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When Rensselaer first opened its doors to women students in 1942, there were no physical education or sports opportunities available for the handful of these new students. In fact, there were few provisions or facilities for the women at all. They lived off campus at home or at the YWCA in downtown Troy, and a lack of restrooms for women forced them to use facilities at the railroad station that was at the foot of the Approach. Eventually, the Institute did set aside one night a week when the women of the 40swho numbered about 40 compared with 4,000 male studentscould use the gymnasium and pool, but there was no instructor or formal program to guide them.
With the cultural and social changes of the 1970s, and the growth in the number of women at Rensselaer, athletic opportunities for women expanded on campus as well. Club teams for women were added to the roster of extracurricular activities and, in 1975, basketball became the first varsity womens sport at Rensselaer.
Womens athletics at Rensselaer matured against the backdrop of a national sea change in women and sports. The watershed event was the passage in 1972 of Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs or activities. For collegiate athletics this meant that women had to be provided an opportunity to participate in sports equal to that offered mennot necessarily identical sports offerings but an equal opportunity to play. The law has helped to level the playing field for women athletes across the country as colleges and universities have had to alter or even overhaul their athletics programs to equitably serve their women students.
From one varsity sport in 1975 (basketball) to 11 in 2002, the womens varsity program at Rensselaer has surged ahead in 27 years. Currently, women can compete at the varsity level in basketball, cross country, field hockey, ice hockey, indoor track, lacrosse, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, and track and field.
Evidence of the strides women athletes are making at Rensselaer is the emergence of a new-style legacy: father-daughter varsity athletes. Former mens hockey player Rich Scammell 69, who now serves as the Institutes director of contracts and grants, beams with pride when talking about his two daughters, Heather 98 and Jennifer 02, wearing the Rensselaer jersey for the womens ice hockey team.
Its very fulfilling to have watched them play for RPI, he says. They grew up in a hockey household and they understand the tradition of RPI hockey. Scammell says todays athlete rejects the female stereotypes that hampered past generations. These kids are competitive, he says.
Women collegiate athletes are playing with unprecedented self-confidence, says first-year womens basketball coach John Greene. This generation of women has not internalized self-doubt, Greene says.
Theyre different players today, says Judith (Cusick) Stettner 90, a four-year member of the womens varsity basketball team. Players today grew up with basketball programs designed for girls, whereas I played on boys teams in grades 4 to 9, she says. They didnt have to fight for an opportunity to play. I had to look for a place to play. Many of her teammates at Rensselaer had similar experiences. There are just so many more opportunities now for girls to play sports, says Stettner, director of project management for worldwide technical services for Schering-Plough, a New Jersey-based pharmaceutical company.
The talent of women athletes today is like night and day compared with the level 25 years ago, says Carol Pillsworth 76, director of womens athletics and coach of mens and womens varsity tennis. The varsity women players are highly recruited student athletes who have played all their lives. Despite the recent success of the womens teams in reaching state tournaments, Pillsworth says the athletes are setting higher goals. Years ago it was the highlight of their college careers to make it to the New York state tournaments; now the goal is to make it to the NCAAs.
Womens varsity soccer coach Aldo Nardiello agrees. We missed the NCAAs this past season by just one goal, he says, a fact that has his returning players intent on making the post-season tournament in the 2002 fall season. He believes his players have what it takes to reach their goal, too. The average female student athlete at RPI is not average, Nardiello says. They are high achievers, driven people who are success- and goal-oriented.
|Rensselaer Magazine: March 2002|
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