After graduating in 1955, Marygrace started her teaching career at a small town High school in California.
Oct. 18, 2012
U of A Letterwoman Marygrace Colby, Class of 1955
After graduating in 1955, I started my teaching career at a small town High school in California. After 3 years I quit teaching to become a Camp Fire Girls Camp Director, but returned to high school teaching again. In 1963, I was offered a newly created position at Santa Clara University.
When I arrived on the Santa Clara University campus in the fall of 1963, I was a thirty-two year old high school Physical Education Teacher, with little coaching experience. I was hired to “direct and instruct women students in various recreation and athletic pursuits”. No parameters given, no equipment or budget, no printed materials on how to proceed, except that “Recreation” was to be the emphasis.
As SCU had just admitted women for the 1961-62 school years, there were very few female faculty or administrators. When I arrived for the 1963-64 academic year, I would title my experiences as “Life in a Coed Men’s College”. With rule books in hand and a little help from the Men’s Basketball Coach, I began my coaching career. Playing only a total of 12 basketball games in the first three years, my team had a perfect winning record, playing a game that was very different from today’s Basketball. Volleyball and tennis were added and remember that all of these were Sports days, not intercollegiate athletic events.
1963-95 (when I retired) has brought much recognition in terms of outstanding female student-athletes who have become doctors, lawyers, educators, Rhodes Scholars, Olympians and professional athletes and even a few coaches. Basically a student-athlete at Santa Clara was and still is, not treated any differently from other students in the classroom. There has never been a physical education class, nor a major program. It was not an easy time for the first women student athletes at SCU, let alone the first female coach/administrator in an all-male Athletic Department. Athletic team participation demands were and are unique and at times and overlooked by Colleges and Universities. Virtually ignored by the media, nationally and locally, in 1963 the Women of Santa Clara were considered a detriment to the spirit of SC athletic events, especially when it came to the all-male rooting section at football games. Actually, taking over the antiquated gym, one night a week for Women Only-No Men Allowed-made HEADLINES.
Not until 1971, one year before Title IX became a law, did National Organizations for Women, begin to exist for intercollegiate athletics. Previously, women were told they should avoid the evils of competition, with activities directed towards their social/recreational benefits. Times of turmoil existed when Title IX brought about forced equality for women. In 1977 the first athletic scholarship given to a woman at Santa Clara, was worth $500. Fourteen years after the program started, $2000 was available for scholarships. Over many years the original twenty-one colleges and universities in California, from Fresno to Humboldt and with Reno included, played limited schedules on a Sports day and tournament level. Numerous conferences were started, only to change in relationship with the direction each school would follow, eventually into the NCAA. Most women’s conferences became part of their men’s conferences. In 1985 Santa Clara Women’s Athletics merged into their men’s conference.
I was called a women’s “libber” at Santa Clara. Actually, I preferred the term advocate, as I and others challenged the University to develop the outstanding programs they have today. After 16 years of coaching tennis, volleyball, basketball and golf, I “retired” to oversee not only the women’s intercollegiate program but also a huge lifetime sports program for all men and women students. In the first years of my tenure at Santa Clara, I was responsible for organizing. Tennis classes, bowling, coed ballroom dancing, football education, self-defense, lifesaving, bridge, sewing, chaperoning the ski club and providing activities for the female staff on campus, along with both women and coed intramural programs.
By 1973, Santa Clara had gone from 13 dedicated women basketball players to over 700 women involved in 75 activities, plus lifetime sports for men and women students. By 1975 Santa Clara began their move in the direction of intercollegiate athletics emphasis. The move from Play days and Sports days to extramural competition and into full-fledged intercollegiate athletics took some years. The “tea and crumpets” days of punch and cookies philosophy, changed to becoming one of one hundred-fifty Charter Members of AIAW, the first real national organization to govern women’s intercollegiate athletics.
I have always admired those first female student-athlete pioneers at Santa Clara and elsewhere, who were provided with little in terms of finances, equipment and qualified coaches. Faced with antiquated, almost non-existent facilities, they practiced in spaces half the size of any regulation court for many years. They played all their games on the road, sleeping on gym floors. It was not taken for granted how women would or should be able to participate on intercollegiate teams, representing their college or university. Now, 50 years later, Santa Clara’s Women’s Athletics has come a long way and we will celebrate their accomplishments during the 2012-2013 academic year.
