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   Date: 12/12/11 Bookmark and Share

Proud Pioneers

By Brittany Caine ‘14

As the opening of the Smith College Athletic Hall of Fame draws nearer, it becomes yet another first in the storied history of Smith athletics. It’s a big moment.

The Smith mascot is the Pioneer. A pioneer is defined as someone who is first in any field of inquiry, enterprise, or progress. Smith’s athletes live up to this title. And it all started with Senda Berenson.

Senda Berenson

Senda Berenson came to Smith in 1892, a pioneer herself. Smith was only 17 years old, and athletics were not yet an integral part of the school. Berenson brought the ideas of exercise, health, and competition with her. She implemented physical education at Smith—mostly through gymnastics, her background—but she also believed in the value of sports, games and dance.

Not long after arriving here she adapted the newly developed game of basketball for women, and on March 22, 1893, the world’s first women’s collegiate basketball game was held in the Alumnae Gym, first-years (Class of 1896) against sophomores (Class of 1895). First-years won 5 to 4.

That was only the beginning, and sports have been an important part of Smith’s history ever since.

We’ve come a long way since the days of Berenson, when sports competition was considered inappropriate. Athletics continued at Smith, but often only as required classes, as a subject of study. Meanwhile, competition brewed among houses, each house fielding teams for several sports, and for most the 20th century that defined sports competition at Smith.

The first intercollegiate competition didn’t take place at Smith until 1971, the first time Smith competed against other schools.

Not all competition was intense though. In 1981, Smith joined the Seven Sisters schools for athletic competition. The original Seven Sisters—Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Radcliffe, Smith, Vassar, and Wellesley—joined to conduct championships in common sports, the first in basketball. Swimming and tennis were soon added. Seven Sisters tournaments continue today, with competition in volleyball, crew, cross-country, squash, swimming and diving, and tennis. Most recently, Smith hosted the Seven Sisters crew regatta in October.

In 1981, a good year for Smith athletics, the college joined the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the first women’s school to do so. Also that year, the volleyball team, coached by Bonnie May, participated in the first NCAA Division III volleyball championship, competing against the University of California, San Diego, in the first round. They lost 3-0 but had a terrific experience and UCSD went on to win.

In 1983, another good year, Smith field hockey, coached by Jackie Blei, was among only 16 teams to go to DIII Championships. Smith placed 12th.

In more recent history: An athlete came to Smith, swimsuit in hand, to serve as Smith's swimming and diving captain her senior year, and became a three-time NCAA DIII diving All-American and a three-time NEWMAC All-Conference recipient. Along the way, Shanti Freitas ‘08 broke and reset every diving record at the college. In her senior year, she represented NEWMAC in a national competition for NCAA Woman of the Year. Shanti Freitas ’08, a true Pioneer, epitomizes what Smith athletics stands for: pride, competition and perseverance.

Smith athletics has plenty to brag about. Last year, we had our first Rookie of the Year, Rosa Drummond '14, for basketball. Each year our athletes earn All-American status. We break records. Smith athletics originally sought to include everyone, regardless of skill level. As the opening of the Hall of Fame draws nearer we look to honor the best, those who stand out in their sport, and have helped the school reach each of these ‘firsts.’

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