“It's amazing how far we've come... ”
-Jane Lynes, member of Armstrong's first softball team
Armstrong Celebrates 35 Years of Women's Athletics
Betty Jane Ford arrived on campus in the fall of 1976, carrying with her a key to the lock that had long kept women from participating in varsity sports. As Title IX had college campuses buzzing with equal opportunity in the early ‘70s, Ford was hired to coach women's basketball and softball. She lifted away the lock, opened the door, and on the opposite side stood Armstrong's first Lady Pirates, all chanting the same mantra:
Let us play.
Fast-forward three decades and that very theme echoed off the ballroom walls of Armstrong's Student Union building, where former and current athletes, coaches and administrators—some of whom returned to campus for the first time in over 20 years—gathered to celebrate the 35th anniversary of women's athletics.
The banquet gave current athletes an opportunity to meet former players and coaches who, on little more than passion and pride, forged their way to participation and lit the torch Lady Pirates continue to carry today.
“It was an honor [to meet some of today's players],” said Cindy Pound, former basketball stand-out for Armstrong in the late ‘70s. “Even though female athletes are more common, and probably get more respect, these girls still love the game as much as any of us did back then.”
Armstrong's first female president, Dr. Linda Bleicken, hired in 2009, took the podium and reflected on her high school days in the ‘60s, when the only option for girls was to join the cheerleading squad.
Many of the attendees could remember being shunned from athletic participation, while others were recipients of full-ride scholarships, played on championship teams and won All-American honors.
“It's amazing how far we've come,” said Jane Lynes, who played on Armstrong's first softball team. “I never would've thought this program would grow to be so big and so successful.”
Since the program's inception in the 1976-77 season, women's athletics has accounted for six of Armstrong's eight NCAA Division II national championships and 27 of the school's 39 Peach Belt Conference championships. Women's teams have also made 42 NCAA championship appearances—including at least one in the past 17 consecutive years—and have earned 91 All-American honors.
At the end of the banquet, Armstrong's first female Director of Athletics, Lisa Sweany, hired in May 2011, handed out Armstrong varsity letters to the former players who'd never received a token of recognition for their participation in athletics.
It was an act of appreciation. One that brought many of the recipients to tears. But the women left that night with much more than just a maroon and gold letter A. They left knowing that the torch they've been carrying for the past 35 years will continue to be held high. That the foundation they laid many years ago is a strong one. And that the door they helped open will remain open, allowing young women to become Lady Pirates. Forever.