Alumnae from the University of Nebraska took a break from their 50-year reunion at Wildwood Golf Course on June 7 to visit about a different era in education and athletics.
Each of the women graduated from Nebraska in 1969 with physical education degrees and coaching certifications that became the backbone of teaching careers in physical education for grades K-12.
To say the University of Nebraska was a different place back in the late 1960s is hardly a stretch. Women faced challenges that men didn’t face, such as fair access to educational facilities, fair treatment by the rules, and equal opportunity.
The experience was still positive. Lifetime friendships and solid careers were the result of effort that overcame obstacles.
These educational journeys were ones that pre-dated Title IX rules. Those rules, enacted in 1972, allowed varsity sports at the college level and resulted in the extension of athletic opportunities to the high school level. According the Nebraska School Activities Association website, the earliest volleyball champion was crowned at a Nebraska high school in 1972.
Back in 1969, females at the University of Nebraska majoring in physical education were not allowed to wear shorts on campus. Dresses were required. And students had to make quick changes of clothes before getting to the next building for a class, sometimes all the way across campus, and in a matter of minutes.
Women were required to wear dresses even to football games.
Curfews were in force as well. Female students were required to be at home by 9 p.m., a little bit later for those who made the proper grades. Male students were not subject to such rules.
In class, the female physical education students took dance classes in anticipation of teaching the activity but, since the students were not allowed contact with male students, the females paired up with one wearing a sash to indicate she was playing the role of the male.
In terms of sports, there weren’t opportunities at the varsity level, so some of the students took part in club sports.
Each athlete was responsible for gear and travel and rode with professors to the games out of town.
In terms of educational challenges, the physical education curriculum was fairly daunting. Thought to be easy by those unfamiliar with the work, a physical education degree required 27 credit hours of science with classes such as kinesiology, biology and anatomy and physiology.
After graduating in 1969, the students began working as educators and found that there were differences in treatment there as well.
Getting gym time for an athletic group comprised of females was not always easy. In a one-gym setting, the coach may have had to approach her male counterpart to inform him that it was time for the girls to have the gym. When two gyms were in use, the girls got the smaller gym, even if the number of participants was greater than that of the boys’ group.
Pay for coaching was less than what a male received. Officiating games meant a higher degree of certification than what men were required to take.
Times have changed.
The volleyball team at the University of Nebraska is widely respected with five national championships, the latest coming in 2017, and four national runner up finishes. Those athletes have a home court at the Devaney Center, a volleyball specific facility, and athletes have a team of support for academics as well as athletics.
While having greater chances to compete, women don’t enjoy complete equality today. The professional opportunities for women aren’t as numerous or as lucrative as the opportunities afforded to men.
Conditions have improved greatly since 1969. And that’s great news as long as progress continues.
For this particlar group of alumnae, the experience of getting a physical education degree has left an indelible mark on their lives. The 50-year get together was a chance to remember those stories. To relive moments and to share news about what’s going on these days.
The former students met for a 40-year reunion at Okoboji. Some thought this might be the last time the group gets together for an official reunion. They’ll be in their 80s for reunion No. 60.
If they do get together, they’re likely to share some of the same old stories. And that’s good.
Because the passing of time hasn’t made the stories any less remarkable.