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Vassar athletics always on the cutting edge

Sports Editor

Published: Monday, January 17, 2011

Updated: Monday, January 17, 2011 19:01


Courtesy of LIFE.

Vassar students from 1937 wait for a court to open in Kenyon Hall. The hall was constructed in 1933 as part of a renewed commitment to athletics.

When Vassar College was founded in 1861, baseball was just over 15 years old, the predecessor to American Football was a year away from its creation and basketball's founder, Dr. James Naismith, was still 10 months from being born. The sporting landscape has certainly evolved a great deal in 150 years, and that is true of both the world and of Vassar.

From its outset, Vassar was an athletically minded campus. Women were initially required to spend an hour a day engaged in physical activity, although there was much variation to the activities available. The less athletically minded students may have enjoyed a nice stroll along the grounds, while the more physically inclined could engage in numerous offerings, including archery, rowing or, beginning in 1866, one of Vassar's baseball clubs.

America's pastime hardly represents the only sport to quickly find its way to campus. Just five years after being introduced to the American public, tennis made its on-campus debut in 1879. Basketball appeared shortly after, being played at Vassar as early as 1899. Field hockey too launched at Vassar in 1902, 15 years after women began playing in Great Britain.

Vassar's athletic history also included the hosting of special events. It is no secret that the first collegiate field day was hosted on Noyes Circle. The New York Times reported that "bicycle races, foot races, hundred-yard dashes, basket-ball and battle-ball contests, and sports of similar nature are planned," and the event kicked off in November of 1895. Six years prior, Ely Hall was constructed as Alumnae Gymnasium.

When Henry MacCracken became president of the College in 1915, he brought with him a renewed athletic focus. In a July 1921 story in The New York Times regarding the effects of collegiate sports on motherhood, MacCracken stated, "If anything, our women have been coddled too much… Athletics are nothing more than strong muscular exercise. Hockey is not as hard physical work as doing a family wash." Testaments to his athletic focus still remain all around us. MacCracken presided over the construction of a new gym in Kenyon Hall, tennis courts behind Josselyn House, and a golf course beyond Sunset Hill.

The next major change in athletics came in 1969 with the move to coeducation and the ensuing expansion of competitive team sports. Although varsity sports began at the College in 1959, with the founding of a women's basketball team and a field hockey team, as well as the subsequent founding of women's volleyball and women's soccer in 1963 and 1964 respectively, varsity sports truly took off at the College in the 10 years following coeducation. Nine of Vassar's current athletic teams were founded in this time span, resulting in the existence of 13 teams that now compete on the varsity level—seven female, six male. This does not account for the growing level of club or intramural sports then present on the campus.

Increased campus interest in sports led to the creation of even more athletics resources and opportunities. The In The Pink newsletter was first released in 1976 and Vassar teams began competing at the NCAA level in 1980. All of this led to the construction of Walker Field House in 1982. In 2000, Vassar continued to add to its facilities, constructing the Athletics and Fitness Center, and shortly thereafter the Prentiss Field Complex. Also in 2000, Vassar teams began competing in the Upstate Collegiate Athletic Association, which has since become the Liberty League.

While Vassar is by no means a jock school, it nonetheless has remained at the forefront of athletics. In 2005, Sharon Beverly became the first African-American female Athletic Director in the country. Since then, Vassar's teams have experienced success—most recently with the men's volleyball team's participation in the 2008 NCAA Division III Championship game—and the College has been continually producing standouts who earn honors recognized by their conferences, the region and the NCAA as a whole.

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