The Catholic University of America

 

Jone Dowd Recalls Nearly 50 Years of CUA Women’s Athletics

 
  Jone Dowd, far right, with her 1973-1974 tennis team.
 

In 1961, at the age of 22, Jone Dowd became the first women’s sports administrator at Catholic University. Initially she coached any extramural sport women were interested in playing. Dowd remained at the University until she retired in 2008 after 47 years. In the cover story for the spring issue of The Catholic University of America Magazine, Dowd spoke about the passage of Title IX and how that legislation changed opportunities for women. In this Q-and-A, Dowd elaborates on her own athletic experiences and how things changed for female athletes during her time at the University.

How did you develop an interest in sports and physical education?

I danced all my life. When I graduated from high school, I wanted to go to New York and pursue a career in theater, specifically in dance. My mother said, “You either go to college and I’ll pay for it, or you can go to New York (I grew up in Connecticut) and try your hand at the theater and you’re on your own.” So I went to Southern Connecticut State University. The school didn’t have a dance major but it had a physical education major that included dance. That’s how I got my degree in physical education. I joined the gymnastics team, which included a lot of dance.

What were the athletic opportunities like for women’s sports when you were growing up?

There were never organized sports opportunities for women as we have now [when I was growing up]. I started taking ballet lessons at the age of 8 in Germany. When I came to the United States, my training continued throughout high school. I was a fanatic. I thought every little girl should take ballet lessons. I had four children. All my daughters danced and because of my husband (Martin Dowd, men’s tennis coach at CUA), they all played tennis. I even had my son in ballet class. I told him it was going to help his tennis.

When you were in college, what were the athletic opportunities for women?

Being a physical education major, there were opportunities to play intramural sports like volleyball, field hockey, and basketball. Being in gymnastics, I didn’t have much of a chance to play other sports because gymnastics lasts the entire year. The only other activity I did was cheerleading and that was because of my involvement in gymnastics.

When you first got to CUA, what were women’s sports like?

There was a lot of athletic competition among the sororities. We [the athletics department] organized intramural competition for women among the sororities. That was the nucleus of the intramural activities for women.

How did you coach a sport you didn’t play or weren’t as familiar with?

When you’re a physical education major, you have to be proficient in teaching any sport. I had a basic understanding of every sport, but no experience in coaching. When you get talented athletes and you’re competing at a rather basic level, you just sort of organize the logistics of getting the athletes there and setting the schedule for them. Once they’re on the court, they’re on their own. I told the athletic director I’d organize but I needed someone who had a deeper understanding of the sport to coach these women. We hired part-time coaches. One time, there was a very skilled basketball player who was a student, Rosemary Mahoney, who coached the team. We had some very talented swimmers who were student coaches. I had a little more understanding in tennis and I learned a great deal from my husband. I ended up coaching women’s tennis for 34 years.

As a female athletic administrator, what was your biggest challenge?

For a while, I was very disappointed in the interest that women expressed in participating in sports. When Title IX came into effect, we offered scholarships for participating in sports. We tried to recruit women to come play. It was a long time coming until women began taking advantage of that. Obviously now, in Division III, nobody gets athletic scholarships. The focus then was for us just to field teams. In the 1980s, it started to turn around. I think it started when high school programs offered more athletic programs and that was because of Title IX. The women athletes came to college with more experience in athletics.

What is your proudest moment at CUA?

There were so many. One highlight is that we now have a very respectable athletic program for women and we have participation from women who are not “paid to play.” It’s remarkable to me. I feel very happy about that, that the opportunities are there and the women are taking advantage. I think it has a lot to do with culture, which has changed to the point that participating in athletics is good, fun, and rewarding.

Do you think the women growing up today take for granted the opportunity to play sports? Do they know what a struggle it was for women to play sports, even after the passage of Title IX?

They have no idea. Even after Title IX, it was a struggle because no matter what the law said, there was still an institutional decision on how to treat women’s sports. Until women started really making the commitment and proving themselves as capable and committed athletes, it was never going to change. The difference now is women are making that type of commitment. For them it’s important to be an athlete.