First in Sports, Then
Careers, These Women Played to Win
From funding support to the style of uniforms, countless
aspects of women’s college sports have changed throughout the past 60 years.
In fact, little remains the same.
But one constant has been that involvement in college
sports helps athletes develop the perseverance to achieve, according to three former
standout lacrosse players who reflected on their experiences during a campus forum.
Sponsored by the Department of Athletics, the event was titled “The Way to
the Boardroom Leads Through the Locker Room.”
Achieving their goals on the playing field prepared
Smith alumnae Gloria W. Heath ’43 and Agnes Bixler Kurtz ’62 and Vassar
College alumna June L. Biedler to succeed in the workplace as well.
After graduating from Smith, Gloria Heath '43
and Agnes Bixler Kurtz '62 went on to excel in sports as well as their chosen
careers. Both played with gusto in the United States lacrosse touring program, Heath,
left photo, as the goalie when the United States competed against Great Britain and
Ireland in 1951 and Kurtz, second from right, front row, right photo, as a member
of the U.S. team that faced off with Great Britain, also in photo, in 1967. Photos
courtesy Gloria Heath and Agnes Kurtz.
“It was frowned upon to be an athlete when we
were young,” said Kurtz. “But we did what we wanted to do -- just
like women going into medicine or science.”
By playing sports, Kurtz said, she developed the focus
and drive necessary to succeed. According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association
(NCAA), sports also bolstered her chances of earning a college degree. An NCAA study
recently reported that athletes graduate at higher rates than nonathletes.
After graduation these three women continued to excel:
first in sports -- the Lacrosse Hall of Fame plaques honoring Kurtz and Heath
now hang in the Ainsworth Gymnasium -- and then in their chosen careers.
Biedler, a cancer researcher, rose through the ranks
at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center to become program chair of the Cell Biology Department
and serve on the center’s 10-person executive committee -- the only woman
to do so at the time.
“Science was highly competitive -- a lot of
the men who were ambitious were [difficult] -- and I found the best way to handle
them was to smile,” said Biedler, whose slight frame once powered her play
on the national women’s lacrosse team. “In sports, I had learned it was
no good to get angry or show it.”
Heath pursued aviation. She served as a World War II
pilot assigned to fly the B-26 bomber for fighter pilots’ gunnery practice
and was recently named one of aviation’s 100 most influential women.
During the era in which she represented Smith, and
later the country, in lacrosse, Heath noted that players would pay for their own
transportation to games and stay in the homes of their opponents -- an arrangement
that has certainly changed over time.
Family support for the athletic endeavors of young
women has also shifted, said Kurtz, who witnessed a positive change after she ushered
in the women’s athletic program at Dartmouth College and coached there over
the course of nearly two decades.
Many parents did not approve of women’s sports
participation when she was in college, noted Kurtz, adding that her own father seemed
not to care.
“My brother tells me that is because my father
was such a chauvinist that he knew that whatever women did didn’t matter anyway,” she