Watching Penn State athletic events, especially women’s teams, can be an incredible experience.
So many impressive athletes have strolled the campus, from the artistry of Raquel Rodriguez and Tiffany Weimer on the soccer field to the sheer power of Megan Hodge and Nicole Fawcett on the volleyball court.
And there have been many more, from swimming to softball, lacrosse to basketball, who succeed at a high level.
If you’ve got a daughter, it would never hurt to take her to see the Nittany Lion women’s teams compete. What better role models than strong, smart, confident women?
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It wasn’t always that way.
A half-century ago, the notion of women competing in athletics was scoffed at by many. It may seem outrageous now, but so many leaders at schools thought it wasn’t a place for women.
At Penn State, it took someone like Martha Adams to change the game. Nearly a decade before Title IX shook the country and forced the doors open, Adams and her friendly, infectious personality joined a handful of others to convince the university’s leaders to create varsity programs.
Adams died last month at the age of 90. She was long retired from the university but still living in State College, still going to Penn State events — she went to a Lady Lions basketball game just nine days before she passed away — and still passionate about her school and what it has become.
In fall 2014, the university celebrated its 50th anniversary of women’s athletics on campus. Adams played a major role in that creation, along with many others including Ellen Perry, Della Durant, Lu Magnusson and Bob Scannell. Adams served the university in a number of roles including as teacher, coach and administrator. Her passing leaves Scannell and Magnusson as the last surviving members of that group.
That foursome, and a number of other administrators, helped establish “extramural sports for women” in 1954, starting with field hockey and soon adding eight other sports. By the time the Title IX legislation was passed in 1972, Penn State had a dozen women’s varsity teams.
Charmelle Green — senior associate athletic director for student-athlete performance, health and welfare — got together with Adams occasionally to talk about the past and present, most recently right before Christmas. She could see how Adams’ personality helped make the program creations possible.
“She’s smart, and the clarity of thought and her ability to bring all groups of people together, it was noticed,” Green said. “She just had this knack for bringing people together and really just lightening things to where it wasn’t intense at all. It was very light, very welcoming, just free-spirited environment.”
Green said Adams had boxes of items in her apartment at The Village from so many years ago that she wanted to go to the All-Sports Museum, helping solidify the legacy that she helped create.
As each Nittany Lion steps to the starting blocks for a swim, the service line in tennis, to the foul line in basketball, they are following the footsteps of hundreds of athletes of the past. There are reminders of many of them all over campus, in the Bryce Jordan Center, Rec Hall and East Locker, not to mention the signs and banners trumpeting so many Big Ten and NCAA titles. It links to those who are making an impact today, such as Emily Ogle and Haleigh Washington. The scholarships they received, the weights they lift, the equipment they use for competition, it is all possible thanks to the work of the athletes and coaches who came before and the foundation laid more than a half-century ago.
“It’s our responsibility to keep that legacy alive,” Green said. “And take advantage of our opportunities to tell our story, our history, how women’s varsity athletics came about.
“We have to help our youngsters understand there are people that have paved the way to provide the opportunities that exist today.”
Penn State athletics lost a pioneer last month, but what she helped create is most definitely alive and well.