Female athletes at North Central College won’t have a problem finding a sport to play now. But that wasn’t the case for women in the early 1900s. Back in 1921 three ladies formed the college’s first varsity team, tennis. For the next 40 years, that was the only sport offered by the college.
“When I grew up there were no team leagues for girls,” remembers Nancy Peterson, the 2010 recipient of the Cleo Tanner Award. “Now they’re everywhere, and I think the skills that girls are learning both athletically but also socially, can’t be beat in doing this. It’s really an amazing feat we’ve seen in the last 40 years.”
It wasn’t until 1961 that the next women’s sport, basketball, was introduced to the college.
Everything changed in 1972 when Congress passed Title IX. The Act said no one could be excluded from participating in sports on the basis of sex. Since then, nine more women’s teams have joined North Central College.
North Central aluma Nancy Majewski Range was a three sport athlete back in 1974, playing basketball, tennis and volleyball.
“Coming in we had no experience,” she said. “We didn’t play in high school and without that experience we were pretty raw.”
Her daughter also played volleyball for the Cardinals from 2004-2007 and Majewski Range says it was like night and day.
“I was amazed at just the equality between men and women.”
44 years prior to Title IX, North Central was ahead of the times when they hired Cleo Tanner as the college’s Physical Education Director for Women. For the next 40 years, she served as a pioneer in women’s sports. Every year the athletic department honors an individual who has positively influenced women’s sports with the Cleo Tanner Award.
“I’ve sat in the audience here for the past several years, and I’ve looked at the people who have received the award,” said Peterson, this year’s recipient. “And they’re some incredible folks, so I’m incredibly grateful and also humbled that someone would think to give this to me.”
Last year, North Central added yet another women’s sport to their roster: Lacrosse, becoming the first NCAA Division III college in the state to offer the sport at a women’s varsity level. Now at NCC there are 11 varsity sports played by both men and women.
“I don’t think we’re recognized as female or male athletes here, you just feel like one team. 22 sports, one team, that’s our motto,” said Natalie Vivacqua, a Senior Lacrosse Player.
“Everyone is under the impression that it’s all about women, but it’s not,” said Senior Wrestler Joe Norton. “Yes it’s called National Women and Girls in Sports Day, but it’s cool to have men come out here and support it too.”
Today, North Central has 178 women athletes, and they have a message for the women who paved the way in sports.
“My life has been based around athletics and without them paving the way I don’t think I would have had the opportunities I’ve had, so thank you very much,” said Vivacqua.
“It’s a great school to be an athlete because I feel like it’s a community of athletes here; we all hang out together and support each other. A lot of the school is made of athletes,” said Rachel Secrest, a Senior Pole Vaulter at NCC.
North Central College has a history of the school’s athletics in their new Residential Hall and Recreational Center, and will soon have exhibits for all 22 sports.
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