Play Ball – How the Seattle University Women's Basketball Team Came into Existence

A true story from SGS Board member, Maryann Nelson.

A million years ago when I was a senior in high school, a girlfriend and I made a deal with one another: she would give volleyball a try and I would give basketball a try. Anyone with a bit more wisdom than the two of us would have seen immediately how this was going to work out. My friend was short and very close to the floor – actually the perfect build for a point guard. I was tall and gangly – a perfect ball striker or center.

She hated volleyball. I LOVED basketball. Under the tutelage of the coolest teacher in school (a young, handsome male teacher) we ended up finishing in the championship games, and I ended up with a basketball emblem for my letter sweater.

We both chose Seattle University for college. I went there because they gave me a scholarship. I’m not sure what Diane’s reasons were, but the school is forever changed because of her. Her passion for basketball was much deeper rooted than mine, so when she found out that the university only offered an intramural basketball team for women she was outraged. They used “pennies” for uniforms and dribbled the lopsided balls rejected by the men’s program.

As luck would have it, the honors program I was in was run by Sister Rosalie Trainer, and it seems Sister Trainer was also head of women’s athletics. Given her advanced age of at least fifty at the time, the thought of progress seemed hopeless. But I used my academic connection with her to gain an audience for Diane and me, wherein we presented our absolutely PERFECT pitch on why SU should have a varsity women’s basketball team.

Sister Trainer was a total buzz kill. She absolutely disagreed. She informed us that there weren’t enough women interested. And besides there was no one to coach and no money to pay for one even if someone were interested.

This all happened in 1975. What also happened in 1975 was the first failure of a Seattle School District levy in decades. Schools were forced to cut programs and lay off teachers. The young ones without seniority were first to go. Which left our handsome basketball coach from Ballard High School magically unemployed. Diane and I took our pitch on the road. Looking back, I’m not sure how anyone could have said no to us; Mr. Williams was no exception. He said he would coach the SU Varsity Women’s Basketball Team, for Free.

Sister Trainer didn’t have much left to protest about, with the exception of her perceived lack of interest. We made her a deal – we would have a meeting and see if enough people showed up to make the whole scheme viable. If not, we would go away.

More than 60 women came. She was surprised, but kept her part of the bargain. And that’s how the Seattle University Women’s Basketball Team came into existence.

The End.

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