Back in the day, before the federal Education Act had a Title IX, there were sports for women at Lorain County Community College. Not many, mind you, but women's sports, nevertheless.
Linda Rowe coached two of them, field hockey and basketball. They weren't varsity sports back then. They were club sports. Organized sports for girls and young women weren't unheard of, but at the time they were scarce and virtually unnoticed.
"The first year of women's sports at the college there was no women's basketball," said Rowe, who in 1966 was a recent graduate of Albion College with a master's degree from Eastern Michigan University. "It was a club sport. In fact, I think it was club the second year, because I don't think we had women's basketball at all the first year.
"But the only reason they did (introduce women's basketball) was because they decided to have sports for men and they needed something for the women," she said. "Oh, the gals loved it. They'd have played anything. They'd have played tiddlywinks."
Rowe, now retired and living in Michigan's "thumb," was in Elyria recently to attend a reunion of former LCCC women's athletes. She reminisced with her former players and said she has seen colossal changes in women's sports since the early days of gender equity.
"The playing is so much better," said Rowe. "I don't think the athletes are any better, but they've got better facilities and better-trained coaches. I watched the women's fastpitch softball on television and the women's basketball, and it's amazing how good they are.
"I think it's because there are more opportunities and more money is being poured into women's sports. They're getting more support, too. Fathers of daughters now are pushing for their kids to become good athletes. We had some parents who came to our games, but I can't remember fathers coming so much. It wasn't that they weren't good parents, it's just that there wasn't that much interest."
Sharon Griffith, a graduate of old South Amherst High, now teaches at the new Lorain High School. She played field hockey and basketball under Rowe's direction.
"Linda was the first time I ever really had a coach who knew what they were doing," said Griffith. "It was a first-class operation by the time I got there. When you would walk in (the locker room), it was almost like you were a professional.
"That's the way I felt when I walked in. Everything was business. We had our uniforms washed for us, our practice uniforms laid out and everything ready to go. That went with hockey and basketball. We were actually equal with the boys at that time and we had never felt that way before. It was a first-class operation that Linda ran. We felt like we were special."
Amherst graduate Nancy Reichert had similar memories.
"It was a wonderful experience at LC," she said. "It was a first-class operation. When we look back, it's almost like we were treated like professionals are treated today. Your uniform was hanging in your locker, you changed out of your practice uniforms and they were laundered and given back to you the next day."
Rowe, who coached at LCCC until 1988, well remembered the days of the old "girls" basketball rules. This was a six-on-six game in which some players could cross the center line and others couldn't. Among other things, players were limited to three dribbles and could hold the ball for three seconds. No grabbing or batting the ball away from another player was allowed.
"Women's basketball has come a long way," Rowe said. "Our kids lucked out because they came in at the right time. But when they were in high school, they didn't have any sports."
And they were lucky to have had Rowe as their coach, Reichert said.
"We had good coaching, people who knew what they were doing," she said. "We always had coach Rowe, and she was top-notch. She was always well-organized and knew her subject, knew the game and just was a fantastic person. She cared about us more than just on the field or on the court. She cared about our studies and how we were doing and kept track of that. She made sure that we were toeing the mark as far as our studies. She was someone we could really look up to, and those were wonderful days."
The former coach and teammates got together at the Amherst Township home of Jan Sito, a two-sport star for Rowe and a longtime Lorain County teacher, multisport player, coach and official. It was their fourth reunion.
The first was organized with significant input by another former player, Sharon Hahn. Hahn has retired as a full-time teacher, but continues to teach on a part-time basis at LCCC.
"One of my friends at the college works with the alumni association," said Hahn. "I said, 'Oh, it would be really cool to get everybody back together.' So we went through some of the old pictures and tried to find some names, which as you know can be difficult after so many years. We got a core group together and Dr. (Roy) Church (LCCC president) agreed to do a luncheon and special thing for us at the college."
Later, the group collected enough money to buy a plaque honoring Rowe, which was placed in the college's old physical education facility. The former players also purchased a commemorative brick, which is in the university partnership area. They also had some extra money they donated to the women's basketball team.
"Linda didn't know much about field hockey at all," Griffith said, "but she told us, 'If you're going to play basketball, you need to play field hockey.' So she got us out there and taught us field hockey. We traveled a great deal, all over the state, all over Michigan. We went to numerous tournaments out of state. It was big-time, and it was fun to have that experience.
"I mean, (Rowe) meant business. She wasn't an easy coach to play for, but she meant business and boy, when you hit that floor, you better be ready."
"It's so good to see these gals again," Rowe said. "In one way or another, they all know each other - kind of. They didn't all play the same years, but they overlapped enough that they kind of know each other, or they knew each other in high school or something.
"They're good kids. Kids? Some of them are grandparents already."
Contact Bob Daniels at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.