March 5, 2001
By Carol J. Schlueter
They practiced and played in the Newcomb Gym. They didn't have a training room. There were no scholarships. Their coach, Karen Womack, taught physical education at Newcomb College in addition to working with the team.
The 1975 season for women's basketball at Tulane was a modest start by any measure. Going against only Louisiana teams, the Green Wave ended with a 4-9 record. Change was brewing, however, and the next season brought a milestone in Tulane women's sports: scholarships.
"It's come a long way in 25 years," said Lib Delery, retired Newcomb physical education teacher, department head and director of women's athletics who remembers the history.
Today, the women's team is a national powerhouse and an annual contender for the Conference USA championship, with six straight years of participation in the postseason NCAA tournament.
Coach Lisa Stockton helped build that tradition but she doesn't want anyone to forget the teams that went before.
The last weekend in January, Stockton and the athletics department celebrated the silver anniversary with a block party prior to the Tulane-Louisville game and a celebration dinner at the House of Blues, culminating with the Tulane-Cincinnati game on Jan. 28 and a halftime recognition of former Wave players.
"It gives us an opportunity to celebrate how far women's sports and women's basketball has come," Stockton said. "Hopefully it will give our current players an opportunity to see the people who came before them and laid the groundwork."
Nationally and locally, the landscape for women's sports was very different in the early 1970s. Newcomb had women's club teams in tennis, volleyball and basketball.
Then in 1972 came Title IX, the national legal mandate signed by President Richard Nixon that prohibited sex discrimination in schools that receive federal funds.
Louisiana colleges and schools began starting intercollegiate teams for women, especially in basketball. "Everybody in the state was just starting out," said Delery, who retired in 1991.
"The girls started off playing for the love of sports," she added. "They worked hard, but they certainly didn't have some of the skills that players have now. And the competition was not what it is today."
Tulane awarded women nine scholarships for tuition in fall 1976, three each in basketball, volleyball and tennis. Delery remembers the first scholarship going to Barbara Klingman, a 5-foot, 11-inch center from Chapelle High School in Metairie who was a stand-out athlete.
There were other milestones along the way, such as the team's move to Fogelman Arena for games in the 1977-78 season. The change to fully fund women's scholarships (adding room and board) came in the mid-1980s. Allowing the women's coaches to do that job full time without teaching came in the late 1980s.
Delery summed it up like this: "You just keep getting an inch here, an inch there, and gradually you pull it together. Every little step was a struggle. I'm glad that's all behind us."
The struggle for equality, however, continues within Tulane athletics. The department is currently involved in an NCAA certification process required of all Division I institutions every five years. This month a lengthy self-study report was issued by a steering committee that identified gender equity as a continuing area of concern at Tulane.
Issues such as coaches' salaries, funding for sports and the number of student athletes participating are among the areas where changes may be required to balance gender equity.
"We're still working toward achieving gender equity," said Megan J. Drucker, associate athletic director. "At Tulane, we are committed to reaching this goal and treating all of our student athletes equitably."
Still, both Drucker and Stockton paid homage to Title IX as the impetus for change.
"We wouldn't be where we are without it," Drucker said.
Stockton agreed. "Because of that mandate, women had that opportunity to build on our skills and build our sports. Now women have their own professional leagues, the Olympics and international sports. We never dominated competition in the Olympics before Title IX. "It made women's sports come out of physical education classes and into intercollegiate competition," she added. Stockton also believes that the work world has benefited from women competing in high school and college sports, because that experience trains women to be better business people.
It also took dedication like Delery's to help women's sports grow and change. She said, "We had to love it or we wouldn't have done it."