Since 1996, the Virginia Department of Athletics and the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center have collaborated in a celebration of National Girls and Women in Sports Day, an event that brings national attention to the achievements of female athletes and to issues facing girls and women in sport.
This year, the event’s theme will be “Half a Century of Opportunity. Half a Century of Excellence.” Letterwinners from the first three varsity women’s teams at the University of Virginia will be honored at halftime of next Sunday’s Duke game.
On September 29, 1973, the field hockey team took the pitch on Nameless Field against Roanoke College. As the Cavaliers represented the University of Virginia that September afternoon, they represented more than just a field hockey team. They represented the first intercollegiate team contest by UVA female students and ushered in a new era at Virginia.
In 1971, UVA’s AD Gene Corrigan appointed Barbara Kelly as the assistant director of intramurals and physical education, making her Virginia’s first full-time female athletic staff member. After developing a successful intramural and club sports program for women, Kelly was named director of women’s sports and primary senior woman administrator. She worked to bring about the University’s first three women’s varsity intercollegiate teams in 1973-74.
“They had just admitted undergraduate women in 1970, and I arrived in September 1971, so, with only 500 women, I had to find what sports they were interested in participating in,” Kelly said in 2017 while reflecting on her career. “So we offered one sport per season: field hockey in the fall, basketball in the winter and tennis in spring.”
In addition to her administrative duties, Kelly coached women’s basketball for its first two seasons. The team won its very first game, 37-32, at Mary Washington on Nov. 30, 1973. They also won their first-ever home game, topping Old Dominion 46-40. Chris Dawson led the team in scoring and rebounding that year, averaging 10.2 points and 12.8 rebounds. She would continue being a trailblazer for women’s sports her entire career, serving as the senior women’s administrator at Cal and then as the associate commissioner of the Pac-12.
Chesley Garrett led the first field hockey team, with the squad picking up seven draws and four losses. Their first victory would come under their second head coach, Dr. Diane Wakat, the next year on Oct. 3, 1974, against Hollins. By their third year, their third head coach Linda Southworth would lead the team to a 12-2-1 record.
Cindy Hook was a member of that inaugural field hockey team. She also helped start a long-running tradition of being a multi-sport athlete, taking up lacrosse in her second year. Field hockey has never left her, nor has her desire to grow female sports. She became the head field hockey coach at Annandale High in 1979, a position she held for 43 years before stepping down last year. She also coached eight seasons of winter track, two seasons of spring track, 16 years of girls soccer and has been the lacrosse coach since 1998.
In 1971, three women came out for the club tennis team and were given $200 for the program for the year. They were told that women would have to show a continuing interest in sports before the administration would consider making them an intercollegiate team. Their home matches were played at the Lady Astor Courts, but they could never get them for practice, so they showed initiative and put a sign up at the Dell courts and commandeered them every afternoon from 3 to 5, Monday – Friday for practice. Lindsay Burn was a member of those first club teams, playing for two years and then staying on for one year after she graduated to coach that first varsity team.
Twelve women lettered in field hockey that first year, seven in basketball and six in tennis. There was enough interest in the sport for there to be A and B squads in field hockey and varsity and junior varsity teams for basketball.
This season, field hockey, basketball and tennis are fielding their 50th teams from those humble beginnings. In 2017 with the addition of squash, UVA’s initial three-sport women’s athletics program had ballooned to 14 teams made up of 320 female student-athletes.
We celebrate National Girls and Women in Sports Day in February, but we benefit from the legacy of the trailblazers every day.
PRE GAME NGWSD SPORTS FESTIVAL
In addition to honoring the letterwinners from the 1973-74 field hockey, basketball and tennis teams, there will also be a pregame #NGWSD Pregame Youth Sports Festival on the upper concourse of the arena from 12:30 – 1:45 p.m.
- Doors open 30 minutes earlier for this game at 12:30 p.m.
- The festival will include sports stations for youth to visit, including field hockey, rowing, soccer, football and volleyball
- Youth in eighth grade and under completing all of the sports stations will receive a complimentary t-shirt
- Admission to the festival is free with a game ticket