As Pomona women athletes race around the track, power forehands over the tennis net, head soccer balls into the goal, swim, spike, shoot, smack home runs, score goals, few of them would guess just how long women's athletics have been around at Pomona. Or how dramatically they have changed in the past few decades.
Men's varsity teams have flourished at Pomona since soon after its founding in 1887. Pomona men were competing in varsity football as early as 1895. Also fielding men's teams in track and field, baseball and gymnastics, the College became a founding member of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) in 1915.
Women, too, began formal competition early on at Pomona--an event that was, at that time, groundbreaking in its cultural audacity. A 1903 Metate yearbook pictures the women's basketball team and speaks of "a few of the more progressive fair ones" practicing their shooting technique. However, though women weren't completely absent from Sagehen playing arenas (early Metates also exhibit women tennis players), athletic options for women were much scarcer, and remained so through most of the 20th century.
Anne Bages, women's tennis coach from 1959 to 1982 and Physical Education chair from 1972 to 1982, says Pomona was already a leader in women's athletics long before Congress passed Title IX of the Education Amendments to the 1964 Civil Rights Act--a measure designed to ensure gender equity in higher education.
At that time, Pomona was a member of the fledgling Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), an influential and successful national body overseeing women's collegiate athletics.
"We were already fairly well organized," recalls Bages, now Director of the Oldenborg Center. "And we had our own women's leagues to start with before joining the men's SCIAC. We had been working on getting women into the mainstream of athletics for quite a while. So it wasn't as if it happened overnight when Title IX came along."
Bages also recalls the difficult decision in 1981 that moved women's athletics from the AIAW to the NCAA and combined the men's and women's athletic programs. The move was made, she says, "with much sorrow and disappointment because we had been at the forefront of developing AIAW. We joined with some of the major universities in Southern California--UCLA and USC--and took some flack from many of our peers. Our main reason was that at the time AIAW allowed scholarships for its small schools--not an even playing field."
Today, as we near the 30th anniversary of the passage of Title IX, how has Pomona's Physical Education Department upheld the directives of Title IX?
Among the varsity programs fielded jointly by Pomona and Pitzer College, the ratio of men's to women's teams is currently quite close--10 for men and nine for women. With women's lacrosse slated to move from club to varsity status in 2002-03--joining existing women's teams in soccer, cross country, volleyball, basketball, swimming and diving, tennis, track and field, water polo, and softball--the varsity scale may soon be perfectly balanced.
According to Lisa Beckett, Senior Woman Administrator (SWA) for the Physical Education Department, Pomona far exceeds the directives set out in Title IX. She credits the College's administration and financial resources.
"If you have people who are interested in doing what's fair and right," Beckett says, "it's a lot easier. And it's easy to say that at a place like Pomona College where you have money to do what's fair and right. We're in a pretty unique position that way. We haven't had to take anything away from anyone else to do this. But when you go back to these national conventions and you hear from people who basically don't have enough funding to go around, it's a tough situation."
As SWA, Beckett acts as chair of the Title IX Planning Committee that began in 1997.
"I think we were proactive in many ways," says Beckett. "In 1995 we did a SCIAC Title IX report. Then Leo Flynn, as Faculty Athletic Rep, went to the Title IX seminar that the NCAA offers. Leo came back and filed a report with the dean and the president making some recommendations. One of the recommendations he made was to take a look at things and formalize the process a little bit."
According to that report, the Planning Committee's charge was to develop and publish a "well articulated Title IX plan that guides policy and planning." Beckett and the committee now publish the report annually.
In essence, Title IX contains three major benchmarks in establishing institutional compliance with an athletics program: 1) effective accommodation of student interest and abilities, 2) athletics financial assistance, and 3) equivalence in other athletics benefits and opportunities. (Since, as a member of NCAA Division III, Pomona offers no financial awards for athletic participation, the second component isn't applicable.)
Today, according to Beckett, Pomona is well above the bar in meeting those requirements.
To comply with the first component--effective accommodation--an institution must do one of three things. It must either: 1) provide participation opportunities for women and men that are substantially proportionate to their respective rates of enrollment, 2) demonstrate a history and continuing practice of program expansion for the underrepresented sex, or 3) fully and effectively accommodate the interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex.
According to 1999-2000 enrollment fitures, the combined Pomona and Pitzer student bodies are 47% male and 53% female. Among the 346 Sagehen varsity athletes, 57% are male and 43% female--figures a bit outside the accepted 5% variance bandied about in Title IX literature. With the planned addition of lacrosse, however, another 18 women will be added to those numbers, boosting the female side to 47%.
If you consider expansion history, Pomona has been adding women's varsity sports on a regular basis--women's soccer in 1985, women's water polo in 1989, and women's softball in 1991.
Soccer became varsity after a meeting between soccer players and then-Athletic Director Curt Tong to assess student interest in moving to varsity status. The rave response prompted Tong to request that all SCIAC schools consider the addition of women's soccer, and a number of other conference schools began intercollegiate teams as well.
Water polo became varsity after many years as a club sport. Softball started as a club team about five years before becoming varsity, and last year the squad began play on a vastly improved Wig Beach field that now has new grass, bullpens and bleachers, as well as a new scoreboard and outfield fence.
"We show a history of expanding," explains Beckett. "We've added three sports, and we're adding a fourth. The third prong of Title IX is accommodating needs and interests in an equitable way. That looks at facilities, equipment and uniforms, training room access, travel, and competitive opportunities. We try to show equitable treatment of individuals. We want the softball players to be as proud and happy with their facilities as the baseball players are with theirs. And they are."
Beckett also points to Pomona's athletic facilities. The Rains Center, the crown jewel of the Physical Education Department at the heart of campus, was built for both men and women. For women in particular, it is a vast improvement over the old Memorial Gym.
Bages remembers Memorial Gym and its obstacles for women. "The biggest challenge was the constraints of that building and the limited space that it gave to any type of practice time. Even to get to the weight room, we had to build almost a tunnel between some of the locker rooms so the women could walk through."
Completed in 1989, the Rains Center has ample locker room space, with an easily accessible weight room and training room, plus a recently-added cardiovascular fitness room. With lacrosse moving to varsity status in the near future, the gym will house 10 men's and 10 women's intercollegiate teams.
So what's next? Beckett points to staffing as the next important issue. "We're concerned about being able to have a good coaching situation. Anytime you add a sport, it's great. But do you have a full-time position to get a head coach to stay around and build a program? You really need to look and know what you're going to come up against in a few years. I think we do have to look at that."
Pomona College continues to foster a strong and supportive women's athletic environment--one going through revolutionary change not yet fully assimilated. As Bages sums it up, "Pomona has been way out there as far as doing things coed from the beginning. You know, even our college song, '...sons and daughters, hail to thee...' so I think we've got a lot to be proud of that way."