Title IX homecoming celebration: 50 years of opportunity for women’s athletics


Matthew Brown

Kent State’s 2022 Grand Marshals, former female student-athletes, ride with President Todd Diacon in the 2022 Homecoming Parade.

Isabella Schreck, Sports Editor

At Saturday’s Title IX homecoming celebration, Kris Ewing and a group of fellow former women athletes realized something.

Everyone had a Judy Devine story.

Devine, a pioneer in women’s sports at Kent State and Ewing’s field hockey coach, became the first coordinator of women’s athletics in 1975. At the start of her 31 years with the athletic department, she was the university’s first women’s basketball coach, softball coach and the athletic trainer for almost every female sport.

“We looked around and said ‘Who hasn’t Judy touched here?’” said Ewing, who played under Devine from 1979-1982. “She stayed through the storm when women were not even given equitable opportunities. We all paused and thought about that – that’s how you know the impact.”

Ewing head coached KSU field hockey from 1985-1993. The program won its first Mid-American Conference tournament title in 1988.

Kent State’s Title IX Celebration Committee, within Kent State’s Athletic Department, honored the 50th anniversary of Title IX during homecoming weekend Sept. 30-Oct. 2. Former women athletes and administrators, including Devine, came back for the events.

President Richard Nixon signed the Education Amendments, which included Title IX, in 1972. The 37-word bill prohibits sex-based discrimination in publicly funded education.

“Women are capable of doing anything they want to do,” Devine said. “They deserve the opportunity to try to do anything, and they will succeed and do at least as well as their male counterparts. There isn’t any field where they don’t belong.”

The celebration kicked off in downtown Kent Sept. 30. Forty former women student-athletes led the homecoming parade Oct. 1 and served as grand marshals.

“It was not just to be at the parade but to have those women athletes recognized as grand marshals gave them an importance that they did not receive when they were student athletes,” said Devine, who was inducted into the Kent State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2003. “As soon as they came by, the crowd just picked up and were waving and clapping – recognizing that women’s athletics is something important.”

Later that day at the football battle against Ohio University, the women convened at the Flash Nation tent outside Dix Stadium. They were recognized between the first and second quarters of the game.

Sunday, soccer alumnae attended the team’s game against Toledo in celebration of the program’s 25th anniversary.

Amy Sherry, who played basketball at KSU from 1991-1996, said the weekend was “an opportunity to see females who were once definitely underappreciated be celebrated.” She played professionally in Greece for two seasons and was inducted into the Kent State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2000 alongside Ewing.

“It was special to be able to bring women back in a homecoming week,” Sherry said, “and celebrate women in sport.”

She won MAC women’s basketball player of the year twice.

Saturday before the parade, Ewing spoke to the field hockey team at Murphy-Mellis Field before the women left for their game against Ohio State.

She noted changes she’s seen from her time with the program nearly 30 years ago.

“I walked into the field house, and that’s been remodeled,” Ewing said. “The locker room blew me away. We never had locker rooms. If anything, we got one of the men’s locker rooms in the football stadium when they were out of season – just for game days. I always used to say the locker room was the players’ cars. They operated out of their trunk.”

When Denise Zehner ran track and cross country at Kent State from 1987-1991, she said the groundwork of women’s athletics was already established. In the early 1970s and before, teams had to borrow uniforms from physical education classes, drive themselves to games and even drag bleachers to their own games.

There was no preseason, and coaches were not paid. Funding was limited until scholarships became available in 1976, a year after women’s teams were declared varsity sports and moved from the Department of Women’s Physical Education.

Zehner was able to attend college because of Title IX and the women advocates before her.

“I’m from a small, blue collar town, and without the opportunity of an athletic scholarship, I can guarantee I wouldn’t have attended college because of the financial means of my parents at the time,” she said. “It was huge that there was the opportunity to earn an athletic scholarship in a women’s sport.”

Zehner was a track and field distance coach at Kent State and worked in the athletic department for about 15 years. She called her time at KSU “the best four years of my life.”

Before Ewing became field hockey’s head coach in fall 1985, the previous coach of field hockey and softball had led both sports. When Ewing started, she and the current softball coach had to split their salaries. They were paid $13,000 a year each.

While her salary did rise throughout her years in the athletic department, Ewing said every single assistant football coach made more money than women head coaches at the time.

Today, she believes the university still needs to focus on competitive salaries and leadership opportunities for women within athletics.

“When you have a good coach, you don’t want to lose them – you want to accelerate their greatness,” Ewing said. “Our support staff, whether it be assistant coaches or trainers also need to be lifted to a competitive level where they are contributing their excellence to the advancement of students.”

“What really interests me is growing your own, looking at all the women athletes and saying, ‘Do any of you have aspirations to pursue a career in athletics? Do you even know what careers exist and how you can even pursue them?’ We don’t need to wait until they’re seniors.”

Suzette McQueen, Kent State’s executive senior associate athletics director and senior woman administrator, is another product of Title IX. She ran track and field at the University of Michigan.

McQueen said there is still work to be done for equity.

“Celebrating 50 years is great, and a lot has changed, but there’s still a lot of things that we need to do,” McQueen said. “It means a lot that we have an opportunity to be seen as equal, but we have a long way to go.”

For Ewing, the weekend brought back positive memories of her past at Kent State and a hopefulness for the future of women’s athletics.

“The thing that kept going through my mind is, ‘Wow, I had a great education, and I’m really proud to be an alum,’” Ewing said. “I really took hold of how far we’ve come for women athletes. But we still have to keep working towards the greater outcome for equity and what that means for today’s players, all of us alums and how we can do it together.”

Isabella Schreck is sports editor. Contact her at [email protected]