The Pioneer Spirit
UCM alumna Marlene Mawson helped create opportunities for future generations of young women.
As a physical education major and English minor, Mawson was prepared for the only role available to women at the time in the absence of organized interscholastic sports for girls---teaching women's physical education. She remembers the extracurricular activities class taught by Flo Young, which is where she gained her ability to organize large events and develop strategy. She also remembers the late Jessie Jutten, professor emeritus of physical education, whose perseverance in obtaining a Ph.D. set an example for a generation of women teaching physical education in higher education.
Mawson's first teaching position was at Van Horn High School in Kansas City. The second year she taught at the new Nowlin Junior High School, returning the next year to teach at Van Horn and serve as department chair there for the next four years.
During the 1960s, the U.S. Olympic Development Committee recognized the need to develop a coaching institution to prepare women coaches to train young girls for U.S. teams in Olympic competition. While teaching at Van Horn, Mawson played basketball for the Kansas City Dons in the AAU Women's League and volleyball in the Missouri-Oklahoma USVBA Conference. She was selected as one of two women from Missouri to attend the 1966 Olympic institute, where 100 women coaches received one week of intensive training in coaching basketball. She returned in 1969 as one of two Kansas representatives for the advanced basketball Olympic coaching program.
During her sixth year at Van Horn, she was offered the opportunity to teach and coach at the University of Kansas.
"It was a nine-month contract, and I took a $2,000 pay cut to go," she said. "It was a tenure track position, and I had three years to complete a Ph.D. degree. I taught 12 credit hours, and I also was asked to start KU's women's athletic program as a part of my assignment."
The program was funded by the Physical Education Department, and she was given an annual budget of $2,000 to develop six sports. The coaches were volunteers. In addition to her classroom responsibilities, Mawson coached field hockey, volleyball, basketball and softball on a volunteer basis.
"That included everything---uniforms, equipment, travel, and officials---when we could find them," she said. "At the time, we thought it was a privilege to compete at the intercollegiate level. We didn't think of it as having less, although we recognized we had less. We didn't have any authority to have any more. We were just glad to have what we had."
The task was not without challenges. Women's athletics were not allowed to use the facilities reserved for men's intercollegiate athletics for scheduled games or practices.
"We practiced and played in the two gymnasiums used for physical education classes," Mawson said. "When the gymnastics coach, who is now a good friend of mine, would get ready for a match, he would set up his equipment in the middle of the courts."
With less than a year at KU, Mawson bid for and won the challenge of hosting the national volleyball championships, bringing the national spotlight to KU. It was only the second national tournament, so there wasn't a great deal of precedence.
"I think that's when colleagues across the country saw me as someone at KU who had a grasp on what was going on in the national competitive scene," she said.
Less than a month later, her basketball team qualified for the first time to play in the national championships in North Carolina. The small budget for women's athletics would come nowhere near covering the expenses of the trip.