After dominating the tennis court, Nancy Edwards gets recognition 60 years later
By Patrick Fergus
Good things are worth waiting for. Nancy Edwards waited 60 years to receive her college letter from her alma mater, Marietta College in Ohio. In the coming weeks, as part of the year-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the former college tennis player will do just that.
Edwards, formerly known as Nancy Devlin, attended Marietta from the fall of 1962 to 1966 and was one of the first women to play on a men’s varsity team. The captain of the men’s tennis team noticed Devlin while she was playing a casual match with her friends and urged the coach to make her on the team.
The coach agreed to one condition. Edwards had to endure and pass a physical exam, which was no easy task. She had to go up and down the stairs of the Ban Johnson Arena 50 times, which Edwards said “almost killed her”.
When she finally stepped onto the court, she was nothing short of impressive – winning each of her first three games with solid serve and a great forehand. According to Edwards, her teammates and coaches gladly welcomed her to the team and never treated her as different because of her gender.
The opponents’ coaches felt different, however, pointing to an obscure section of Marietta’s charter, which clearly stated that tennis was “for all bona fide male students.” In other words, they didn’t like their players being beaten by a woman.
Marietta has never had a problem with a woman playing on the men’s team. However, the NCAA and its other members did not want the genres to mix. As a result, Edwards’ time on the team came to an abrupt end.
“Some other colleges said I could play, but whatever the outcome would count as a loss,” Edwards said. “I wasn’t surprised at all. It wasn’t the first time this had happened. »
Certainly, the lack of shock and frustration could be attributed to her personal history, as she had a similar experience at Dartmouth (Mass.) High School. She also played against boys in high school, but opposing coaches were upset with her continued success and banned her from competing.
Back in Marietta, Edwards was very surprised at the amount of attention the story was getting. The Associated Press had caught wind of his departure from the team, and soon more and more newspapers were calling Edwards on the dorm phone, mingled with the occasional fan letter.
“I was way too young and didn’t know how to handle all the fuss,” Edwards said.
The director of women’s athletics offered Edwards the opportunity to teach lessons and even start her own women’s club team. She loved teaching people how to play, but had a lot of problems when it came to putting together a team.
“I didn’t really get a lot of support or funding, and it just didn’t seem like they were taking it seriously, which was definitely a source of frustration.” Edwards said.
Although her playing career is nearly 10 years before Title IX passed, Edwards’ story is the epitome of why the law was created – as an amendment that outlaws gender discrimination in federally funded educational programs and activities.
Edwards graduated a semester earlier from Marietta with a Bachelor of Science degree and now lives in a small community called Nonquitt in Dartmouth, Mass.
“Looking back, I think I should have tried to make a bigger deal for women’s sport, and I didn’t want to cause trouble for college by making it a problem…but I really wish be more responsive,” Edwards told me.
Now, 60 years later, Edwards will finally return to campus for the first time since graduating. Along with approximately 10 other female athletes who never acquired their varsity letters, Edwards will finally receive her varsity letter ﹣ belated validation of her outstanding achievements on the field.
Larry Hiser, Director of Athletics and Recreation at Marietta, who also earned her Masters of Science in Physical Education and Sports Administration at Springfield College, is thrilled to welcome Edwards and other former female athletes to school.
“The Title IX committee came up with this great idea, to give letters to all those women who would have qualified for them, if the proper system had been in place,” Hiser said.
Hiser also had the pleasure of talking to Edwards, after she called him to thank him for the invitation and the letter.
“She was the easiest acquaintance I’ve ever made,” Hiser said. “His story is quite emblematic of Title IX. I mean, you can’t let Hollywood make a better one.
The event needs a spokesperson, and for Hiser, there was no better fit than Edwards and his story. Even with some reluctance to speak in front of so many people, Edwards happily agreed.
The celebration is very meaningful for the women who return to receive their honor. One of them said to Hiser, “When I get this letter, I will put it on my coat. I will feel for the first time that I belong in the Ban Johnson Arena.
Back in Nonquitt, Edwards, 78, still plays tennis. Thanks to a regular men’s group on Saturdays and mixed doubles, his competitive spirit and love for tennis never wavered.
“Yeah, I’m still playing, which I love,” Edwards said.
Photo courtesy Nancy Edwards