40 in 40 - 1977-78 First Women’s Varsity Events
Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Title IX, wmubroncos.com takes a look at 40 key moments/females in the history of women's athletics at Western Michigan University. Though the selection process, an effort was made to highlight a moment and player/coach from each of our current women's sports programs, as well pay respect to our women's legacy sports. A different feature will be released each of the 40 days, July 24 through Sept. 1.
First Year of Women's Varsity Status: 1977-78
While women's athletics were recognized in various forms since the early 1960's at Western Michigan, female sports did not join the men's programs in receiving official varsity status through the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics until 1977-78.
Women's sports were funneled through the Physical Education Department in the 1960's and first years of the 1970's, until they came under the WMU Athletic Board in 1972-73. Prior to the 1977-78 school year women began varsity competition and in the Fall of 1978 the Athletic Board began awarding letter jackets to female athletes. The first female scholarships were also granted in 1977-78. The transition coincided with the U.S. Department of Education requiring full compliance by colleges and universities by July 21, 1978.
During 1978-79, Western Michigan carried eight female sports programs: basketball, cross country (its inaugural season), field hockey, gymnastics, track & field, softball, synchronized swimming and tennis.
The first year of varsity status was the winningest season in school history for the women's basketball team, which posted a program-best 21 wins, going 21-5 under head coach Fran Ebert. The team defeated Central Iowa, 74-50 in the season-opener.
Volleyball, tennis, gymnastics and softball were also victorious on their first date of varsity competition, volleyball defeating Mott Community College, 2-0, in 15-13, 15-12 sets on Sept. 22, 1977. Women's tennis downed Albion, 9-0, at Ellsworth Courts on April 13, 1978, and gymnastics turned in a 101.35 to 33.55 victory over Valparaiso on Dec. 14, 1978.
Softball posted a 26-6 record in 1977-78, outscoring opponents 199-61. Cross country was in its first year of existence at WMU and hosted its first home meet, the Western Michigan Invitational at the Arcadia Course on October 14.