Archive for Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Woodling: Stephenson helped make KU soccer a reality

November 19, 2003


On an early May day in 1994 -- about 9 1/2 years ago -- the Kansas University Athletic Corp. board approved the addition of two new varsity sports -- women's soccer and women's rowing.

No one turned a cartwheel, as I recall, but Betsy Stephenson may have felt like kicking up her heels.

Stephenson, a former KU volleyball player, was the Jayhawks' senior woman administrator at the time, and she played a significant role in convincing athletic director Bob Frederick of the necessity of complying with gender equity under Title IX guidelines.

Now, in one of those coincidences that so often occur in sports, Stephenson will be on the other sideline Friday when KU's soccer squad meets UCLA in the Round of 16 at the NCAA Tournament.

Stephenson left KU for a similar associate athletic director position at UCLA in 1996, but not before she hired Lori Walker -- now at Ohio State -- as the Jayhawks' first soccer coach and laid the groundwork for the installation of a soccer facility, SuperTarget Field.

"I thought we had green-space problems at Kansas," Stephenson told me. "But at UCLA we're land-locked. We have significantly less green space than Kansas."

Yet UCLA has an on-campus soccer facility, thanks to a donor who gave enough money to enable the athletic department to restructure the running track and position a soccer field in the middle.

"We realized our field just wasn't what we needed it to be," she said. "We changed the track to give it European turns, making it more round than oval, and put Frank Marshall Field in the middle of the track."

Kansas needs a Frank Marshall, someone to donate money to allow KU to upgrade its facility to the point where it at least has enough amenities to become an NCAA host site. Last weekend the Jayhawks, despite having the highest seed, had to play in Columbia, Mo., because of sub-par facilities.

Interestingly, while soccer and rowing appeared on the KU varsity scene at the same time, soccer has steadily grown to a level of national prominence while rowing has remained bogged in obscurity, mainly because very few Division One schools sponsor the sport.

Among the Big 12 Conference universities, only Kansas, Kansas State and Texas fund women's rowing. Texas has rowing, I suppose, because the largest university in America has everything else, so why not rowing, too? Kansas and Kansas State sponsor rowing primarily for gender-equity reasons.

Frederick stressed at the time rowing and soccer were added in '94 that Kansas was "committed to providing a gender-equitable program," adding "this is the correct thing to do."

Some might rebut that if it was such a correct thing to do, why did the KUAC drop men's swimming and men's tennis about six years later, citing a lack of funding?

In the current atmosphere of college athletics, women's sports are here to stay, and excised men's sports are not even close to the cusp of resuscitation.

History will show that women like Stephenson were integral forces in providing impetus for the shift in mindset from the jock mentality in college athletics to equal opportunity for all.

Stephenson will be at Friday's Kansas-UCLA match, of course, eager to watch the Bruins advance, yet still torn a bit by the fact UCLA will be playing against her alma mater and against the program she helped nurture.

"It's exciting," she said. "I still have a strong feeling for the Kansas program, and I'm proud to say I'm a Jayhawk."

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