Celebrating 35 years; MIAC membership and the rise of St. Kate’s athletics

The Wildcats soccer team took home a victory from the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletics Conference (MIAC) Playoffs on Nov. 4 and will move on to represent St. Kate’s at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament for the first time. The MIAC victory is also a first for St. Kate’s since becoming a member in 1982.

St. Kate\’s shows off NCAA membership in gleaming Butler Center

 

It might be difficult for some St. Kate’s students to imagine their school without elite athletics. Though Katies celebrate their 35th anniversary as a member of MIAC along with their first win this year, the rich history of athletics at St. Kate’s extends far prior to 1982. The club sports team scene was vibrant before St. Kate’s had any intercollegiate athletic affiliations.

According to Deborah Kloiber, Head of Archives and Special Collections, as early as the 1920s, St. Kate’s had a student-organized basketball league, which came to be known as Friendship League in the 1940s. Each dormitory had their own team, plus a day student team, who played each other at the final tournament at the annual Winter Carnival.

The transition from the Friendship League of the ‘40s to the Elite Division III athletic program we know today did not happen all at once. The most dramatic shift occurred not only off-campus but at the federal level, with the passage of the Title IX Act in 1972. Prior to the passage of Title IX in 1972, women athletes were excluded from MIAC and the NCAA. The passage of Title IX in 1972 led to a surge in women’s student athletics across the nation and at St. Kate’s.

Title IX states that no person should be denied access to any educational program receiving federal funds, including sports. It opened doors for female student-athletes across the United States, including here at St. Kate’s. There were, of course, organized intercollegiate athletic programs before 1972, but they simply did not have the funds to create the intense athletic competition associated with serious sports that the federally funded men’s leagues had.

One such organization, the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), which had St. Kate’s as a member school, did not fare well post-Title IX. It might be tempting to look back on the passage of Title IX as a purely positive change for women athletes, but the fall of AIAW demonstrates the opposite. When the NCAA could not successfully lobby congress to allow them to exempt some sport from Title IX coverage, the NCAA decided to sponsor intercollegiate athletic championships for women themselves. This decision took governance away from women while allowing the NCAA to profit under the guise of progressivism. Though the AIAW, national newspapers, and our own President St. Catherine McNamme spoke out against these changes, the NCAA was ultimately successful in taking control of women’s college sports.

Cartoon from a 1979 brief covering the AIAW/NCAA controversy

 

Despite the national controversy, the ’70s ushered in a new era of athletic excellence for St. Kate’s student-athletes. The St. Kate’s volleyball team played an undefeated season, leading to the first-ever state championship for the school in the fall of 1976. Only in their third season, the volleyball team went on to win the regional championship as well. Though the CSC volleyball team were unprecedented winners, their classmates did not show them much support. The CSC volleyballers were relatively unknown, attracted tiny crowds to their home games. According to Kloiber, the late ‘70s saw a dip in student interest in much of anything. Memberships in clubs were down, including sports. The basketball league, which once provided a highlight of the Winter Carnival, was unable to find enough interest to continue.

While interest in club athletics might have waned in the ’70s, the next two decades saw exciting developments for the athletically inclined among St. Kate’s students.

St. Kate’s officially became a member of MIAC in 1982, and therefore NCAA. The ground was broken for Butler Center in 1994, and as the tired Health Center was revitalized, so was student interest in sports. The year also brought the return of intramural basketball. Even with the uptick in athletic developments, the mood of St. Kate’s wasn’t as athletic-centered as it is today. It was the opening of Butler Center in 1994 that brought the surge of interest in athletics. Up until that point, athletics were a part of the physical education department, with faculty volunteering to coach on the side. The Butler Center brought with it a whole new athletics department and staff, as well as a new recruitment strategy for future St. Kate’s student-athletes.

 

Keep up with the latest in St. Kate’s athletics here.

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