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The Pioneer Spirit

UCM alumna Marlene Mawson helped create opportunities for future generations of young women.

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"Somehow enough money came to us through the KU Endowment Association to lease two station wagons from the local Ford dealer," she said. "We put air mattresses in the back, because we didn't have the money to stay anywhere during the two-day trip. The girls made sandwiches to eat along the way." They arrived on the Western North Carolina University campus in Cullhowee, N.C., during spring break, so the team was allowed to sleep in the lobby of the residence hall on mattresses taken from the rooms.

"We came up through the consolation bracket and beat South Carolina, but lost to Cal Northridge in the final game. We felt like we had competed very well that year," she said.
Mawson had completed her master's degree at the University of Colorado while teaching at Van Horn. After completing her Ph.D. at the University of Oregon, she realized she had a choice to make. KU had created the position of a half-time women's athletic director, and she was asked if she wanted the position.

"I'd seen what happens in coaching," she said. "I decided to follow the academic track." She was named coordinator of undergraduate physical education, and after eight years was named coordinator of graduate studies in physical education. She also taught Sport Management and Research Methods courses in KU's doctoral program.

"After nine years, I realized I was doing the work of a department chair," she said. With no immediate opportunities for advancement at KU, she accepted the position of department chair at Illinois State University, developing the university's program with 40 faculty during the next 10 years. She was able to take advantage of an early retirement plan and was ready to settle into retirement in Illinois when she was asked to take the job of department chair at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton.

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"I asked them, 'Don't you know I'm retired?' Then I said that I would consider taking the position if they gave me the salary I retired with at Illinois State, and you know, they gave me the salary, so I couldn't very well say 'no.' "

When she got to Carrollton, Ga., she realized why they sought out an experienced administrator.

"They had 10 faculty members, and the one with the most experience was starting his second year. They also had four curricular accreditations coming up in the next two years," Mawson said. She successfully guided the department through the accreditations and returned home to Illinois.

Mawson underwent several surgeries in 2007, and as she recovered, she realized she had no close relatives in the Illinois area. "In 2008 KU notified me that they wanted to name the Woman Athlete of the Year Award after me, and in 2009, I was inducted into the Athletics Hall of Fame," she said. "I thought, 'you know, KU is home, and they love me there,' so I moved back to Lawrence in 2010."

A tour of the KU Athletics Hall of Fame with Mawson includes a visit to Allen Field House, named for KU's legendary men's basketball coach, Forrest "Phog" Allen, who also coached the Central Missouri State Teachers College Mules from 1912 to 1917. Mawson smiles as she notes that the James Naismith Court in Allen Field House, where she was inducted into the Hall of Fame, is the same court that was unavailable to women's athletics while she was women's basketball coach.

Mawson was still coaching when Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 was passed.

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