Immaculata University Magazine - Spring 2011 - page 16

If Immaculata is the messiah in the story of
women’s basketball, then West Chester Univer-
sity, just a few miles to the southwest, is John
the Baptist, preparing the way.
Try to remember what women’s basket-
ball was like in the late 1960s. Although it was
played at colleges and high schools, it barely
rose above the level of a gym-class pastime.
Girls in tunics played a rigidly controlled game
in which even the number of dribbles was regu-
lated. There were no independent leagues, no
college scholarships and certainly no legitimate
professional leagues.
But during those years the Philadelphia
area was home to a relatively strong tradition
of women’s collegiate sports—even though
that competition generally took place in a
vacuum, attracting little interest beyond the
campus walls.
“Way before anyone else, this area was at
the forefront of women’s sports,” says Mimi
Greenwood. In 1969 she headed women’s athlet-
ics at West Chester, though her title listed her
as an “adviser” to the school’s athletic director.
“Since probably as far back as the 1940s, there
were very successful field hockey, swimming
and lacrosse programs around here. There was
a kind of English tradition at work in the local
schools, a feeling that athletics ought to be a
part of a genteel woman’s education.”
That attitude, Greenwood says, can be traced
to Constance Appleby, an English-born professor
at Bryn Mawr College who introduced field hock-
ey to the United States early in the 20th century.
“She was definitely at the forefront of
women’s sports,” Greenwood says. “She believed
that athletics contributed to the well-rounded
woman just as it did the well-rounded man.”
Appleby died in 1981 at the age of 107.
Despite that liberal attitude, basketball was
considered too rough-and-tumble for genteel
women, and by the late 1960s it was still a very
minor sport at most local colleges.
“When I was first asked to start a [women’s
basketball rankings] poll in the mid-’70s, I
resisted,” says Inquirer sportswriter Mel Green-
berg. “The philosophy of the AIAW [the Associa-
tion for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, the
first overarching national regulatory body for the
sport] was that if we started getting newspaper
stories about women’s basketball, it would open
them up to all the evils of the men’s game.”
Still, if women’s basketball ever was going
to take off, Philadelphia figured to be the place
it would happen.
“It’s not surprising that the women’s game
kind of took root here, because there was a
pretty unique tradition in Philadelphia,” says
Greenwood, now retired and living in Aldan,
Pa. “The high schools, particularly in Delaware
County, had some strong teams and rivalries.
So did colleges like Penn, Temple, Ursinus and
West Chester.
“And there were a number of basketball
leagues for older women, usually affiliated with
their workplaces,” she says. “There were nursing
leagues and teachers leagues and one known as
the warehouse league because its players worked
at the old American Stores warehouses.”
West Chester, because its education-based
curriculum traditionally attracted women
and because it had a strong physical education
department, was particularly strong in women’s
athletics. Lucille Kyvallos of West Chester
coached a young woman named Cathy Rush in
the mid-1960s. Later Carol Eckman coached
teams that were among the first to drop the six-
player format in favor of men’s rules.
At the time, the National Collegiate
Athletic Association was strictly a men’s club.
There was no women’s equivalent to the men’s
postseason NCAA Tournament or even the NIT.
Women’s sports were regulated informally by an
ad hoc committee of educators called the Divi-
sion of Girls and Women’s Sports (DGWS).
Mary Scharff
(foreground), Mighty
Mac team player
1974, 1975, 1976,
1977 and Denise
Conway, Mighty Mac
team player 1972,
1973, and 1974
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