Nearly 40 years ago, in 1972, the passage of Title IX mandated a push for greater equity between men’s and women’s athletics programs at universities nationwide. While the results were not immediate, and some methods met with resistance, change began to sweep through campuses, including the University of Nevada, Reno.
This tumultuous process, with its struggles and successes, is captured in a new book from the University of Nevada Oral History Program, We Were All Athletes: Women’s Athletics and Title IX at the University of Nevada. The book caps off a six-year project during which the program conducted interviews with 48 former and current student-athletes, coaches, administrators and donors, with some memories reaching as far back as the 1940s.
Their recollections reflect the challenges of building a strong and equitable athletics program at Nevada that eventually rose to help set the national standard for compliance with Title IX. Female student-athletes recall sleeping on the floors of competitors’ gymnasiums while male counterparts were housed in hotels, coaches reveal their ongoing frustrations with slim budgets, and administrators discuss the complexities of implementing sweeping programmatic change.
“We wanted to be among the leaders in the nation in attaining equality for our women’s athletics,” said Joe Crowley, former president of the University who also served as NCAA president from 1993 to 1995. Crowley is one of the book’s chroniclers and wrote the book’s introduction. He recalls when Nevada women athletes won the national swimming and diving championship in 1979, at which time the NCAA didn’t cover women’s sports, but the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women did.
“We hosted the championship and won it, but you would not have known it from the coverage in the newspapers. There was nothing. That just didn’t seem right to me,” he said. When he hired Chris Ault as Nevada’s athletics director in 1986, he told him, “We need to make investment and expansion into women’s sports a priority.”
To prepare the book, editors Alicia Barber, director of the Oral History Program; Mary A. Larson, former program director; and Allison Tracy, program coordinator, selected excerpts from more than 1,000 pages of transcripts, arranging them thematically and chronologically to create a narrative that intersperses individual memories with photographs and background information.
“Hearing from the participants themselves makes this narrative deeply personal, but also universal in its emphasis on enduring values like perseverance and passion,” Barber said. “It’s truly an inspirational tale.”
The project received funding from Pack PAWS (Promoting and Advancing Women in Sports), Nevada Athletics and Cecilia Lee. Jim Kidder, one of the chroniclers in the book who formerly served in the University administration and is an active member of the Pack PAWS, was central to the creation of the project.
“They did a very nice job with it,” he said. “You can open it at any place and find something interesting to read. I’m really enjoying it.”
Cary Groth, Nevada’s athletics director and one of the book’s chroniclers, said, “The University of Nevada has a strong legacy of success in athletics, and our women’s sports are a huge part of that legacy. This book chronicles the hard work of all of the Wolf Pack student-athletes, coaches, staff and donors who have worked so hard to create opportunities for women and build the foundation for all of our current and future success.”
The book takes its title from a quote by Charlene Bybee, who competed in gymnastics for Nevada in the mid-1970s. Recalling how her parents equally encouraged both their daughters and sons to compete in sports, she reflected that, to her parents, regardless of gender, “We were all athletes.”
We Were All Athletes will be for sale at the game, as well as at a signing at 6 p.m., March 23 at Sundance Bookstore in Reno. Books can also be purchased by visiting the University of Nevada Oral History Program or by calling (775) 784-6932.
Founded in 1964, the University of Nevada Oral History Program records and collects interviews that address significant topics in Nevada's remembered past.