Office Of Social Equity
West Chester University
13/15 University Avenue
West Chester, PA 19383
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Celebrating 50 Years of Women’s Athletics
Jo Ann (Josie) Harper ’65
Women’s teams at West Chester were pretty dominant in the 1960’s.
At that time there were not many choices for a young woman who had a passion for playing and wanted to have a career linked with sports. However, if you were a woman and really interested in playing as well teaching and coaching sports, West Chester was the place to go!
Most students are very surprised today when I tell them I’ve never been coached by a man, in high school or college. I grew up in Delaware County and then attended West Chester. This was also an era when the teachers, particularly PE teachers all coached at their respective schools. Suburban Philadelphia, particularly schools like Swarthmore, Nether Providence, Penncrest, Conestoga, Upper Darby and Haverford had great programs for boys and girls at the high school level. And this was particularly unusual for girls at this time. In high school all of my coaches and PE teachers were West Chester graduates.
Even though it was lacrosse that I coached at the highest level, I loved playing basketball in high school and then in college. West Chester always provided strong teachers and coaches within their faculty in the area of health and physical education.
Regarding women’s basketball a sport I did play for 4 years at West Chester. I believe there were two eras of coaching that made women’s basketball so strong: phase one was when coach Lucille Kyvallos, took over the program when I as a sophomore, she changed the whole landscape of the sport; and after Lucille left--phase two-was lead by Carol Eckman, who continued and certainly enhanced this wonderful legacy.
In field hockey, coaches such as “Chute Yanish” a legend in her own time - was followed by Vonnie Gros who again made her own mark at West Chester and nationally during this time. West Chester was a place that not only provided opportunities for me to compete and continue my love of sport through teaching, but as I mentioned before, we had some incredible women, who were role models, coaches and educators. For this I will be forever grateful, and as I look back, I think West Chester has been and continues to be an incredible gift to many, many generations.
I had attended Eastern Field Hockey camp while in high school and met West Chester students who were some of the counselors and coaches there, including Nancy Stevens’76 and Joy Wenstrup. They encouraged me to enroll at West Chester, and it turned out to be the perfect school for me.
At that time, Title IX had just come into being, so it was before the onset of athletic scholarships for women. There were budgetary limitations as well: our field hockey uniforms were handed down year-after-year, and we had to raise funds one year to compete in the national playoffs in the state of Washington and defend our national title. Women competed in sports then for no other reason than because they loved it.
At West Chester, it was an honor to be included in the field hockey program. Going to practice was the highlight of my day; everyone on the team was very passionate about the sport. In those days, in addition to varsity and JV teams, there was a third and fourth team. As a freshman, I played on the third and fourth team.
That year, the varsity team was headed for the national championship, so while the season was over for our teams, they were still practicing. One early morning, I headed down to the field where I planned to practice on my own. Across the way, the varsity team was having a scrimmage. Seeing me alone, the coach, Vonnie Gros, sent someone over to invite me to join them. I was thrilled, and I never forgot that day. Vonnie was something special and to this day, is still a legend.
Darlene Deeley Malone’84
I was considered a bit too old (11 years) and tall when I started gymnastics, and in my senior of high school, I had surgery on my ankle that required nine months to recover. Initially, I attended another college because I didn’t think I could compete in the Division II program at West Chester. When the school’s program disbanded, however, I transferred. The coach at West Chester was so supportive and gave me a great deal of confidence. The team was like a family, and the faculty and coaches were very supportive as well.
I had a pretty successful career in gymnastics at West Chester, which I credit to the coach Sandy Thielz. I trusted her completely. If she told me to jump higher in my routine, I didn’t hesitate.
Being a college gymnast in the 1980s at West Chester was one of the most memorable times of my life. Gymnastics was the gift that helped me get into college, but the confidence and support of the faculty and coach made it possible for me to achieve as a student and later in my career.
My association with athletics at West Chester is probably stronger than anything else I experienced as a student. I really enjoyed competing with other girls who had the same passion for softball. Everyone got along, we had a lot of fun, and we did very well. We made it to the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference playoffs and up until my senior year, my class had the most wins in a season.
Throughout my time at West Chester, I got to know a number of athletes on different teams, and I played field hockey, softball and in my freshmen year, basketball.
For me, playing sports was an outlet. Going from high school to college can be a big transition, so having a close-knit group of friends that makes you feel a part of something, helps in making that adjustment.
I still play basketball and softball - in both cases with women I knew in college or coincidentally, who also played for West Chester.
I started playing soccer when I was three years old, and I’ve always loved it. I didn’t attend a high school that was particularly known for athletics, so I had to work hard to get a position on the soccer team when I first came to West Chester. The team was very good. Every year, they were in the PSAC championships, the “Sweet 16” tournament and in my senior year, they made it to the Final Four, competing in Florida. That was quite a thrill - to be around women athletes of all sorts of skill levels, competing with schools you’d never see unless you played outside your area.
The entire team was wonderful. We all bonded and supported each other. My sophomore roommate, Casey McKinney, was also on the team. We became very close and we’re still roommates. To this day, I have a solid group of friends from the team, and we still get together to play on different leagues. Playing sports in college taught me a lot about time management, and I think sports in general teaches a person a lot about responsibility and discipline.
Even though I continue to play soccer, it’s not the same as when I was in college. I sometimes miss the competitiveness, being around really skilled players, and having that strong bond with a team.