The Orion

Women return to Chico State to celebrate, receive block C’s

Benjamin Mullin

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Courtesy of sports information department Athletic Director Anita Barker [LEFT] hugs Dorette Boyer, who was invited to receive her letter.

Courtesy of sports information department
Athletic Director Anita Barker [LEFT] hugs Dorette Boyer, who was invited to receive her letter.

When a few of her teammates were griping about warm-up shorts that didn’t fit right last week, Briana Furner reminded them not to take anything for granted.

Furner, a goalkeeper for the Chico State women’s soccer team, told her teammates they were lucky to have uniforms. And money for team dinners. And beds to sleep on when they travel for games.

“I stepped up and said, at least we have shorts,” she said. “Be grateful.”

Furner was drawing on her experience from the Women in Athletics celebration, where more than 150 female athletes from Chico State’s past gathered to receive their varsity letters decades after graduation.

Chico State’s female athletes began receiving block letters — the fuzzy kind typically sewed onto leather athletic jackets — in 1980. Until then, it was a boys-only club.

“It was kind of a thorn in the side for a long time,” said Mitch Cox, assistant athletic director for Chico State.

To make up for this oversight, the athletic department conducted interviews and dug through records to compile a list of 700 athletes who participated in Chico State’s varsity sports — or their precursors — and invited them to a lettering ceremony.

For some women, it had been more than half a century since graduation. Some played sports that Chico State doesn’t carry anymore, such as swimming and field hockey. But they came, from as far as Texas, West Virginia, Massachusetts and Idaho.

“We had ‘em coming from very far away, it was really nice to see,” Cox said.

When the women arrived in Chico, some were greeted by old teammates, who rehashed old sports stories. And they were welcomed by Chico State’s current female student athletes, who handed out block letters to the women who were denied them decades ago.

“We showed up and we greeted them at the door and they were really excited to see us, it was great,” said Megan Tabler, a junior midfielder for Chico State’s soccer team.

The newly-lettered athletes told stories of how they were forced to sleep in sleeping bags on the gymnasium floor, rather than the cushy hotels that student-athletes currently enjoy, Tabler said. They described how they would only be allotted $2 for dinners, while their male counterparts received $10. And they remembered that they had to practice and play in unflattering cotton T-Shirts, when men were allowed to compete in uniforms.

The former players also discussed how difficult it was to break into sports when they weren’t permitted to use campus facilities. The keynote speaker, former U.S. Olympic track coach Deanne Vochatzer, discussed how she climbed into a track reserved for male athletes by throwing a hurdle over the fence, and how she found ice packs by scrounging through castoffs left behind by male athletes.

When Tabler received her letter, she took it home and stored it away. But during the ceremony, the women exchanged hugs, jumped up in down, or cried when they received their letters at long last. Some pinned their letters to jackets they brought with them, or waved them at the assembled crowd. Nobody stored them away in their purses or kept them out of sight.

“We just took ours home and put it away and these ladies have been waiting for years,” Tabler said.

Hearing the stories from Chico State’s female athletes was inspiring, and reminded the current athletes in attendance not to take what they have for granted, Tabler said.

“I think definitely what they did made a way for us,” she said. “And most of what we have is because of those women and what they fought for.”

 

Benjamin Mullin can be reached at [email protected] or @benmullin on Twitter.

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Women return to Chico State to celebrate, receive block C’s