by NICOLE FITZSIMMONS & CAROLINE MCCARTHY, Staff Writers
One hundred and twenty years after the establishment of Manhattan College in 1853, the first women were accepted as undergraduate students. This first step in equality was followed by an ambitious leap to close the gap between male and female students on campus. Only two years later, a few individuals amongst these women took it into their own hands to expand the athletic realm of the college to both genders— starting with basketball.
According to Amy Surak, the Director of Archives and Special Collections at Manhattan College, the acceptance of women to the school came quite abruptly. The male to female ratio at the college in its earliest years was eight to one. They began admitting women into a few programs, which trickled down into accepting them into more as time passed.
There was little preparation; the college still subjected women to limited bathroom options. So, the idea of an athletic program for women was not exactly in the cards just yet.
There was little talk of funding a women’s program prior to the arrival of freshman Kathy McCarrick in 1975. McCarrick, alongside twelve other eager women hoping to continue their basketball careers, had profound effects on creating the first Manhattan College Women’s Basketball Team.
In 1972, the Title IX law that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded program or activity was passed into the Education Amendments. With the introduction of equality, MC was faced with many administrative changes and economic pressures. Due to the help of a few faculty members, a few girls on the team took on the duty of creating an MC basketball team through a grassroots attempt.
Current Professor of Kinesiology at MC and former member of the first MC basketball team in 1975, Lisa Tuscano Ph.D., said “I think Title IX was really significant. When we first started, it was kinda like, they had to do it. So, they just let us do it.”
When asked on the opinions on faculty members at the time, Tuscano said they were very supportive. “They were like ‘Oh, women are here, you wanna do this, that’s great, we’ll support you,” said Tuscano.
Tuscano and McCarrick worked to recruit other female basketball players for their team. With advice from Fred Marro, Student Government head of intramural sports, they worked to organize the team which the college deemed a “club.” She then got a club moderator, Prof. John Sich, and a student coach, Jerry Fahey, from the The Physical Education Department.
Upon the creation of the club, the Athletic Department scheduled time for the newly established basketball club to practice and Student Government supplied some funding.
“It was two nineteen year olds trying to do this…At that time, we didn’t really have administrative help,” said Tuscano.
The first year, the team played surrounding High Schools, and out of a five game season, only won two games. However as the program developed, other students started expressing interest in the sport. By the following year, more than 30 women tried out for the team.
The early years for the girl’s basketball team depicted subtle inequality due to issues in scheduling, inexperience in skill level, and lack of funding. The team started out with very few wins and little coverage in Student run organizations, such as The Quadrangle.
“It was like we didn’t know any better for the first three years when we were a club team, we did everything through Student Government, we got a budget of, I don’t know, 200 dollars. We bought t-shirts, we drove our own cars to game, we made our own schedule, we got the referees,” said Tuscano.
The one important factor that the woman never lacked was passion and student support. Tuscano said, “We had a lot of people for such a little gym before we became varsity. Our friends and even the guys we went to school with came up, said ‘Oh, they’re gonna play’ and watched half of our games, and then played intramurals.”
As time passed, the girls really began to quickly grow and become a respectable team. In the last game of the first year, the team beat Mount Saint Vincent College in the old gym of Alumni Hall.
Tuscano describes the game by saying, “you would have thought we won the Olympics because it was the first game we ever won. Then the next year more women came in, and we got better.”
In the 1975 edition of the Quadrangle, former player Pam Perrone told reporters, “This is only our first year but within two years we’ll be the best in the city and who knows, maybe someday we’ll play in the Garden like the boy’s team.”
Perrone’s excitement ultimately did predict the team’s success. The team continued to prove itself in the following years and started to win big.
According to GoJaspers, “Within three years, the Manhattan women’s basketball team won the Hudson Valley League Women’s Championship as the only non-scholarship team in the league competing against varsity squads.”
The next year, the women shed their ‘club’ title and were awarded with Varsity Status. Just a few years later they played Rutgers University, one of the top five teams in the country at the time, and only lost by a point.
The enthusiasm displayed by the girls never diminished, even as they faced hardships caused by the lack of accessibility for them at the college. “Our locker room was in an equipment room. Two people had to hold up towels to block it and people would change and switch positions,” said Tuscano. During games, girls would have to run down to Miguel Hall to use the bathroom.
The struggle for equality in athletics upon women entering the college did not fade away following the 70’s. In 1992, former Manhattan coach, Kathy Solano, told the Gannett Suburban Newspaper, it’s a “female head coach going against a good-old-boy network.”
Even today, basic social gender discrepancies are evident throughout the school.
“I’ve never seen women’s sports advertising on campus,” said Lilli Bifferato, a freshman at Manhattan College.
Though signs are put up the day of games, men’s sports tend to be the social norm for students and faculty members to verbally advertise.
Another Manhattan College freshman, Liam Sawyer, told the Quadrangle, “the only time I hear about women’s sports is if they are in a major game like a final or a playoff. The other week there was a women’s soccer game against Iona and I didn’t see or hear any advertising for it until the game was almost over.”
Manhattan College has come a long way in terms of women’s sports by way of the Title IX movement, and key influencers such as McCarrick and Tuscano. The Manhattan College community claims to support women in sports, and should reinforce their opinions by being active and present fans at the games.
The legacy of those who grew the athletic program in Manhattan for women from the ground up will always be admired. What seems so attainable for current students was not for these women; they worked for years to prove that they deserved to have the same accessibility to varsity sports as men.
“We were a bunch of kids who wanted to play ball. That’s what we were, we were a bunch of women who wanted to play basketball and continue from highschool. It wasn’t here so we did what we have to do, we didn’t know any better. When you think about it now, you say ‘oh, was it hard?’ Yeah, but we didn’t know… And actually, it was really a lot of fun. The biggest thing is that I’m still really good friends with the people I started with. You go through something like that, this was 40 years ago, and they are still friends of mine, some of my best friends… That’s the beauty of it,” said Tuscano.