Saturday, August 8, 2020

U gives varsity letters to women athletes

August 23, 2001
Former MSU women’s swimming head coach Joan Birch received her varsity letter from Central Michigan last fall. She was a swimmer from 1963-1967. MSU will honor its forgotten athletes Feb. 10 when the university plans to hold a Women’s Varsity Letter Recognition Celebration. —

Sally Belloli remembers her years at MSU well.

From 1965-67, aside from lugging books back and forth from home to class, Belloli donned green and white as she took the field for MSU’s field hockey team.

Unfortunately, like so many other female athletes of her time, the right halfback was never officially recognized for her commitment.

But that all changed in March.

MSU’s Department of Intercollegiate Athletics announced it will award varsity “S” letters to female student-athletes who competed prior to 1980.

“I think it’s great,” Belloli said. “When I played in the late ’60s, I represented Michigan State as a varsity athlete but there was no recognition at that time.”

The NCAA attempted to remedy that lack of recognition when it passed Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, a “federal law that requires gender equity in scholastic athletic programs.”

Three years later, in 1975, MSU began recognizing women for their participation in varsity athletics. But it wasn’t until 1980 that female athletes were finally awarded varsity letters by MSU.

Former MSU tennis player Diana D’Angelo, who competed from 1971-75, says her “blood is green,” and thus insists it’s “a low point that I never got a letter here.”

That will change Feb. 10, 2002, when the university plans to hold a Women’s Varsity Letter Recognition Celebration to honor its forgotten athletes.

This decision comes only months after Central Michigan brought back 248 former female athletes who were never recognized with varsity letters.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for Michigan State University to recognize former female student-athletes who represented our institution over the years in a first-class manner,” MSU Athletics Director Clarence Underwood said in a written statement.

“It is important to ‘officially’ recognize these women for their achievements in sports.”

MSU is the third college in the state and first in the Big Ten to take on such a project. Northern Michigan led the way in 1997 and Central Michigan followed suit in October.

Since 1982, a group of former female athletes have been working alongside MSU’s Varsity Alumni “S” Club - an organization for letter winners to support MSU athletics - to gain recognition for female athletes.

“What we did was we formed a women’s alumni association and worked right alongside of the men,” said Belloli, who’s also the associate director of Intramural Sports. “What we were hoping was that, in the future, the university would recognize this group of women - that we could merge into one club.”

That merger came in fall 1994.

Now there is only one club all varsity athletes can belong to - the club that will honor the forgotten athletes next year.

“These individuals played a significant role in our women’s sports’ history at MSU and it is with great pride that the university will be recognizing this accomplished group of women in February 2002,” said Shelley Appelbaum, associate athletic director and senior women’s administrator, in a statement.

One daunting task remains, though.

Actually locating every female athlete deserving of the varsity letters will prove a difficult project, especially because no concrete records are available.

The record-keeping before 1980 was so poor, there’s not any way of knowing real numbers because there’s not accurate records for those teams, MSU sports information Director John Lewandowski said.

“Obviously there were no media guides back then so it’s kind of hit and miss,” he said.

Still, MSU is focused on getting the word out.

The university hopes to get in touch with as many deserving athletes as possible, Appelbaum said.

“One of the biggest things, as you can imagine, is trying to get people all over the country to be aware of this particular endeavor, and help us so we can try to bring as many people back as possible,” she said.

Aside from dispatching the information through popular media outlets, MSU will look to the Web and e-mail to relay information to potential honorees.

Former female student-athletes are encouraged to check the Spartan athletics Web site at www.msuspartans.com for more information or e-mail the athletics department at varsity2@msu.edu.

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