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Office of the First Lady

"Women's Sports and the Spirit of IU"

Remarks of Indiana University First Lady Laurie Burns McRobbie
At the Dedication of Mohr Field
Bloomington, Indiana

April 24, 2013

I am honored to help dedicate this beautiful athletic facility, which was made possible by a gift from Lorna and Andy Mohr. Thank you Lorna and Andy!

I feel a particular connection to today’s dedication, because of my long-standing involvement with issues of concern to women, as we work towards a world where equity is simply the way things are.  I am also very happy to be part of the culmination of another great philanthropic project for Indiana University. 

As the construction fences have declared since last year, this is truly “philanthropy at work”.  Lorna and Andy, today you take your place among the great supporters of IU.  Your generosity will shape IU softball for generations to come.

THE IMPACT OF TITLE IX

We’ve come a long way since the 1940s when IU women played softball in short skirts and saddle shoes as part of their phys ed courses, and since 1968 when softball became an extramural sport.

The engine of that change has been Title IX, the landmark legislation that paved the way for equal educational opportunities for women. I graduated from high school in June of 1972, one week before the passage of Title IX.

There were a few team sports available to girls in my high school, but what I remember most vividly was that one of my classmates, an ace tennis player, had to sue the Michigan Department of Education to gain the right to play on the boys’ tennis team where she could get the level of competition she had earned.

My fellow students and I were well aware of the societal changes going on for women, but at the time, being a girl who was involved in sports seemed to me a little like being in the chess club—an extra thing one did purely out of a deep interest, not because it was a universally good experience, and those who did were probably naturally gifted. Well, fast–forward forty years, and today everyone, boys and girls, are encouraged to play sports, and it’s unimaginable that it was ever otherwise.

I finally caught up with team sports myself. In service of raising money for WonderLab, the local children’s science museum, I committed to playing basketball on a team of other women roughly my age. It was literally the first time I played a team sport with other women since elementary school, and I discovered what I had missed. 

It was easily one of the most fun and rewarding experiences of my life. I finally learned the sheer joy of being part of something so intense and challenging, in which my teammates and I all took turns in a beautifully fluid way, leading and following, always focused on a successful outcome for the TEAM.

As Olympic Medalist Summer Sanders said “It’s not so much about trophies and ribbons. The things you learn from sports—setting goals, being part of a team, confidence—that’s invaluable.”  

We all owe thanks to fellow Hoosier, Birch Bayh, and his Senate colleague Patsy Mink, for their farsighted work to change the playing field, literally, so that girls and young women, like boys and young men, can participate in a wide range of sports with a sense of belonging, the limits of their competitiveness under their OWN control. Vice President and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics, Fred Glass served as chief of staff for Senator Evan Bayh, Birch’s son; we have in Fred a great champion for gender equity.

THE MEASURES OF EQUITY

Over the last 40 years, women’s sports have become part of the spirit and traditions of Indiana University. But that didn’t happen automatically. Many people worked long and hard to bring us to the initial goal of 60% men, 40% women, set by the Big Ten in 1992, and to where we are today, with a nearly perfect balance between male and female athletes.

And what is especially important about this accomplishment is that, unlike many other schools, we didn’t achieve balance by decreasing opportunities for men, but by adding new varsity sports for women. One of the most obvious measures of true equity is the quality of facilities.  Here again, IU has made significant and impressive progress. 

In basketball, the men’s and women’s facilities in Cook Hall are replicas of one another. Our field hockey team has the most state-of-the-art playing surface in the Big Ten.  New softball recruits are impressed when they walk into the weight room—the largest in the nation—and see star soccer players training next to their own prospective softball teammates. And of course, now we have Mohr Field.

One of the continuing challenges for women’s sports is building an audience and an enthusiastic fan base.  Here, again, facilities make a difference.  Our softball team has always had loyal fans, but Coach Gardner tells me that a couple of weeks ago, the team played for a record-breaking audience of 635 people. Fans, other coaches, and students love the facility and say it is one of the best in the Big Ten.

AN UNWAVERING EMPHASIS ON ACADEMICS

As we celebrate this wonderful new facility and the athletic excellence it inspires, we also celebrate the fact that these talented, energetic young women are STUDENT-athletes. During Coach Gardner’s five-year tenure at IU, ten team members have received All-Big-Ten honors, which recognize achievement on the field AND in the classroom. Three players have been named First-Team-All-Big-Ten. In the decade before only two players received this honor.

Our student speaker today, Senior Amanda Wagner, exemplifies both academic and athletic achievement. She’s been named an All-American-Scholar-Athlete by the National Fastpitch Softball Association and was designated Big Ten Player of the Week last month—the second such designation for her. Amanda will graduate in May with a degree in recreational sports management. She wants to be a coach, and I have no doubt that she will share her love of competition, the delights of teamwork, the commitment to academic success, and the Spirit of IU with the young women she coaches.  

CONCLUSION

Over this academic year, Michael and I have attended a game or practice of each of our 24 sports, and we have had a thoroughly wonderful time doing so.  Those visits have reminded me why I love IU sports.  I love the chance to see these wonderful, strong, young women and men work together, all competing as part of something larger than themselves.  I love seeing the intensity and focus on their faces. 

Today, I feel privileged to be with a group of young women who believe with every pitch, every swing of the bat, every ball fielded that they belong on that diamond. I know that each player will take her experiences into the rest of her life and be better for it. To me, that’s the essence of the great traditions of Indiana University. They are about courage, commitment, integrity, and the opportunity to achieve something beyond what you thought you could do, and beyond what you can do on your own.

So, women of IU, play ball!