The first female student-athlete (who played on the first teams in volleyball, basketball and tennis) was inducted into the Santa Clara Athletic Hall of Fame in 1980. Whoever thought that I would be the first female coach inducted into the same Hall of Fame in 1982!
In 1985, Men’s and women’s programs were merged into one department, with my responsibilities changing to include the Academic and Eligibility programs for over 400 male and female student athletes. I became the Director of Academics and Eligibility, overseeing all eligibility certification and coordinating the Student Athlete Assistance programs which included Alcohol and Substance Abuse Programs, Student Athlete Councils, Study Halls, along with serving on various University Committees.
I may have been considered a pioneer in the development of intercollegiate athletic programs for women, holding leadership positions during the formation of the first local, regional and national athletic conferences and championships for women, before and during the early years of Title IX. I can only hope that as one of the initial wave of women organizing sports for women, I set the state for today’s outstanding programs at Santa Clara and elsewhere.
For thirty-two years I gave a lot of my life to Santa Clara University and Santa Clara has continued to give me a lot in return. I believe in Santa Clara University and am privileged to have carried on “A Tradition of Excellence”, not only as a teacher, coach, administrator, but as an alumni, earning a Master’s Degree some twenty-eight years after my arrival on campus. Having the Marygrace Colby Female Student Athlete Scholarship and the Colby Women’s Intercollegiate Golf Tournament named after me is a great honor that I will always cherish. Hopefully, I played a small part in the lives of hundreds of young women, and men, who became Bronco alumni.
At the U of A I played just about every sport in 4 years, “competing” in Play days, Sports days and extramural sport competition. However, I never stepped foot into Bear Down Gym for any competitive event for women. As a physical education major I was trained to be a teacher, not to be a coach. However, I was well grounded in the basics, so when needed, I was not hesitant to step forward and take on any challenge I might face. Actually, I had no idea I would eventually have a 32 year career in intercollegiate athletics.
I knew about the history of the U of A. However, I was not really exposed to the history of women’s sports. In reviewing the recent From Wildkittens to Wildcats, by Katie Manciet Frey, who has traced women’s athletics at the university, I can only express my thanks and admiration to those early women sports pioneers that eventually allowed me to participate during my college career at Arizona.
My interest in sports history led me many years ago to research American Women in Sport, 1887-1987. In 2005 I fulfilled my promise to compile Santa Clara’s women’s athletics history from 1963-1995. Opportunities are out there for women who want a career in some aspect of High school and/or collegiate sports. The number of women coaches for women’s teams still lags behind, but made attempts are being made to mentor women who want to become collegiate coaches. If I was starting over I probably would go into Sports Medicine, becoming an Athletic Trainer.
I was considered as a part of the women’s sports Legacy and named a Sportswoman by U of A, which was the title given to women who participated “way back then” in all sports. It was an honor to be selected for Racquet Club, Putters, Mermaids, and earn enough points to receive an A on my blazer, and, of course, the eventual A Blanket, which I still cherish. Participation in “open” events was special for me, as it was not considered feminine for college women to compete in public.
How does one describe Ina Gittings, my freshmen P.E. Major Teacher? I never worked so hard in my academic career to get an “A” from her She was the toughest teacher I ever had, and I keep to this day a picture of her when she was a pole-vaulter at Nebraska, where she graduated from in 1906. She believed women’s athletics should go beyond calisthenics and exercises. Also, Marguerite Chesney, my Tennis Coach, felt so strong about women competing that she always put more pressure on us to do better than our best.
My advice to other female student athletes is to learn about those who paved the way for your athletic experiences and appreciate how they struggled and led the way for you to be able to complete at a very high level, which is now possible for women. You may not become a professional athlete, but you can reach your realistic goals if you put yourself out there and stand by your convictions. Only then, do you have the right to take what comes as a result of your efforts.
My Bumper sticker would be……ATHLETIC PIONEER
We are so proud of Marygrace and all that she has accomplished. It is crucial for our alumni and current and future student-athletes to recognize and appreciate how far we have come. If it was not for athletic pioneers such as Marygrace Colby we would not be where we are today. You will always be a wildcat Marygrace,
A-Club “Family Forever, Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow”.