Devine: A champion of gender

Josh Johnston

$1.2M donation backs her passion

To say Judy Devine has a passion for women’s athletics is an understatement.

Laing Kennedy, the current director of athletics for Kent State, called Devine “a champion of gender equality.”

Devine recently backed her passion with a donation of $1.2 million to the Kent State athletic department. Her gift, the third largest in the department’s history, will help further gender equality at Kent State.

“We still don’t have a totally equitable program between men and women,” Devine said. “We’ve worked for years to try and make the situation better, and we’ve made a tremendous amount of progress, but we’re not all the way there yet.”

As an athlete in the pre-Title IX era, Devine experienced firsthand the inequality between men’s and women’s sports.

“The athletic department didn’t let women use their facilities, and we weren’t part of the athletic department,” Devine said. “We didn’t get to play in the men’s gym. We had old, dilapidated facilities and all that, but the kids who played and the coaches who coached did it because we loved the game.”

Devine is still an athlete at heart. She golfs and is a Senior Olympic’s athlete, boasting three trips to the national championships and a bronze medal in table tennis.

Devine was the first recognized coach of the first Kent State women’s basketball and field hockey teams. But she’s quick to point out that, even before the women’s athletic program began in the mid-1970s, women had still been participating in sports since 1914 at Kent State.

Called the matriarch of Kent State’s athletic department, Devine can only laugh at the nickname.

“I don’t know about that title,” she said. “I think it signifies I’ve been there for a long time. I was there when they officially started the women’s athletic program.”

But looking through her 31-year tenure with Kent State athletics, the name fits.

When the women’s programs were incorporated into the athletic department in 1975, Devine was named an assistant director of athletics along with her coaching duties.

The first years were rough, Devine recalled.

“Because we started from absolutely zero, we had nothing – not a penny,” she said. “Society wasn’t real accepting of women in sports at the time. I’m sure it was difficult for some of the athletes who wanted to play because not many people would recognize that it was an important or meaningful activity.

“It wasn’t a real cheerful time, but it was something that needed to be done. We’re glad we made the effort to do it.”

Kennedy, who worked with Devine for seven years before her retirement in 2000, said her enthusiasm made her a “consummate athletic administrator.”

“Judy and I literally would meet every day talking about our program . how we can provide equal opportunity for men and women,” he said. “She lives life with a passion. She’s a great person to sit down and have a philosophical, open-dream conversation about athletics.”

Currently, Devine teaches classes at Malone University and Kent State. She still finds time to watch Kent State sports, though. And when asked about women’s athletics today, her voice swells.

“I’m so happy that they have so much more than they used to,” she said. “And look what they’ve done with it. It’s kind of like, ‘Build it, and they will come.’ You give them a program and look at the outstanding athletic accomplishments and success our coaches have had.

“I think it’s one of the most exciting games in town.”

Contact assistant sports editor Josh Johnston at [email protected].

In the past year, the Kent State athletic department has received major donations for multiple projects.

Aug. 6, 2008 – Judy Devine endows $200,000 to expand Kent State’s Academic Resource Center and continue the Athlete Academic Honors Dinner.

Aug. 4, 2009 – Ben Curtis donates $90,000 from the Ryder Cup to the university to fund golf education programs.

Sept. 24, 2009 – Devine contributes $1.2 million to help fund the Judith K. Devine Athletic Equity Endowment, which works to increase gender equality within Kent State athletics.

Sept. 28, 2009 – Former Kent State men’s soccer player Ron Zoeller gives $125,000 toward planned renovations for the Kent State Soccer Field.