June 23, 2022, marked the 50-year anniversary of Title IX, which prohibited sex-based discrimination in schools and educational programs.
For female student-athletes, Title IX meant that they would finally be allowed access to the same facilities and resources as male student-athletes. Although these changes did not happen all at once and there is still a long way to go in the movement for equity, it was a significant step for women’s rights and women’s sports.
On May 20, Western Washington University honored nearly 200 female student-athletes who played for Western between 1968 and 1981. Each woman got to hear their name called and received their “W” varsity letter at the brunch and awards ceremony.
Western Hall of Famer Lynda Goodrich, who coached women’s basketball and served as athletic director for several decades, spoke to the crowd, reminding them of the challenges they faced just to put a women’s team out on the court.
They used carwashes and bake sales to raise funds for a schedule and travel. They stayed at players’ houses for accommodation when playing on the road. `
“I see many of you here today that know what a struggle it was to have a meaningful athletic career. And you are the ones who paved the way for the future,” Goodrich said. “It wasn’t easy to have little funding, no scholarship dollars, no academic support, no physical training support and coaches who were part-time.”
Stephanie Peterson, a current member of the Western women’s basketball team, later spoke to the former student-athletes at the ceremony, providing a different perspective on the long-lasting impact these women have had on Western athletics.
“To be given the opportunity to have a scholarship to obtain an education is a special privilege,” Peterson said. “This privilege would not have been possible without the foundation that was laid by each of you here today — that were brave enough to go against the status quo and participate in sports, and we are all so grateful of the opportunity that your strength has given us.”
The event was held during Western’s Back2B’ham Alumni and Friends Weekend. Around half of the guests at the awards ceremony attended a breakfast the following morning at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal, hosted by Western Hall of Famer Terri McMahan.
Attendees laughed, cried and shared stories, some of which could be written into their own books.
Laura Healy narrated the story of how she, with the help of some friends, started the women’s soccer team at Western in 1976. She recounted her and her teammates buying matching shirts from the bookstore to serve as uniforms and driving themselves down to Seattle to play their first game on an incredibly muddy field against Seattle Pacific University.
Healy doesn’t remember if the Western women’s soccer team even won their first game. But to her, it didn’t matter. She said, “Everyone won,” on account that they were women playing for their own team.
Several women who spoke at the breakfast mentioned how the ceremony one day prior was the first time they were being recognized for their athletic achievements. While seemingly just a letter, the “W” represented more than just what they accomplished on their respective courts or fields.
Kathy Knutzen, who played for the basketball, soccer, volleyball, field hockey, badminton and track and field teams for Western starting in 1968, spoke at the breakfast as well. She described some of the meaning that letter had to the women who earned it around half a century ago.
“Someone told me yesterday they were going to put that ‘W’ in their coffin,” Knutzen said.
And just before wrapping up her own speech, Healy added, “Maybe I’ll put it in my coffin too.”
Andrew Foster (he/him) is a sports reporter at The Front. He enjoys listening to music, playing basketball and is working towards a degree in journalism.
You can reach him at email@example.com.