Becky Sisley

Becky Sisley is a well-known name in the Oregon community. As the university's first Women's Athletic Director, she advocated for women's athletic programs and helped oversee the implementation of Title IX.

What was the landscape of women’s athletics like before the passage of Title IX?

I’d like to provide a little historical background to set the stage for the changes to be brought about because of the passage of Title IX. So this was 1929. The women’s division of the National Athletic Federation went on record as being opposed to the participation of women in the 1932 Olympics, stating “Whereas competition and the Olympic games would, among other things: one, entail the specialized training of a few; two offer opportunities for the exploitation of girls and women, and; three, offer the opportunity for possible overstrain in preparation for and during the games. Be it resolved that the women’s division of the National Athletic Federation go on record as disapproving the competition for girls and women in the Olympics.” 

In the 1932 Olympics, I know women did compete in the 800 dash, but a number of them fell at the finish line. They knew nothing about training or pacing; that’s having had the experience and someone working with you.

When I first came to Oregon, I took Bill Bowerman’s jog, run class, and I learned about pacing. And then, later on, I taught, jog, run, and training for your first 5k as a part of my assignments. 

Now the governance of women’s athletics at that time in the 1930s was within a professional organization, the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation. In that organization, there was a division for girls’ and women’s sports. So as women, physical educators were deciding what was appropriate, and they made standards for competition. And at that time, they had play days. You know what a play day is, you go to one place, like when I was in high school, you go to one school and all the eight schools in Seattle came, and then you mix up the teams because it wasn’t good to be a team competing against another team.

And then gradually they got sports days. A sports day is when you compete as your unit. And when I was in college at Washington, they chose the Washington sports day team from the top intramural teams. You got two players each, and we practiced once. And then we went to a sports day. Then you played against other schools, but you had no real practice. You didn’t have a coach. It was altogether different at that time. It was nothing like what was going to happen with Title IX.

Now the early stand on scholarships, in this division for girls and women’s sports, “Does not approve of awarding scholarships, financial awards, or giving financial aid designated for women to participants in intercollegiate competition.” The whole philosophy was different, and it wasn’t like the NCAA, this huge men’s athletic intercollegiate athletic association. 

How did the movement for gender equality lead to Title IX?

It has been said that the words that created Title IX were “Too strong for a woman.” A woman wanted to get this job, and she was denied it, and she followed through and created things with equal opportunity. And finally, it came all the way through, but it took five years. This is Bernice Sandler, who got her doctorate on the east coast and wanted to get hired there, and they didn’t hire her because she had children. She faced a lot of discrimination. 

When the law was actually passed, it wasn’t clarified what it meant. There were those amendments that tried to change the focus of Title IX and tried to take out intercollegiate athletics or tried to take the sports that were like revenue-producing or sports that had unique interests, but those amendments did not pass. Even though the law was passed in 1972, it wasn’t until 1975. When the Office of Education and Welfare published this specific’s interpretation of what it meant. That’s when they came out with a shopping list and the start of compliance and what it meant and what you had to do to compare. Institutions in 1975 were required to do a compliance review of the entire university like, what are the admissions requirements in the college of journalism? What about the dorms? What about the locks? Were the locks on the doors different for men’s dorms and women’s dorms? Were there any differences?

So it was very broad. It wasn’t just athletics, but of the 80 recommendations, 43 of them were about athletics. Now. Isn’t that pretty outstanding? That means there were a lot of problems, and the university was required to comply and go through all the things of what I call the shopping list of what you had to compare to see if they were equal. There were a lot of things, you know, like coach-athlete, ratio. I coached softball, and we had two teams, and I also coached field hockey at the same. And then, in 1973, I’d been named the women’s athletic director. So I was also the women’s athletic director, the coach of two field hockey teams, the coach of two softball teams. So the ratio of what I was to all my athletes was pretty small. One to 50 something, and compared to basketball for men, they might’ve had a head coach and two assistants, three full-time people. 

