Forty years after playing college sport, Sara Wold and other female athletes get their due recognition.
Sara Wold (BS '61, general curriculum) was 2-0 as a pitcher for the University of Illinois women's softball team during a season in the late 1950s. But you won't find the no-hitter or the one-hitter she threw for the University of Illinois in any record book. And she can't recall the team she stymied during one of the three intercollegiate contests in which she represented the orange and blue. But she knows it wasn't in Urbana or Champaign—there wasn't a softball diamond on campus.
In an effort to document and recognize the pioneers of women's athletics at the University, alumnae such as Wold who competed in intercollegiate athletics prior to 1974-75 were officially recognized by the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics during a November ceremony. The presentation of Varsity "I" letters to the more than 200 women in attendance culminated a weekend of celebration in honor of the "Illinois 3D—dreams, desire, determination" program.
University of Illinois women carved out their own opportunities to participate in intercollegiate sports well before the University established varsity athletics for women in the wake of Title IX, the 1972 law that prohibited gender discrimination at educational institutions that receive federal funding. With minimal monetary or logistical support, Wold and other women pursued their athletic destinies with an inner drive that proves the love of the game is the domain of both sexes.
"I only played three games, so I didn't participate a whole lot, but I appreciate the recognition," says Wold, who retired two years ago following a 40-year career as a microbiologist. "I think it helps to know that the student athletes now appreciate what we went through and the things that we didn't have. Still, we were able to be resourceful and find opportunities to play.
Wold's athletic endeavors germinated at age 14 in her native Earlville, IL,where her father started a girls' softball team—the Earlville Victorians—that traveled within a 120-mile radius during the summer. It was an alternative to "slopping the pig (tattooing pigs with numbers)," she says. One of the highlights was a yearly Fourth of July trip to Dwight Penitentiary to play its prison team.
"They had a shortstop, who was a beautiful young lady with a great personality," Wold says. "We all loved her, and then we found out she was in prison for murder.
"Our team was happy that she escaped one time, but then they found her, and the next year she was playing on the prison team again. So, it was a good experience for us from a rural town to get out and see the world via softball."
Wold followed her father's example, and has never stopped working to create more opportunities for women and girls in sports. She spearheaded a drive to raise money for properly equipped softball diamonds in East Detroit. She was a driving force behind the 1986 creation of the Michigan Women's Golf Association, a nationally recognized organization that promotes amateur women's golf throughout the state. Once a competitive amateur herself, Wold now officiates tournaments, including the Big Ten Conference Women's Golf Championships and the NCAA Women's Golf Championships. Last year, the Ann Arbor resident and member of the Illinois Softball Hall of Fame was inducted into the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame.
Wold says the lessons she learned from her participation in sports were significant in her life after the diamond.
"I'm just really very grateful for the opportunities I've had through sports and through the University. Otherwise I could be back home slopping the pigs, although there's nothing wrong with that."
By Laura Weisskopf Bleill , July 2004