “fragile bodies” couldn’t handle the race, but something about this situation suggests a few other ulterior motives in early battles for women’s athletics.
It wasn’t always socially acceptable for women to be in the weight room or even in the gym training. There were social superstitions about female athletes that created a lot of initial apprehension in women. Their grandmas would tell them, “You’re going to get big muscles, you shouldn’t do that.”
When those barriers were broken the mental and physical capabilities of female athletes were apparent.
While the national battle for women’s sports was taking place changes were occuring right here at WCS.
“You guys proved yourselves,” said Bill Santora. “ You [proved] you could do everything the guys could do and then some. A lot of the girls I coached were mentally tougher than the guys.”
Bill Santora said these mental and physical capabilities in women were embodied by track star Annmarie Hodgden who was fearless in her pursuit to be the best possible athlete she could be. Hodgden, class of 2000, was the first athlete in WCS history, male or female, to earn a State Title.
“The social stigmas that everyone is focussed on these days never even crossed my mind when I was in high school,” said Hodgden. “I am very competitive.”
When former WCS coach Diane Santora graduated from Pembroke high school in 1959 she came to Warsaw to teach and was shocked to discover that women’s sports hadn’t taken off at Warsaw.
“It was very hard for me to come to a job where that wasn’t happening,” Diane said, “I thought it was happening everywhere.”
Diane proceeded to kickstart women’s sports here at Warsaw. After taking her case to the athletic director, she opened the door for women at Warsaw to compete with other schools in the Tri-county league in the sport of Field Hockey.
In 1972, Title 9 was a game changer for women’s athletics- prior to it schools had women’s sports as they saw fit. Title 9 demanded equality in athletics everywhere and gave women equal opportunities in sports. Since then, the women’s game has taken off radically.
Title 9 didn't come without sacrifices. The boys teams had to share gym time and even cut some of their programs to ensure that women were getting equal opportunities. Bill Santora explained that the wrestlers had to haul mats on their backs across the street, in the snow, over to the other school so that they girls would have a practice facility.
Title 9 opened the the door for many great Division 1 female athletes from Warsaw: Laura Hathaway, Jessica Bramer, and Hanna Grisewood to name a few.
Warsaw alumni Lynn Auble explained that sports are “important for self-esteem, positive self image, healthy habit building, and overall contribution to society.”
The fact that women didn't have equal opportunities as men in sports seems unimaginable to many of those female athletes whose lives have been heavily impacted by sports.
“Thinking of a time when women weren’t allowed to contribute to sports is very hard for me,” said Warsaw alumni and collegiate athlete Abbey Monahan. “Participating in athletics has shaped me as a leader, a teammate, and as an individual.”
“I would honestly say that the sport of track and field defines me to some extent, that I wouldn’t know who I was without it,” Division 1 Track star and Warsaw alumni Karmen Auble added. “I think that’s something for all athletes to understand, that we are truly blessed to have to ability to partake in sports without anything holding us back, whether it be gender or race.”
Sports have served a vital role in many people’s lives. The importance of equality in sports comes down to the brilliant way in which sports develop and reveal one's character and how it would be a shame if only half the population got the option to participate.
Iconic Tennis star Billie Jean King who is best known for her defeat over Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes said, “In the seventies we had to make it acceptable for people to accept girls and women as athletes. We had to make it okay for them to be active. Those were much scarier times for females in sports.”