The Beginning

“I prefer the term ‘advocate,'” Marygrace Colby said about her fight to involve women in sports at Santa Clara during her over-three-decade tenure running the women’s recreation program.

The Beginning
Marygrace Colby, right, heralded in the new era of women's sports at Santa Clara.

It’s hard to believe that SCU women’s sports program began in 1964 with a $500 budget and two broken tennis rackets that Marygrace Colby fished from Sacramento trash cans. But everything starts somewhere, and Bronco women’s sports begins with Marygrace, who headed up the women’s program in its reception, retiring as assistant athletic director after four decades of revolutionary change in 1995.

Two years after admitting women students to earn degrees, SCU began to offer them something else to do with their time. “Recreation was the emphasis,” Colby, who headed up the program, told Santa Clara Magazine in 2012. “Athletics was a dirty word.”

Marygrace was teaching and coaching in Sacramento-area high schools when SCU picked the 32-year-old to head its women’s recreation program.

“It was so new to Santa Clara that you could almost do whatever you wanted,” Marygrace said in a 1995 interview. “They didn’t know what to do with me.”

The newly-coed campus wasn’t sure what to do with her ideas, either. She pushed for women to have access to the Seifert Gymnasium—three hours on Tuesday nights. The response from some members of the student body was swift.

“The boys had a picket line around the gym,” said Marygrace. The Santa Clara ran an editorial saying that the women “were a detriment to the spirit of Santa Clara athletic events.” These events were known as playdays, friendly tennis, half-court basketball, and volleyball matches against other nearby schools, which included serving punch and cookies to opponents.

Marygrace wanted more for the students under her watch. “Male coaches accused me of being a ‘women’s libber,’” Marygrace said. “But I preferred the term’ advocate.’ I challenged the administration to develop the programs that they have today.”

Under her guidance, the University became a charter member of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women in 1971, which would become part of the NCAA a decade later. The 1972 passage of Title IX, forbidding sex-based discrimination in federally-funded education programs,  supercharged her efforts.

By 1974, 700 Bronco women were involved in 75 different activities, including Powder Puff football, bowling, and golf. In her four decades on campus, Marygrace was a coach, director of Women’s Athletics, and Assistant Athletic Director. She mentored Olympic swimmers and World Cup soccer players.

Marking 50 years of women’s sports on campus, she wrote to Santa Clara Magazine about the change she had seen, and more so helped make: “I have always admired those first female student-athlete pioneers at Santa Clara, who were provided with little in terms of finances, equipment, and qualified coaches. Fifty years later, Santa Clara’s women’s athletics and female participation at institutions all over the country have come a long way.”

Bronco women taking to field and court today feel her legacy still. Colby died in January 2022.

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