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When/if women's athletics attains an equivalent status with men's athletics at Harvard University, 1989-90 will be remembered as the turning point.
Sure, there were few real changes.
Funding is still comparatively woefully low for women's programs, mostly because of a lack of "Friends" groups that keep the men's teams well-funded for special trips and events. When he resigned from the position of Director of Athletics one year ago, Jack Reardon called this problem the biggest one facing the athletic department.
"[Equal funding] is a complicated issue because Harvard has Friends groups that support a large amount of activities," Harvard women's lacrosse coach Carole Kleinfelder says days. "The big inequity is the time a women's coach puts into fundraising as opposed to a men's coach. It takes me an enormous amount of work, effort and time, unlike [Harvard men's lacrosse Coach] Scott [Anderson], because he has the network set up."
A major factor in the problem is the fact that older alumni are the moving forces in Friends groups, and there are few older alumnae of women's sports. However, the problem still remains that thee baseball team gets its spring break trip to California paid for while members of the softball team must fork over more than $400 each to pay their way down to Texas during the same time period.
"It's subtle, but it's larger than you may think. Title IX is supposed to take care of that, but Friends groups aren't included in Title IX," adds Kleinfelder, referring to the legislation which ensures that federally funded athletic programs must give equal treatment, including funding, to both the men's and women's programs in the same sport.
Attendance figures at women's competitions cannot compare--you are still more likely to catch up with a cold than a friend during a women's hockey game at Bright Center. Media attention still focuses on the men's teams much more than the women's squads.
But equality is an attitude, and that attitude underwent a subtle transition this year.
It was the women's lacrosse team that had dinner with President Derek Bok at the Faculty Club last Thursday. It was women's athletics that attracted the new fans.
"I can't tell you how many people this year were new to watching the games," says Car Joslin, who starred on the field hockey, hockey and lacrosse teams. "People were drawn to it, and once they saw it, they came back. I had many people who admitted that they were going to the games just to humor me, but they were enticed to come back for more. That will only build in terms of audience."
In this cost-cutting era of collegiate sports, especially in financially-troubled Massachusetts, it is Harvard that is committed to maintaining its 19-team women's program. Not so at Oklahoma, which attempted to drop its women's basketball program this year before it was forced to rescind the decision because of public outcry. Not so at Rutgers and the University of Massachusetts, which dropped their women's lacrosse programs this year, sparking protest at the women's lacrosse Final Four three weeks ago in Princeton, N.J.
New A.D. Bill Cleary rode in to 60 JFK St. promising to emphasize participation--i.e., intramurals and women's athletics.
And on the playing fields, where success changes attitudes in a hurry, this year will certainly be remembered as the year of Harvard women's athletics.
Today marks the graduation of two of Harvard's greatest women's athletes, Meredith Rainey and Joslin.
Last June, Rainey became the first woman in Ivy League history to capture an NCAA championship when she claimed the 800-meter race. Rainey repeated the effort this winter, finishing first in the 800-meter run at the indoor national championships with a record-breaking time that eclipsed Mary Decker's record set in 1978.
Last week, Rainey competed in the NCAA track and field championships once again, this time finishing third in the fastest 800-meter race run in the world this year.
Rainey sparked the Crimson to its first-ever Heptagonals championships this year during both the indoor and outdoor seasons. In Ithaca, N.Y., Rainey won the 55-meter, the 400-meter and the 800-meter races to help catapult Harvard to a first place finish at the indoor Heps. And Rainey ran an astounding total of six events at the spring Heps in Philadelhia, winning three of them.
Joslin, maybe the greatest athlete in the history of Ivy League women's athletics, finished her four-year rampage through the Ancient Eight by claming Player of the Year honors in field hockey and hockey and finishing second behind teammate Maggie Vaughan for Player of the Year in women's lacrosse. Overall, Joslin--the most publicized athlete at Harvard in the last 20 years--found herself on 12 All-Ivy teams in the last four years, nine times on a first team and three on a second team.
"I think Harvard's come late to the party," Kleinfelder says. "This senior class has been doing things for four years and no one's been paying attention."
While the efforts of individual athletes may headline the success of women's athletics at Harvard this year, it was the teams that stirred the fans' excitement--and made them forget about the men's teams' disappointments.
Of course, the highlight of the season was Joslin and the women's lacrosse team doing what no other Ivy League women's team had ever done--capture an NCAA-sanctioned national championship with an 8-7 win over Maryland.
In the fall, both the field hockey and soccer teams fell inches short of their first-ever Ivy League championships. Few people could remember when the campus was excited about the field hockey team, but in October, even Bok got lost behind The Stadium trying to find the field during a critical Harvard-Princeton field hockey game.
The women's soccer team also lost out in an overtime decision to Brown. Four minutes more of scoreless overtime and the Crimson would have claimed its first Ivy title since 1981. And the women's volleyball team swept four straight matches at the Ivy League tournament before losing in the finals to Penn.
In the winter, Mary Cist clinched the school's first national championship of the year when she won the tie-breaking match in a 5-4 win over Yale. Cist also clinched the team's win over arch-rival Princeton. Senior Jen Holleran tacked on Harvard's second national championship when she captured individual honors as the best women's squash player in the country.
The women's hockey team, buoyed by Joslin and sophomore Sandra Whyte, turned in stunning upsets of Cornell and Princeton at the Ivy League torunament at Bright Center. The wins earned Harvard an invitation to the ECAC tournament, the equivalent of the Final Four in women's collegiate hockey.
Rainey, junior Suzanne Jones and sophomore Catherine Griffin were the headline names in the indoor track team's Heps title. The women's swimming team finished just for points off the pace at Easterns and the women's basketball team finished its season with a one-point shocker at Briggs Cage over Ivy champion Dartmouth on a buzzer-beating layup by Jody Fink.
And the excitement blossomed in the spring
The women's tennis team, under the guidance of Coach Ed Krass, captured its eighth straight Ivy title, sharing it this year with Princeton. The track team repeated its Heps title performance from the winter.
And two teams made appearances in national tournaments. The women's water polo squad upset Michigan at Easterns, earning its first-ever bid to the national championships, where it finished sixth.
But it was Joslin. Vaughan and Co. who took the fans by the throat and would not let go. Having lost only three games in the last two years, two at the Final Four, winning was expected by Harvard and its fans.
But even great expectations could not diminish the celebration when the title was finally captured. The Crimson rolled through an unblemished 15-game schedule. They weren't alone when the final horn sounded--more than 200 Harvard fans made the trek to Palmer Stadium in Princeton in the middle of final exams to help celebrate the title.
And this year's Goal was made by Jenny Walser, who did her best impression of Ed Krayer by whipping a wrist shot by Maryland goalie Jessica Wilk for the tie-breaking, title-clinching score.
Such success made us forget about the disappointments of the men's teams on campus--the football, men's soccer, hockey, squash, track and basketball. Even the men's tennis and lacrosse teams, which earned bids to NCAA tournaments, lost their early-season magic and stumbled at nationals.
However, Harvard claims that the measure of its athletic programs is not success and failure, but participation and equal opportunity for participation. And women's athletics, with less funding, fan support of alumni support, still comes in second under these criteria.
Women's athletics at Harvard can bask in its season of glory. Rainy, Joslin, women's lacrosse, women's squash and Holleran: not only champions, but also champions of a cause.
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