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The Pioneer Spirit

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

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"What I don't think people realize is that Title IX came in after women's collegiate athletics started," Mawson said. "Title IX wasn't admitted to the federal register until July of 1973, and it stipulated that higher education had to be in compliance showing equity in men's and women's sports in five years."

For Mawson, Title IX legitimized what she and her peers in intercollegiate women's athletics already had accomplished without the benefit of legislated compliance. In spite of the struggles and challenges, Mawson doesn't remember being discouraged.

"I don't recall ever feeling down," she said. "I recall feeling disappointed when we'd lose games. I guess I always had this perception of winning, and if we didn't, we were still in the running. It was that perseverance and knowing there were expectations of me. Whether it was the students I was coaching or the students I knew were waiting for the review copies of their dissertations, I didn't want to disappoint anyone who had expectations of me."

As a member of KU's K-Club and former women's coach, Mawson has lifetime season tickets to all KU women's sporting events. She uses them frequently and enjoys watching the coaches as well as the teams on the court. Even in retirement, she has found opportunities to keep her competitive spirit alive. She plays golf several times a week at two different clubs, and she is active in Lawrence civic organizations.

"I'm always coaching from the bleachers, although it doesn't seem to have an effect on what's going on down on the court," she said. "I like the strategy and the skill that unfolds the strategy. Good coaches, in my estimation, are the ones who can identify the skill and mind set of the players they have and click into their psyches to make that whole team function."

Mawson also notes that a lifelong hearing impairment resulted in her ability to read lips. "I like to sit behind the bench, and I can tell what the coach is saying during time-outs," she said. "That's always interesting."

She also is willing to let current generations of young women athletes know about the history behind the growth of women's intercollegiate athletics, but she doesn't feel the need for gratitude.

"Bonnie Henrickson has asked me to come and tell her team some of these yesteryear stories," she said, "but what was really rewarding to me was during the 40th anniversary (of KU women's athletics) last year, they had a brunch, and they asked me to say a few words. I told about the trip to North Carolina, and five of the eight players who made that trip were there. That was so thrilling to me. And I know that they felt rewarded, too. But I don't know that I have a feeling of 'you just don't know what it was like,' for these players now, or 'you just can't appreciate now, what it was like then.' That's not why I persisted in seeking opportunities for women's sport competition."

For Mawson, it's a good feeling when she watches intercollegiate women's athletics today.

"When you see a national women's championship get sold out," she said, "you think, 'who could have imagined---who could have imagined?' when we had to play on a physical education floor for our national intercollegiate competition. It's vindication to acknowledge the opportunities that have developed for women athletes in a short 40 years, as I watch from the stands."


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Good stories compel readers to read to the end. People who care about other people and their life journey are the best articles that can be written. This article is one of the best!

My twin sister demonstrates the expectations of our parents and five older sisters -- that is, reach for your highest achievement level, persevere through difficult times, and become a leader in a field you enjoy, working toward a worthy goal. Congratulations, Marlene! You did it!

So proud of you, Marlene! And so glad to get to see you and Darlene at our Reunion last spring. Bless you, and thank you! Anita Williams Bunch, Class of '62

What an outstanding accomplishment that was achieved because of vision for what could be. She achieved in a time when women's athletics were not on a level playing field for both men and women's sports. Her story should be a motivation to anyone who has a dream that it can be accomplished even when the deck may be stacked against you. She truly is a Pioneer of Women's Athletics. Wow, what a lifetime achievement.

Dr. Mawson and I were physical education majors at the same time at CMSU. She was a leader even then. She has always been and continues to be a guiding light in women's athletics and for equal rights for men and women's sports programs. Congratulation to her for the well-deserved honors she has received.

She was truly a pioneer in women's sports. She walked the walk and talked the talk as they say. All her honors are well deserved.

Marlene Mawson is an inspiration to those of us educators who become overwhelmed with the tasks before us. Persevere and care about your students, that's what I would call the theme of the article. The photos are excellent.

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