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The Women Who Did Not Ask Permission To Play

Geezer Jock
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DeEtte Sauer said swimming saved her life. (courtesy National Senior Games Association).
DeEtte Sauer said swimming saved her life. (courtesy National Senior Games Association).
“My senior years have been unbelievable and a fulfilment of dreams…”___DeEtte Sauer, 80, world-class masters swimmer.
The Geezer Jocks, 75 to 90 years old, were lined up to tell their stories that are so antithetical to today’s open society.
Alice Tym, 79, arrived at the University of Florida as a freshman in 1960 and wanted to play tennis. There was a men’s tennis team, but no women’s tennis team, so she created one, and then went on to play Wimbledon.
DeEtte Sauer, 80, got bullied into quitting athletics in high school because she was a girl, but found her voice when she was older and turned her life around with swimming. Now she is world class in the pool and finished 2021 ranked No. 1 in the U.S. in eight events.
Jo Dill, 76, played on a women’s basketball team that was shunted off to the auditorium while the men got to play in the spacious gym. These days, she makes sure seniors in her state do not get shunted aside.
Leurene Hildebrand, 90, who is a scientist, had no organized sports for girls when she was younger. Now, she plays them all and teaches youngsters how to play pickleball.
Kathrine Virginia Switzer, 75, was assaulted by a race official as she tried to run the Boston Marathon in 1967. Because she was a woman.
The women were part of a Zoom call organized by the National Senior Games Association to celebrate the 50 years since Title IX became federal law (1972), which gave women rights in school athletics.
Understand, these women did sports before Title IX, but they did them without permission. So they didn’t just knock down walls. They paved roads.
“I don’t think you can depend on someone else to live your dream,” said Tym, who still competes in the in a variety of senior events. “You have to make it happen yourself.”
Of course, when you take on the establishment it helps to be world-class.
Tym was the top singles player for the Gators all four years in college. She went on to play on the international tennis circuit from 1964-1970 and played in all four grand slam events, Australian, French, Wimbledon, and U.S. Open.
At one point, Tym was ranked 13th in the world. Her skill was undeniable, even to the men in charge.
Tym didn’t start just one college tennis program. She started two. In 1974 she established the women’s program at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. 
Sauer (sour) gave up sports in middle school in Texas. It was unbearable, she said, but she had no voice as a 14-year old.
“I bought the message in the deep south that women just did not compete,” Sauer said. “I so wish I could go back and talk to that young girl that was me and tell her what was possible and what was coming.”
Sauer said she started playing sports in an all-girls school, transferred into a public school, and was ridiculed for wanting to play school sports. Sauer said she was shoved into cheerleading.
“I became a bystander, you know, watching all the events instead of participating,” she said.
It played havoc with her life. Sauer accepted the notion she was not supposed to compete and became sedentary and overweight.
“I had a complete (medical) workup done and they told me that my heart had severe blockages; I had I lived a hard life,” she said. “I mean, I had been addicted to several substances and I just did everything damaging to myself you could probably do.”
And then she started swimming… and swimming …and swimming. Sauer said it gave her a whole new focus.
“I went back for a checkup with the doctor a couple years later and he said that everything had changed and that I was 100% ok. So swimming did, literally, save my life.”
FINA, the international governing body of swimming, could certify one of her marks as No. 1 in the world in early spring.
Hildenbrand, who was a research scientist with Goodyear for 37 years, was raised with four brothers in Ohio and enjoyed athletics with them. But she couldn’t find a place for herself in girls sports away from the house because there were no organized sports for girls.
The segregation was evident at work, too, among the 400 chemical engineers and physicists at the Goodyear plant. There were just four women, Hildenbrand said.
“It was either the guys liked you, or they hated you, there was not any in between,” she said.
But the culture of that era couldn’t stamp out her love of sport. It fed her in competition.
Now look at Hildenbrand. She has competed in over 17 events in the Senior Games over the years. She is an authority on Pickleball.
Dill, who is the coordinator of the Maine Senior Games, remembers the bias against women clearly in school.
“We played in the auditorium, because the boys had the gymnasium, and it just seemed like it was a battle all the way through,” Dill said. “We tried real hard to get someone to let us have a (varsity) team and the best we could do was intramurals.”
In an hour of revealing discussion about what it was like “in the old days”, Dill had a money quote.
“They say everything you know you learned in kindergarten, but I really felt everything I learned was in sports,” she said. “Sportsmanship and how to be a leader and teamwork and, and so forth. And it’s really been my lifelong mission.”
Switzer, a student at Syracuse University, signed up for the Boston Marathon 55 years ago under the name K Switzer. The person handing out bib numbers to pin on shirts either didn’t look up to see this was a woman who was getting a number in an all-male race, or they thought to themselves, “Well, this is going to be interesting.”
Switzer pinned No. 261 to her shirt and she started running. She was the first registered woman in The Boston Marathon.
About a mile into one of the most consequential Boston Marathons of all time, a man named Jock Semple came bolting up behind Switzer and assaulted her in front of hundreds of runners. He was a 63-year old Boston Marathon official, born in 1903, before women had the right to vote, and he tried to rip the bib number off her shirt.
Switzer’s boyfriend, a hammer thrower, put a stop to the assault by knocking Semple to the ground.
The men were furious. “If that girl were my daughter, I would spank her,” Will Cloney, the race director, told the New York Times.
Cloney would be in jail today, if he did that, and on the wrong side of history.
Switzer, who is still running marathons at 75, has become an icon for women in sports. She is in such demand, you need to go through a public relations agency to interview her.
“That (Boston Marathon) changed my life, not because it made me a good athlete; it changed my life because it empowered me,” Switzer said of the Boston Marathon experience. “And that’s what really the whole aspect of Title Nine is about. It’s saying to women, ‘you have the opportunity, you can do this’.
“Every woman at the National Senior Games will tell you that the sports experience has empowered her, uplifted her, transformed her, both physically and emotionally and mentally to do other things she never thought she could do before.”
Entering the Boston Marathon was not a political act, Switzer said. It was simply a desire to run. Switzer said she had no idea of the commotion she caused until she opened the newspapers the next day and the photo of Semple attacking her was all over sports pages and it was coast-to-coast.
Still, it took five more years for the federal government to give women full and equal access to play sports in school, though many argue the inequality is still present 50 years after Title IX.
Many women have made sure the law flourishes as best it can. Of course, some women flourished before there was a law because they didn’t wait for permission from the men.
Kathrine Switzer: First Woman to Enter the Boston Marathon |
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