Organized intercollegiate athletic competition among women has grown rapidly in recent years, in quality, in the number of participants, and in public awareness.
For those reasons, it is a popular misconception that women's intercollegiate sports are a fairly recent phenomenon, notably since the early 1970s when the national Title IX legislation was enacted.
For many colleges that is true, but for Hope College, women have a long history of organized intercollegiate competition that dates back many decades.
However, the formal recognition of those athletes has been largely absent.
On Saturday (Oct. 6) Hope will honor female athletes as pioneers in women's sport at the college. Approximately 50 of the 240 alumnae who have been identified as participants in athletics while Hope undergraduates between 1938-1972 will be presented varsity "H' letters during the annual Homecoming luncheon of the alumni H-Club. The luncheon will be held in the DeVos Fieldhouse on the Hope campus.
The idea to recognize these alumnae was stimulated by the research of two students, now graduates, their professor, Dr. Donald Luidens of the sociology department, and Eva Dean Folkert, director of athletics for women. Dr. Luidens serves as one of the college's Faculty Athletic Representatives (FARs). The students who collaborated on the research were Rachael Sauerman and Lisa Smith, both 2007 graduates. They were outstanding athletes while at Hope, Rachael in soccer and Lisa in swimming.
Their research, gleaned mainly from student publications, determined that while there were intramural and on-campus athletic opportunities for women dating back many years, there were also intercollegiate activities for "premier" female athletes in sports such as archery, tennis and basketball that went unrecognized in the media when compared to the recognition given men's sports.
They compiled a list of these athletes from the late 1930s through 1972. "...it is from this list of acknowledged competitors that the authors have chosen to highlight a cadre of remarkable women athletes who are deserving of recognition by HopeCollege, regardless of how long it is overdue. Sadly, some have already died so they will never know the esteem that posterity holds for them. For the others, it is high time to stand and applaud their accomplishments," the research paper stated.
The lack of recognition of female athletic accomplishments in intercollegiate competitions prior to the 1970s was not so much an attempt to deny this recognition as it was the nature of the structure of the competitions, according to Thomas A. Myers in his work, "Pioneers in Women's Athletics: A History of Women in the MIAA." Myers contributed his work for the centennial year publication of the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association, "Celebrating a Century of the Student Athlete."
"The women, themselves, did not place a high value on records and championships. They emphasized participation in sports and de-emphasized the importance of individual and team titles. This difference in emphasis from men's sports directly contributed to the lack of recognition, but cannot be said to account for it. The simple truth is that in the male dominated sports world, athletic competitions among 'girls' weren't very important."
The Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA), the nation's oldest collegiate conference, noted in a centennial anniversary publication in 1988 that its member colleges, including Hope, were far ahead of many other colleges in women's intercollegiate sports. The women of the MIAA founded their own conference, the Women's Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (WMIAA), and on a national level were members of the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW). In 1978-79 the MIAA became the first collegiate conference in the nation to create a combined governance for men's and women's athletics. Two years later the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) established a similar governance on a national level.
Women's basketball traces its roots at Hope back to the beginning of the 20th century. The 1904-05 team, known as the Basquette Club, was the first female squad to meet outside competition. The champions from WMIAA competitions were added to the records of the MIAA in the late 1980s. Hope, for example, is listed as the 1939 women's tennis conference champion and 1955 graduate Betty Scheppers Scholten is recognized as the recipient of the conference's tennis sportsmanship award. The Hope archery team won the first conference championship in 1952.
Hope College today sponsors 18 intercollegiate sports teams, nine for men and nine for women. The women's intercollegiate teams are basketball, cross country, golf, soccer, softball, swimming & diving, volleyball, tennis, and track & field,