As the nation celebrates the 50th anniversary of Title IX this summer, it gave us a chance to reflect with Doris Meyer, who was at Pacific before, during and after the landmark legislation took effect. Meyer joined Pacific in 1956. She served as a teacher, adviser and coach for 34 years until her retirement in 1990.
Meyer was involved with the American Association of Health, PE, Recreation and Dance long before the NCAA and Title IX. As one of the few female professors at Pacific, she directed intramural activities, advised the Women’s Recreation Association, and coached swimming and tennis. She also started the field hockey program and was its first coach.
In 1971, one year before the landmark legislation, she was Pacific’s delegate to the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), which formed that year and was the forerunner to the NCAA as a national governing body for women’s athletics. Its educational model initially had 280 colleges that allowed women to play tennis, golf, swimming, volleyball and basketball. “So, what did that mean? That meant that the idea was we were providing opportunities for girls that love to play sports, even if they had to go to play days or sports days,” said Doris Meyer.
Meyer and Cedric Dempsey, who served as Pacific’s Director of Athletics from 1967-1979 and later became the executive director of the NCAA, shared a longer term vision about women’s athletics. “He and I thought that here at the university, we not only should provide for elite athletes but physical educators that would go out in the schools in the future and become teachers and coaches,” said Meyer. “And if they were provided with an opportunity to play at a higher level, then they could pass that on to their students as they became teachers and coaches.”
These two educators at this small school in California had a visionary thought process – women should have opportunities – and women deserved to be coached by the best.
“I wasn’t what they wanted. They [the students] wanted the best that they could get,” said Meyer. “And so, that’s when Terry Liskevych was probably our very first hire, and he went on to become the national coach, the Olympic coach.”
Following the adoption of Title IX in 1972, it took a few years before Pacific had official varsity sports. The first varsity volleyball team took the court in 1975. Women’s basketball followed in the same 1975-76 season. The first varsity field hockey season was in 1977 under head coach Doris Meyer.
Meyer credits Liskevych with changing the way women’s sports were supported. “That was the beginning of the movement to the NCAA because Terry got a hold of the restaurant franchise here, Wendy’s,” said Meyer. “They sponsored so much for his volleyball team. It was the beginning of booster clubs. It was the whole beginning of that business model.”
Coaching women’s tennis, swimming and field hockey, Meyer said she and her student-athletes had fun, but she knew they wanted and deserved the best coaches. She saw the transition from a focus on fun to a desire to play at an elite level after Title IX. As the programs transitioned, she recognized she was better as a teacher and administrator than a coach. For one thing, she could not bring herself to cut people from teams.
“I was happy that they were having fun, and they would be good teachers and coaches themselves,” said Meyer. “I was a good teacher, but I wasn’t a good coach at all.” She stepped down as the head field hockey coach after the 1978 season and focused on administration and teaching.
“Doris was an excellent professor,” Cindy Spiro ’76 confirmed. “She was one of the most popular professors on campus, and she was coordinating athletics on the side. When I came to Pacific in 1972, the only sports were swimming and tennis, and Doris coached both teams. When we started volleyball and basketball, she made sure we had games, organized the travel and purchased the uniforms. She was also well connected and respected among the Northern California women administrators, so she was able to work with Cedric Dempsey to help develop the first Northern California conference for women.”
Doris’s influence as an administrator continued to propel Pacific women’s athletics even after she stopped coaching. In the late 1970s, there was a move to shift women’s sports under the NCAA’s guidance. Many women’s administrators around the country were skeptical. Pacific had one representative on the 11-member NCAA Committee that focused on the transition, Ed Betz, a longtime speech professor who was serving Pacific as Dean of All University Programs and was its Faculty Representative to the NCAA. Meyer advised Betz, and she trusted that he would share her thoughts with the committee as they developed the transition.
Pacific Director of Athletics, Janet Lucas, said Meyer and her are similar in their way of thinking. “My mindset was to work within the system to create opportunity and growth,” said Lucas. “So, we’re very similar in that regard.”
Meyer thinks celebrating Title IX is important. “Title IX has helped women in many ways, particularly those athletes who can now do things that the grandmother never thought possible,” said Meyer. “I think if there’s any carryover, it’s that the young people will perhaps have an understanding of what led up to it, not just historically, but emotionally. What went on in their mothers’ and their dads’ heads.”
She’s hoping to continue seeing more women coaching in all sports and levels. “I think that would be a really important step,” said Meyer.
To current female student-athletes, Meyer said she hopes they appreciate the work that went in before Title IX, during its implementation and after by those that came before them who would have loved to play at such an elite level. Still, she also hopes they play the sport because they love it.
“In a really great competitive tennis match, say, during the match, you try your very best to win the match because that’s what it’s all about. But after the match is over, you love your opponent who’s provided you with the opportunity to move up and pull yourself to a different level,” said Meyer. “It’s like going way back and saying, ‘The fun of it all is the opportunity that we’re provided.”