A time-out for celebrating women's sports at Notre Dame

Author: Marianne Murphy Zarzana ’78

In the beginning, they wore hand-me-down uniforms from men’s teams, jockeyed for court time to practice, called major University athletic departments from their dorm rooms to arrange matches and racking up impressive records for competitiveness—as well as tenacity, creativity and endurance.

Nearly 125 female former Notre Dame student-athletes, coaches and trainers gathered in late April, 2007, for the 35th Anniversary of Women’s Athletics reunion weekend, sponsored by the Athletic Department and the Monogram Club. They were joined by 175 current student-athletes, coaches, student managers and trainers.

“Being an athlete taught me more about life and the person I’d like to be than anything I could have learned in the classroom,” said Haley Scott DeMaria ’95, a former member of the swimming team.

The women converged from around the United States and the globe—one from Singapore—to reconnect with teammates, rediscover campus and tell stories. They represented all 13 current women’s varsity sports: basketball, cross country, fencing, golf, lacrosse, rowing, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, indoor and outdoor track and field, and volleyball, as well as the field hockey program that was dropped in 1988 and cheerleading.

“Why celebrate now?” asked deputy athletic director Missy Conboy ’82, who played on the basketball team. “Well, we missed 25, and if we waited until 50, we wouldn’t be recognizable to our teammates.”

Conboy said she and other event planners wanted to honor those “who began the slow, arduous task of building our women’s athletics heritage almost simultaneous to that joyful day in 1972 when Notre Dame opened its doors to women.

“If we failed to celebrate the accomplishments of those women who started the clubs, drove the vans, bought their own uniforms and did it all for the love of the game,” she added, “we’d be missing the whole point.”

Betsy Fallon ’76, who organized Notre Dame’s first intercollegiate women’s tennis match in 1973 as a freshman, got into the spirit of the reunion. “It was energizing, just being with the wonderful, smart women who pioneered women’s athletics co-education,” she said.

A signature event of the weekend was the groundbreaking for the Melissa Cook Memorial Stadium, future home of Notre Dame softball. The new stadium was underwritten by Cook’s mother and stepfather, Linda and Paul Demo, to honor Melissa ’94, a softball player killed in 2002 by scaffolding falling from a Chicago building.

On Sunday, April 29, a Mass was concelebrated by current and emeritus University presidents Father John Jenkins, CSC, Father Edward Malloy, CSC, and Father Theodore Hesburgh, CSC. At a brunch that followed, Linda Demo, Sharon Petro and Frances Shavers ’90 were made honorary members of the Monogram Club.

Petro, a sports psychologist, was one of the University’s first female coaches and administrators, coaching both basketball and tennis, chairing the physical education department, and serving as assistant athletic director. Shavers, Jenkins’ executive assistant, served in 1996 as the first coordinator of the Athletic Department’s life skills program, now recognized as one of the best in the nation.

“This weekend has been outstanding and amazing,” said Petro. “I’m so happy to see the women I was privileged to coach.”

Father Hesburgh, whom Monogram Club president Julie Pierson Doyle ’85 characterized as “a man who has been with us every step of the way,” congratulated the women athletes for never settling for second best and for winning seven national championships. “You’re making us very proud,” he said.

Marianne Murphy Zarzana was a member of the tennis team while at Notre Dame. Read more or to view video of the reunion.