Celebrating half a century of varsity women’s athletics
This weekend, Yale Athletics and the Yale Women's Athletic Network are hosting a series of celebratory events, panel discussions and more to highlight 50 years of varsity women’s athletics and Title IX.
This weekend, former female student athletes will return to campus to celebrate 50 years of women’s varsity athletics at Yale.
Celebratory events are scheduled to run from Oct. 14-16, including a dinner at University President Peter Salovey’s house and presentations on both the history of women’s athletics at Yale and hopes for how women’s athletics across the nation will continue to evolve.
The weekend has been in the works for the past two-and-a-half years, according to Maura Grogan ’78, who chairs the Yale Women’s Athletic Network.
“It’s a complex three-day event with a lot of moving parts — three panel discussions, a sold-out gala dinner with a keynote discussion, a reception at Salovey’s house, a Sterling Library archive presentation on the history of women’s sports at Yale, field hockey and volleyball games, and much more,” wrote Grogan, who played for the inaugural women’s hockey team at Yale and later competed in the 1976 Olympics as a luger.
18 figures in women’s varsity athletics at the University will be featured across three panel events. This includes current and former athletes, coaches and athletic director Vicky Chun.
Chun is the first-ever woman to run Yale Athletics, as well as the first Asian American. She is also the first Asian American woman ever to serve as an NCAA Division I Director of Athletics. Formerly, she was the athletics director at Colgate University — her alma mater — where she also played volleyball as an undergraduate, eventually becoming head coach. Chun began her tenure with the Bulldogs on July 1, 2018.
“As Yale’s first woman to serve as the director of athletics, I am humbled and grateful to celebrate our past and current student-athletes,” Chun wrote to the News. “None of us would be here at Yale without our Pioneers and Trailblazers whom we are celebrating and honoring this historical weekend.”
For the women who will be in attendance, this event is about building relationships with other members of the Yale women’s athletics community, celebrating contributions and working to build both the skills and community necessary to continue pushing for better.
Chelsea Kung ’23, who is on the varsity women’s tennis team, said she wants this series of events to facilitate connections across generations of Yale’s female varsity athletes, providing mentorship and a support network to current and future female athletes at Yale.
“My biggest hope is that current female student-athletes at Yale see these accomplished women as mentors and people to look up to when their time on the Yale playing surface comes to a close,” Kung wrote to the News. “It’s something that has pushed me to be the woman I am today, and I only hope that this event is a catalyst for inspiring the next generation of successful women in the world.”
Grogan expressed similar sentiments, commenting that being an athlete helped her reach academic success while at Yale, but also provided “the underpinning” for the rest of her life, noting specifically the confidence that sports gave her.
As such, Grogan hopes that this weekend’s celebration will help empower women.
“Given the various inequities that remain for women in the US and globally, I’m hopeful that we can harness our smarts, energy and Yale’s global reputation to achieve equity soon,” she wrote.
This weekend’s events also celebrate 50 years since the passage of Title IX in June of 1972.
Passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972 and enacted by the 92nd U.S. Congress, Title IX prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or education program that receives funding from the federal government. Athletics, which are considered a part of an institution’s education program, are covered under this law.
While Title IX passed in 1972, conditions for female athletes were still not equal. Some women’s teams continued to experience harassment and were provided with poorer facilities than their male peers.
In addition to facing harassment, the Yale women’s crew team lacked access to a proper locker room in freezing conditions and were given fewer boats than the men’s teams.
In March of 1976, the Yale women’s crew team marched into the office of then-Director of Women’s Athletics and Physical Education Joni Barnett’s office and stripped in protest. On their bodies were written either “TITLE IX” or “IX,” and captain Christine Ernst ’76 read aloud a statement demanding equal treatment.
“Our experience was like being under water, or in a mine — you want to get to the surface, or into the light — you know you have to, to live as the person you were born to be, but you don’t know what you’ll find when you get into the sun and air,” Ernst wrote in an email to the News. “There wasn’t a map or a menu for what was next.”
Katrina Garry ’18, a varsity track alumna, discussed the significance of Title IX in women’s varsity sports. Garry is now the Deputy Title IX Coordinator at the University of San Francisco and has been involved in planning this weekend’s programming since 2019.
Garry was part of a September event featuring four decades of Yale women reflecting on the impact of Title IX on women’s athletics. The panel, moderated by Regina Sullivan ’83, featured Garry, Lisa Brummel ’81 and Mónica Lebrón ’01. Brummel is the owner of the WNBA team Seattle Storm, and Lebrón is the Deputy Athletics Director at the University of Tennessee. Sullivan is the Deputy Athletics Director at Northeastern University.
“It was an opportunity for many of us to reflect that we are lucky to not know a world without Title IX,” Garry told the News. “Many of the pioneering Yalies who were on the first varsity field hockey team, swim team, ice-hockey team … had to fight to get opportunities in high-school or were on boys teams.”
University Title IX Coordinator Elizabeth Conklin touched on the “new opportunities” made available to Yale women over the past half-century.
Conklin is also Yale’s associate vice president for institutional equity, access, and belonging.
“Athletics are an integral part of our university’s programs and activities and we celebrate this 50th milestone anniversary for both women’s varsity athletics at Yale and also the passage of Title IX, which opened new opportunities and pathways for generations of students at Yale,” she wrote in an email to the News.
But even with great strides, Garry acknowledged that there is more work to be done.
“It is critical to reflect on how far we’ve come, but the conversation also highlighted the battles we still are fighting whether it is the prevention of abuse and sexual violence in sports, pay equity at the professional level, or inclusion for trans and non-binary athletes in athletics,” Garry told the News.
As of May 24, 18 states have enacted laws or issued statewide rules that bar or limit participation of transgender athletes in sports.
For Yuliia Zhukovets ’23, who is a current member of the squash team, a central part of this weekend’s objective is to look toward the future.
Similar to Garry, Zhukovets hopes that attendees are able to reflect on the past, commending graduates of Yale women’s athletics for all their efforts, but also remind themselves that “there is so much more to accomplish.”
“I am hoping that current Yale Women Athletes will take this weekend as an inspiration to keep giving 100 percent and more to their sports and to advocate for themselves,” Zhukovets told the News. “At the same time, I think it would be incredibly rewarding for the returning Yale Women Athletes to see all the amazing things that have been achieved over the past 50 years and how influential their input was.”
Yale Athletics and YWAN formally announced the weekend’s events on Feb. 2 — which also marked the 36th annual celebration of National Girls and Women in Sports Day.
In the announcement, YWAN also promoted its own fundraising campaign, in conjunction with Yale’s broader ‘For Humanity’ fundraising efforts. Yale launched this $7 billion ‘For Humanity’ campaign last year, which is the University’s largest capital campaign to date.
YWAN noted its goal to raise $5 million for Women’s Intercollegiate Sports Endowment and Resource, or WISER, which is “the first and only endowment” that supports all of Yale’s 18 varsity women’s programs, per the announcement.
The YWAN Committee, composed largely of alumni, guided much of the planning for this weekend’s programming. Grogan and Garry are both members, as is Zhukovets, who is a current student.
Over the past 50 years, Yale has gone from zero varsity women’s teams to 18. 27 of Yale’s female athletes also competed as Olympians.
Grayson Lambert, Paloma Vigil and Hamera Shabbir contributed reporting.