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Celebrating Women’s History Month: The development of App State’s women’s sports

Michelle+Driscoll+comes+off+balance+beam+with+a+hair-raising%2C%0Aheart-stopping+finish+in+Georgia+meet+Friday.+Photo+originally+published+in+The+Appalachian+Dec.+5%2C+1978.
Howard Katz
Michelle Driscoll comes off balance beam with a hair-raising, heart-stopping finish in Georgia meet Friday. Photo originally published in The Appalachian Dec. 5, 1978.

Over the course of App State’s 125-year tenure, its athletic program has seen many changes pertaining to women’s sports. This includes the formation and ending of teams, milestones, changes in leadership, victories and more. However, through the rise and fall of some of these sports, the legacy of women in athletics will continue to stay. 

In honor of women’s history month, here are some of the early moments that helped shape the women’s athletic program at the university.

 

1930s – Girl Cagers.

One of the earliest documented sports women played at App State were basketball and volleyball.

In the 1930s, women’s basketball played as the Girl Cagers.

According to an article published in The Appalachian Dec. 7, 1934, 75 women tried out for the team and showed up to practice, but only 21 were chosen to play for the main team. 

In January 1935, the team prepared for the beginning of their season, soon playing against Mitchell College and Wingate University. According to the 1935 article, the Girl Cagers hoped to “hold the successful record they have made in the past.”

 

Photo of the women’s field hockey team in 1980. Photo originally published in The Appalachian Oct. 23, 1980/ (Dave Bradley)
Photo of a field hockey match published in The Appalachian Sept. 23, 1982. ( Alyson Nussear)

1968 – First official women’s sport introduced at App State.

“Girls’ Hockey New ASU Sport” reads the headline of an article from The Appalachian, published April 26, 1968. In the spring of 1968, App State’s women’s field hockey became the first officialized sport in the athletic program. In their first season, the team was led by head coach Jan Watson.

The creation of App State’s first women’s varsity team comes years before other schools in the state, such as North Carolina, NC State, Duke, Wake Forest and Elon created women’s varsity teams. This also came years before Title IX passed.

 

1972 – Title IX is passed.

Passed in 1972, Title IX requires all universities to not “discriminate on the basis of sex in its education programs and activities,” which includes athletics. 

According to History.com and the Women’s Educational Equity Act, before Title IX “fewer than 32,000 women competed in intercollegiate athletics” at the college level. As of 2022, over 229,000 NCAA college athletes are female, according to statista

Due to Title IX, opportunities for female athletes opened up at App State and in the country. Women were no longer restricted to club sports or cheerleading. Instead, they could do some of the same sports men had been doing for years, such as soccer or basketball. As a result of Title IX, women could now receive athletic-based scholarships. 

 

1972 – Gymnastics team is introduced to App State.

“Appalachian fields first varsity gymnastics team,” reads a headline from an article published in the Nov. 7, 1972 edition of The Appalachian by writer Steve Adams.

According to the article, the team featured six women and six men. Women participated in high bar, vaulting, rings, free exercise, parallel bars and horizontal bars.

Mary May begins her routine on the uneven parallel bars last Saturday in Varsity Gym. The lady topped both Duke and Winthrop. Caption and photo published in The Appalachian, Feb. 6, 1973. (Tom Bell)

 

1973 – Women’s sports program is completed.

According to an article written by Jack Pennington and published Nov. 1, 1973 in The Appalachian, App State had a “complete” women’s intercollegiate athletic program in the Southeast.

Then, the program consisted of seven different sports teams: field hockey, basketball, volleyball, golf, tennis, gymnastics and swimming. 

 

Women’s basketball player Kim Johnson. Photo originally published in Dec. 1, 1988 issue of The Appalachian.

1975 – Women’s sports increased interest.

In the fall of 1975, the outlook on women’s sports was “better than ever before,” said then assistant director of athletics Judy Clark for The Appalachian Sept. 4, 1975.  

According to the article, the new interest in women’s sports at App State from students came as a result of high school women’s sports gaining more publicity across the country.

 

1975-76 – Softball enters intercollegiate sports program.

According to an article in The Appalachian published April 6, 1978, softball became an intercollegiate sports program at App State.

 

1977 – First women’s coach hired as a coach rather than a teacher.

App State used to hire female head coaches as teachers before they could coach a sport. That was until Toni Wyatt. 

According to an article by Narda Harrison published in The Appalachian April 6, 1978, Wyatt was “the first women’s coach hired foremost as a coach and then as a teacher at Appalachian. All other women’s teams are headed by coaches hired mainly as teachers.”

  During her time at the university, Wyatt was the head coach for volleyball and a club softball coach.

  

1979 – Gymnastics team is disbanded.

According to an article by Ed Holzinger published Aug. 30, 1979, the App State gymnastics team was disbanded due to the head coach quitting.

 

1979 – Women’s track and field added.

According to an article published by The Appalachian dated Oct. 4, 1979, women’s track and field became a new sport offered at the university. Although its announcement came in 1979, the effort to make it a team was ongoing for two years prior. 

The team competed against NC State, North Carolina, ECU and other schools, according to the article.

Members of the Lady App Track Team Prep for Upcoming State Meet. Photo and caption originally published in the April 2, 1981 issue of The Appalachian

 

1984 – First woman inducted into App State Athletics Hall of Fame.

On Sept. 22, 1984, Marjorie Crisp was the first woman inducted into the App State Athletics Hall of Fame.

Crisp, a 1934 alumni of App State, was inducted for her time on the women’s basketball squad, but also played volleyball, field hockey and ran track as a student, according to a Sept. 25, 1984 article from The Appalachian. 

After App State, Crisp became a basketball coach for Garnder-Webb for six seasons and also became the first full-time female faculty member at Wake Forest University, where she founded their women’s sports program.

In addition to becoming the first woman hall of famer for App State, Crisp entered Wake Forest’s Hall of Fame in 1993.

Crisp died at the age of 92 in 2005.

 

2024 – Looking ahead.

What started off small with few official sports, minimal participation and little to no funding has turned into a funded program with nine women’s sports, not including club and intramural sports, surpassing the amount of men’s sports. Today, hundreds of women play sports for App State, with plenty featured in App State’s Athletics Hall of Fame.

“We’ve just continued to get better, and that’s pretty cool, just in general of all women’s sports getting better,” said softball head coach Shelly Hoerner.

As long as women’s sports opportunities are open, whether it be varsity, club or intramural, there will be sports to both play and watch.

“More media coverage would be great to allow people to see what female athletes really do and what we’re able to accomplish,” Hoerner said.

As the current Mountaineers’ women’s sports teams continue their seasons, they too are adding to the history and legacy of App State women’s sports, becoming something others will someday look back on as well.

“We are a society where little girls look up to, you know, college athletes,” Hoerner said. “They see a lot of what we’re able to do.”

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About the Contributor
Jenna Guzman
Jenna Guzman, Editor-in-Chief
Jenna Guzman (she/her) is a junior journalism and public relations double major with a media studies minor. This is her third year working for The Appalachian.
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