ESSAY

No Showers, No Coaches, but Yale Women Scored

Swimmers Roseanne Marcus and Bonnie Jackson Kestner ’74; courtesy Yale Athletics

By Barbara Borst

When the Class of 1974 arrived at Yale, the number of women’s varsity sports teams was… zero. Though it had launched coeducation, the university had made no plans for women’s sports except to wait to hear what women wanted.

Turns out, we wanted a lot! And we had to petition and protest to get it. We saw what Princeton had done in its first year of coeducation, equipping women’s teams with uniforms, coaches and transportation while we played in cut-off jeans and hitched rides to games.

Today, when Yale women compete in 16 varsity sports and Title IX of the Education Act prohibits sex discrimination, women’s sports are seen as a normal part of campus life. But Title IX didn’t come into effect until 1975, and even in 1976 it took news photos of the women’s crew team stripping naked in front of physical education director Joni Barnett to secure a place to shower after practice.

Five of our classmates became the first captains of Yale women’s varsity sports teams. Three of them – Christie Bader Walker, basketball; Bonnie Jackson Kestner, swimming and diving, and Margaret Mercer Pfister, squash – reflect on the determination it took to bring their teams into being.

You can read the full texts of their memories in the book They Brought Their Game to Yale: Women’s Sports in the Early Years, along with recollections from dozens of other women athletes. Read it online here. (offsite link)

Christie Bader

Christie Bader Walker

Christie Bader Walker

There wasn’t a women’s basketball team, and while I enjoyed scrimmaging with male friends, when I met other women who seemed interested in forming a team, I approached Joni Barnett, Director of Physical Education, in the fall of 1972.  She was able to supply me with a list of students who had indicated some experience with basketball on their applications.  With that list and one or two friends, we knocked on the door of each of those 32 students.  We were able to persuade enough women to give the venture a try that the athletic department sanctioned a team, coached by Kris Simmons.

We played a ten-game schedule for 1972-73, most of which were played on our home court, which sadly did not convey much of an advantage, as our record was 2–8.

While much of college is an individual endeavor as well as a competition against other students, athletics are an opportunity to work together toward a common goal.

For me, at least, this was one of the most enjoyable and valuable activities of my college experience because of the relationships formed with the other women who participated both as players and managers.  While much of college is an individual endeavor as well as a competition against other students, athletics are an opportunity to work together toward a common goal.

The 1973-74 season saw an expanded schedule. Once again, our losses far outnumbered our wins, but everyone involved with the team remained upbeat.

In August of 1973, I was asked to write a letter supporting our request for varsity status. In December, the Governing Board appointed a sub-committee to consider Varsity status for Basketball, Crew, Fencing, Gymnastics and Swimming.  I don’t have any documents that show exactly when they decided in our favor, but there was great celebrating on the team when they did, effective during the 1973-74 season!

Rosanne Marcus and Bonnie Jackson, swim team captains.

Roseanne Marcus and Bonnie Jackson Kestner ’74; courtesy Yale Athletics

Bonnie Jackson Kestner

I entered Yale in the fall of 1970, the second year of undergraduate coeducation.  The women came in, but nothing was set up for us in athletics. I wanted to swim — that was my primary reason for choosing Yale.

I was the only female student permitted to swim with the men for my first two years.  Phil Moriarty coached the Yale Swimming and Diving Team from 1932-1976.  He was forward-thinking.  He allowed me to train with the men.  So, there I was, scared little freshman, doing bodybuilding with the men.  I wanted to prove myself — made sure I did every pushup, every burpee that everyone else did.

He gave up the men’s varsity locker room for the women, and the steam room as well.  This was, in his words, “not without much abuse.”

By my junior year, it was clear to a number of people that it was time to start a women’s program. Phil went out of his way to make the entry of women into Yale as easy as possible.  He gave up the men’s varsity locker room for the women, and the steam room as well.  This was, in his words, “not without much abuse.”

Joni Barnett, Director of Physical Education, was very supportive as well.  We had an outstanding first-year butterflier, Rosanne Marcus, and there were other women who wanted to swim.  Rosanne and I became the first women to represent Yale in national intercollegiate competition in the AIAW Nationals.

The following year, 1973–74, our women’s team became a varsity. Ed Bettendorf, assistant coach of the men’s team, became our coach.  We had 12 or 13 swimmers and even a diver or two!

My Yale Swimming experience taught me the value of hard work and discipline.  I decided to make a career of teaching, coaching and athletics. For 37 years I taught and coached at Sweet Briar College in Virginia.

Margaret Mercer Pfister; courtesy Yale Athletics

Margaret Mercer Pfister

1973–74 tennis season

In the spring of my freshman year, 1971, I somehow learned that a women’s tennis team was being formed.  I had played tennis in high school, so I thought trying out for this new team would be a good idea, plus I had gained the “freshman 15” and needed more exercise.

The women’s squash team did not start until my junior year, 1972-73. I had never played squash, but I thought it would be a good way of keeping in shape between the spring and fall tennis. I was certainly naive to think that because I could play tennis that I could play squash, but all of the women on the first team were in the same boat.   Coach Eddie Atwood deserves much of the credit for getting the team into a position where we could compete in matches.

My athletic experiences were truly the standout memories of my years at Yale.

Somehow during the first two years, the squash team grew to a full schedule of dual matches. In my senior year, 1974, I had the chance to compete in the National Collegiate Championships at Princeton.  I had the honor of being the captain senior year. My athletic experiences were truly the standout memories of my years at Yale.

I continued to participate in tennis, adult tournaments, USTA leagues up until I had major knee surgery in 2016.  After recovering, the tennis court just seemed too big. I decided to try pickleball and gratefully found a sport I love even more than tennis. I have competed in national tournaments, winning three medals in the US Open Pickleball Championships and two US Nationals Championship medals.


Barbara Borst (SY) ‘74, seen here with husband David Crary (SY) ‘73, was captain of the Yale women’s sailing team.Barbara Borst (SY) ’74, seen here with husband David Crary (SY) ‘73, was captain of the Yale women’s sailing team.