By Laura Rowe
When four visiting women’s basketball teams pull up outside the Quandt Fieldhouse in March, it will mark history. For one, it will be a milestone event for each player. Also as a point of pride, the tournament brings national recognition to our local university, and many visitors and added revenue to Stevens Point.
But historically, the event puts the spotlight on the growth of women’s collegiate athletics. Forty years ago, there was no women’s university division basketball.
“There weren’t a lot of opportunities for women in sports in the 1970’s,” UW-Stevens Point women’s basketball coach Shirley Egner said. Instead, the Girls Athletic Association (GAA) fostered a friendly “play date” social atmosphere for female players. There was no competition, she explained, with girls allowed only to play three-on-three games at half-court.
“Afterwards, we would have punch and cookies in the school cafeteria. It just made no sense. It was a social event for women. It was not an athletic event.”
Egner wants the experience of women athletes here during the NCAA Division III Basketball Championship to be much different than that.
“We want to give each student athlete the experience of a lifetime,” she said, adding that for most, it will be the highlight of their basketball career.
UWSP will host the NCAA Women’s Basketball Division III Championship national semifinals and championship games March 21-22 at Quandt Fieldhouse.
“This event provides a platform for our university and community to promote and support the game of women’s basketball,” Egner said. “Having participated in two Final Fours, we are honored and welcome the opportunity to be a part of something so special.”
”This event will bring our university a tremendous level of regional and national exposure,” Daron Montgomery, director of athletics said. “Hosting these championship games will be an opportunity for our entire university and community to roll out the red carpet to welcome dozens of student-athletes, four participating institutions, and hundreds of fans and visitors to Stevens Point.”
In preparation for this event, the university also has taken the opportunity to educate both students and the public regarding the history of women’s sports in the U.S.
“We hope to show students that you can love basketball, but it also has deeper levels of meaning,” said Nancy LoPatin-Lummis, PhD. LoPatin-Loomis serves as director of general education at UWSP and is a history professor. She said many college students today aren’t aware of Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination
in education. Title IX is a law passed in 1972 that requires gender equity for boys and girls in every educational program that receives federal funding.
“Before Title IX, the primary physical activities for women were cheerleading and square dancing, “ Egner said. “Only one in 27 girls played high school sports. There we no athletic scholarships and female college athletes received two percent of overall athletic budgets.”
“Access to Opportunity” is the year-long series of lectures and events on campus highlighting women, sports and Title IX and leading up to the Final Four. Discussions have included historical, personal, literary, political and psychological reflections on the impact of the law.
The series will culminate during the week of the championship with a special presentation by Pat McKinzie-Lechault. Her talk, “A Mother’s Aspiration, a Daughter’s Destiny: Four Decades, Three Generations, Two Continents and One Game,” will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 18, in the Laird Room of the Dreyfus University Center. McKinzie-Lechault was one of the first women to play professional basketball and authored her memoir, Home Sweet Hardwood: A Title IX Trailblazer Breaks Barriers Through Basketball, which will be available for sale. Her daughter, Natalie, played basketball for the Pointers and also will be in attendance.
Even with all the progress and growth of women’s athletics, it’s still not an equal opportunity, said Egner, who has been at UWSP for 25 years.
“The general perception is that girls now have equal opportunities in all areas of athletics. But that’s just not true,” she said, citing discrepancies in high school and college sports participation opportunities for females, less funding for female athletes at NCAA Division I schools, and the dwindling number of women coaches for women’s teams.
Basketball has always been a huge sport for this area, and both Egner and Montgomery expect a large local turnout to support the event. They also thanked the many volunteers (students, alumni, former student-athletes, and booster club members) who have helped make this possible.
“This is a basketball-crazy town,” Montgomery said. “The championship is something for our community to rally around.”
“We encourage our community to support this event and welcome the many fans that will be here,” Egner added.
It looks to be a win-win for all sides.
All-session tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for youth (age 13 and younger). Each all-session ticket includes both semifinal games on Friday, March 21 at 5 and 7 p.m., along with the consolation game (4 p.m.) and national championship game (7 p.m.) on Saturday, March 22.
Tickets may be purchased over the phone by calling (715)-346-4100 or in person at University Information & Tickets, located in the Dreyfus University Center at 1015 Reserve Street. Fans can also print an order form and mail it in with payment.
A Timeline of Women’s Basketball Since Title IX
1971 — Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) was formed
1973 — Scholarships were offered to women in AIAW
1976 — First Olympic competition for women’s basketball
1976 — First WIAA Girls’ Basketball State Tournament
1982 — First NCAA Women’s Basketball National Championship Tournament
1987 — UW-Stevens Point wins first NCAA Division III National Championship
2002 — UW-Stevens Point wins second NCAA Division III National Championship