How does one articulate a memory accurately after 35 years? I am not sure my following thoughts adequately reflect the reality of the experience of being on the first women’s varsity at Princeton…in the winter/spring of 1971.
There was a very (and I mean VERY) limited range of athletic opportunity for the Princeton women in the first year of coeducation (1969-70). We couldn’t field a full team of field hockey players in the fall so we rather feebly attempted scrimmages (with Betty Constable as Coach) when we met for sports. I had always played three varsity sports, during high school and my first two years of college. It was critically important to me to play sports and it was frustrating not to have a regular outlet for exercise at Princeton. So I played field hockey with a women’s team in the Princeton area in the fall of 1969—alongside Betty Constable, who was a regular on that team.
Just after Christmas of my senior year, tryouts were announced for the first women’s varsity tennis team. I was excited at the prospect; but given my experience in Junior year, not certain how many tennis players there were among us or whether we would have much depth in talent. A group of us convened in Jadwin in late January for tryouts and in short order I found myself on a varsity tennis team. I realized there were a few very strong players and a good number of experienced tennis players below them, of which I was one. I was the only senior on the team.
We began practicing as a team in February, indoors. We had the same practice hours as the men’s team and our Coach, Sheila Craft, seemed terrific. The men’s coaches (Summers etal) were frequently on the sidelines for comment and support. I didn’t think too hard about the impact of what we were doing. I was just dying to be part of a real team. As someone who has blazed a number of trails in my life unwittingly, I simply saw an opportunity and thought of it as a straightforward challenge—one hill to climb—and didn’t dwell what might happen on the way down the other side.
When the real season started, we found out that we had a decent schedule, but NO uniforms, NO tennis bags, NO money for transportation to away games. Sheila Craft went out and bought numerous pairs of golf socks with orange pom poms and black pom poms and split them up. My recollection is that she paid for them out of her own pocket. We wore an orange pom pom on one foot and a black pom pom on the other. Someone also purchased wool ribbon (popular in the 70’s) and those of us with longer hair wore an orange and a black ribbon, either in pigtails or a ponytail. I borrowed one of Margie Gengler’s tennis skirts and bought a couple of Lacoste shirts for matches; but I generally practiced in cut-off jeans.
Other women’s teams came to Princeton in their buses, all dressed alike in uniform, sporting warm-up jackets and pants, with their big tennis bags in their proper college colors—and we looked like a ragamuffin group in our varied white outfits with our funky socks. But we crucified everyone. Many of our singles matches were won without giving up a game. I believe we only lost 2 individual matches the whole season—much to my horror I was involved in one of those losses (doubles) in our match against Harvard.
Thanks to someone’s persistence, we found room on the men’s varsity bus to Yale and played one away game that season. I will admit to some frustration about the lack of funds for our team—and my recollection is that we actually discussed it among ourselves. But we were winning so handily, we had such a positive team mindset and we were so excited about what we were doing that we didn’t complain much.
At the season’s end, we found out that we were the only undefeated varsity team at Princeton for the year 1970-71. I still have my Undefeated Team Medal. Nonetheless, there was strong disagreement among various constituencies (male students included) about whether or not we deserved letter sweaters. At that point, I will admit to being a very outspoken advocate for us. It was a very proud moment for me to be part of a Princeton team. That pride hasn’t diminished despite the years that have passed and the radical changes in the paradigm of women’s sports at Princeton. Frankly, I probably wouldn’t have made varsity 10-15 years later.
I have read with great interest over the years about women’s teams at Princeton. I must admit that when Title 9 was passed and as other advances in college athletics have occurred I have felt a strong pang of envy toward all the Princeton women who have had the privilege of competing at the varsity level as beneficiaries of those advances. Nonetheless, despite my frequent wish to have experienced sports at Princeton in its more recent iterations, nothing can take away the feeling of pride and satisfaction I will always have at being part of that very first team.