In a League of Their Own

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Kennesaw State celebrates 30 years of women's athletics

By the time the third player was in the clubhouse, Kennesaw State women's golf coach Rhyll Brinsmead could feel the excitement building. Midway through the third and final day of the Atlantic Sun Conference's women's golf tournament, her Owls were leading East Tennessee State and Mercer by as much as 10 strokes.

Then things got really crazy.

The East Tennessee women caught fire and pulled within one stroke of KSU.

Brinsmead had seen this movie before.

Two years ago on the same course, the Owls were leading the Stetson Hatters by six strokes going into the final round. The A-Sun championship seemed secure until the Hatters shot a conference record 286 to snatch away the trophy. Brinsmead wasn't about to let that happen again.

"No one panicked," she said. "I knew our No. 1 and No. 2 players were on the back nine, so I felt confident we could hold on."

By the time she reached the 17th fairway, Ket Preamchuen, the Owls' No. 1 player realized the gravity of the situation.

"She asked me what she needed to do," Brinsmead said, "When the golfers are on the course, they have no way of knowing the overall picture. I told her we were back up by a couple of holes so just play it safe."

Preamchuen parred the last two holes and an East Tennessee State golfer hit an unplayable ball ensuring the Owls its first A-Sun championship.

"They all swarmed Ket as she came off the 18th hole, high fiving and screaming," Brinsmead said. "It was really exciting."

It takes a revolution

Women's collegiate sports hasn't always been that exciting - or accessible.

As early as the 1880s, college women participated in intramural sports such as tennis, croquet, bowling and archery but the idea of women seriously competing in sanctioned sports was unheard of.

It wasn't until 1963 that the Division for Girls and Women in Sport (DGWS) was established as the sanctioning body for women's collegiate sports. In 1967, it was renamed the Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (ClAW) and the idea of competitive women's sports began gaining favorable status more in line with men's athletics. By 1969, women were able to compete for national championships in gymnastics, track and field, swimming, badminton and volleyball. In 1972, basketball was added. But still female athletes were often treated as second-class citizens.

Until 1972, when with a single stroke of the pen, President Richard Nixon changed women's college athletics forever with the adoption of Title IX of the Education Amendment Act. The act declared that, "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." The backlash began almost immediately. More than 20 lawsuits were filed and seven congressional bills challenging the legislation were introduced.

Kennesaw State athletic director Vaughn Williams, a former college athlete himself, says that college athletics has always been a reflection of society.

"Dramatic change in this country has almost always come about by law - civil rights, women's suffrage - and collegiate athletics is no different," said Williams. "Over the last 40 years, there has been a major shift in women's place in society and Title IX was a reflection of those changes."

A 30-year success story

A little more than a decade after the enactment of Title IX, Kennesaw State launched both men's and women's intercollegiate athletics and according to head women's softball coach and senior associate athletic director Scott Whitlock, the timing was perfect.

"By launching both programs Simultaneously, well after college athletics had a chance to get used to Title IX, we were able to avoid all the bickering it caused," said Whitlock. "Our president at the time, Betty Siegel, and our athletic director Spec Landrum, agreed from the beginning that there never would be any issues regarding Title IX or any discrimination of female athletes."

In 1983, Kennesaw College sponsored four intercollegiate sports - including two women's sports - and became a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) joining the Georgia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Three years later in 1986, women's outdoor track won the school's first championship - the NAIA District title. Just two years later in 1988 women's basketball became the first-ever team sport at Kennesaw State to earn a Top 20 ranking finishing the year at No. 12 in the NAIA national poll.

Ten years after the launch of intercollegiate athletics, the university made another move towards raising the level of play and in 1993 the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the Division II Peach Belt Conference (PBC) approved Kennesaw State for membership.

In true Owl form, in its first year as an official member of the NCAA and Peach Belt Conference, the men's and women's cross country teams both won PBC crowns and the women's softball team captured the NCAA Division II national championship.

In 2004, Kennesaw State University once again raised the bar and moved from NCAA Division II to Division I joining the Atlantic Sun Conference. Again Kennesaw athletes rose to the challenge and in 2005, its first full season as a Division I member, KSU's women's cross country became the A-Sun Conference champions followed the next year by women's soccer and softball.

A home of their own

The success of the women's softball program attracted a lot of attention from Dr. Bobbie Bailey, a very special fan, entrepreneur and longtime Kennesaw State supporter. From 1960 to 1980, Bailey managed the Lorelei Ladies fast pitch softball team. This all-women's team played in New York, New Jersey, Texas and California, winning national championships several years in a row. In 1991 , her loyalty to women's sports led her to establish women's athletic scholarships at Kennesaw State University and to endow a new athletic facility named The Bobbie Bailey Athletic Complex which was dedicated in 2004. The complex includes the university's first venue devoted completely to women's sports. The $5 million softball park features wrap-around stands behind home plate and stadium seating on the second level down the first base line and above the KSU dugout. In 2007, a digital scoreboard complete with a video screen was installed.

In May 2010, another Kennesaw State women's sports team got a new home when the KSU Stadium opened. Designed specifically for women's soccer, the $16.5 million stadium seats 8,300 and includes club and patio seating as well as 12 hospitality suites. In 2011, the stadium was the site for the NCAA Women's College Cup, the national championship of women's soccer. More than 9,200 fans, many of them high school age women, watched Stanford beat Duke for the national title. The event was the first NCAA Division I national championship ever held in Cobb County.

A winning spirit

Unlike many universities, the history of Kennesaw State's intercollegiate athletics program cannot be told without women's sports.

"Half of all our national championships and many of our All-Americans have come from the women's ranks," said Williams.

The past season proved once again to be a banner year for KSU women's athletics as they captured for the second time in the last three years the Sherman Day Trophy awarded annually by the Atlantic Sun Conference to the member school with the best overall performance by a women's athletic program.

"This is a huge accomplishment and poses an even bigger challenge," Williams said. "Six years after KSU made the move to NCAA Division 1 women's athletics, we dominated a conference of nine other universities. That tells everyone that Kennesaw State demands excellence on and off the field. But it also means we have set the bar very high and our challenge will be to continue to perform at such a high standard."

Today, Kennesaw State's women's athletics boasts nine varsity sports - basketball, softball, track and field, tennis, golf, cross country, volleyball, and lacrosse (which was added in 2012) -four led by female coaches. Two of the recent additions are Nitra Perry, the new head coach of the Lady Owls basketball team and Kristina Llanes, head coach of the inaugural women's lacrosse program.

"Our commitment to women's athletics shows in everything we do," said Williams. "With each step we take, we're showing more and more young women that this is the place they want to go to school; this is their future."