EUGENE – More than 600 former University of Oregon women’s athletes, coaches and guests were on hand for a very special evening Saturday in Matthew Knight Arena when the athletics department recognized the achievements of those who paved the way for the opportunities that today’s female athletes enjoy.
Saturday’s Women’s in Athletics Celebration provided the forum for more than 250 former Oregon women’s athletes and coaches who pioneered the rise of women’s collegiate sports programs to national prominence prior to renewing acquaintances last weekend. Yet the highlight of the event was the awarding of letters to the former athletes spanning five decades who competed on the courts, fields and swimming pools prior to the NCAA sponsoring national championships alongside their male counterparts.
Women who competed in one of 13 sports at Oregon as early as the 1940s and as recent as 1981 were treated to an event that thanked them for their pioneering spirit, their sacrifices and their “love of the games” they played without the acknowledgements that women receive today.
It was not uncommon for institutional funding and support to pale in comparison across the country to men’s sports programs as the University Oregon didn’t merge its previously separate men’s and women’s athletics departments until the spring of 1977.
Included among the honorees were former field hockey players Esther McDiarmid, who participated in the sport for the Ducks from 1942 through 1946, Jackie Bogan (1943-46) and Grace Tyrrell (1945-47).
Among those who traveled great distances to take part in the weekend festivities were Marie Williams, with the former women’s cross country runner from the 1970s coming from Australia, and Justin Feeney, who traveled from New Zealand to represent his late father, John, who coached the Ducks’ women’s soccer program in 1980 before mentoring the softball team in the spring of ‘81.
Veteran ESPN correspondent Shelley Smith served as the event’s master of ceremonies, while University of Colorado three-time NCAA distance champion and 2008 U.S. Olympian Kara Goucher delivered the evening’s keynote address.