Celebrating 50 years of women’s athletics

Female student-athletes to receive long awaited SDSU varsity letters

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fty years ago, eight women athletes formed the first-ever volleyball team at South Dakota State University.

It was only a matter of time before the university added 10 more women’s varsity sports.

Volleyball, basketball, swimming, track, gymnastics and field hockey were the first women’s sports implemented at SDSU in the 1960s. Soon to follow was swimming and diving, cross country, softball, tennis and golf in the 1970s.

In 2000, the first women’s soccer team was formed and equestrian followed in 2004 becoming the final and most recent women’s sport at SDSU.

Kathie Courtney remembers her time at SDSU when she participated in track and field hockey in the early 70s. But that wasn’t what Courtney remembered most.

She recalled her time as a student athletic trainer. In fact, she was the first woman athletic trainer at SDSU.

“Everything was still really segregated when it came to men and women,” Courtney said. “That’s just the way it was then.”

Courtney remembers traveling with the women’s teams, primarily basketball, while serving as a student trainer.

The team didn’t have enough busses for the entire team many times, leaving several players to take cars to travel to games. Courtney recalled a few times there weren’t any busses, leaving the entire team to drive to the game.

“It was very, very different than what it is now,” she said.

Finding records for women’s athletics is a challenge according to Michele Schmidt, the assistant sports information director.

It was informal, as Schmidt describes it, with little paperwork. She, however, has been working on gathering information on women’s athletics for the past year, talking to several former women athletes.

“From what I’m hearing from the women… they needed bodies. If you could bounce a ball, you were on the team,” she said.

From 1965-66 through 1974-75, women athletes did not receive varsity letters. The University is going to change that. 

This weekend the department will be giving varsity letters to athletes who participated during those specific years. 

Courtney is especially excited about that, even though she has her own varsity letter and jacket.

“I think it’s awesome they are recognizing that and I understand that we are getting our varsity letters at this thing on Friday,” she said. “I told Michele, ‘I’m probably the only female athlete that ever got a letter and a men’s letter jacket because I actually got a letter for being a student trainer.’”

She recalls going to the downtown store to get measured for her jacket. It was common of many male athletes to also go to this store, but when Courtney walked in “their jaws about hit the ground.”

Fifty years ago, women’s athletics was different, but the women were happy with what they had according to Kathey Heylens, the associate athletic director for compliance and senior women’s administrator.

“They were happy though just because they had an opportunity to be organized and play with other females,” Heylens said.

The university is honoring the top-50 female student-athletes on Friday, Nov. 13 during the women’s basketball game. The top-50 athletes were voted on by Jackrabbit Nation this summer.