They also had practice schedules and how you traveled. One spring, we were going to Washington, and the men were flying, and we were driving well, that got brought up. And when we went to a co-ed track meets at WSU, the women weren’t allowed to warm up properly and practice like the men. And we had a woman on the team who qualified for the Olympics, but they were canceled in 1980, so she didn’t get to go. Those were kinds of treatments and things that were different, like how much they got per diem to eat. 

So, it wasn’t really until 1979 that the Department of Health Education and Welfare issued the final policy and interpretation for intercollegiate athletics.

Can you tell us an experience as Women’s Athletic Director where you helped enact change?

This might have been around 1978, and the president saw me in the hallway and asked me how things were going. And I said, “Not too good.” I took them on a tour. At that point, we were very far ahead of other institutions regarding athletic training because we had a professional athletic training program with lots of graduate students—well-respected across the nation. Starting in 1974, we had a part-time GTF, and one-third of her assignment was to be an athletic trainer. And within the next couple of years, we added two more part-time GTF athletic trainers. So this training area was partitioned off in a part of the shower room for the PE majors. So in order to get to that area, these trainers had to go through the PE major’s locker room. They had to knock on the door and say, “Man coming through!” and they had a rolling blackboard where they could partition it off. So one of the things I did was when I took the president on the tour, I took him to see that training area. The next day we got a memo that they were building an outside door so you could get into the training room from the walkway. That [tour] brought some action.

How did softball evolve at the University or Oregon because of Title IX?

So I remember that in the fall of 1978, it was starting to rain a lot. You know what that means? Tough for construction. So, I went in and complained, “What’s happening about the softball field? Baseball’s got a place to play.” 

I’m going to get the background of where softball played because I was coaching all the time. At first, we played on Gerlinger Field; it was a soccer field. The problem is there’s no right field; it’s up in the cemetery. So we had ground rules above the road and by this side of a tree towards the foul line was a triple, above the road was a home run and on the road itself was a double. 

So, we moved to the library field, which borders the cemetery. So we, we played there and, when the ball would go into the cemetery, and we had people walking down from where they parked their cars or from the music school or college of education, we’re walking out, and we yelled, “help! help!” “Go get the ball; you saw where it went.” And one time, it was a governor!

Then we got to play at Amazon field, which is a city park, and so that’s where we were playing in the mid-to-late 1970s. 

I went in and had a meeting with the vice-president and an athletic administrator who was on sabbatical leave from another school. He was checking how Oregon was running things. He was assigned the project to oversee it. So that was really helpful. But I remember this meeting because the vice president said, “Oh, you don’t need backs on your benches. You don’t need a drinking fountain. I play baseball. I didn’t have that.” And, I said, “Well, I played on a world championship softball team, and we need a back on our bench. We need a drinking fountain. We need all this.” It was ridiculous. But then the next day, I got a memo, and it said all these things were going to happen. So that was one of the main things that I fought for, and I’m proud of fighting to get the softball field we needed.

Thinking about how you fought for the softball field and now seeing the Jane Sanders Stadium, do you have any emotions or thoughts about that?  

Well, it’s wonderful! I gave a lot of money and raised a lot of money cause I did a matching grant. You know, you pay $50,000, I’ll pay $50,000. I put in over $268,000 for that field. And, it’s a great field. So I’m really proud of that and what the university did to create that wonderful facility. 

Who were your role models?

My role models were the physical educators that I had at the University of Washington when I was in college. Then I went to the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Which was a woman’s college, then run by women, and they were excellent leaders. And then, I got a job at Wisconsin, and they were one of the outstanding physical education departments for women in the country. So, those people and my drive to do well, be myself and do what I thought was right. That made me who I was. 

Is there anything else you want to mention about your experience with Title IX or as the Women’s Athletic Director? 

I think I served as an example of an ethical and competent administrator. I represented the university well and various regional and national organizations in leadership positions that I held, and I fought for Title IX. I’m proud that I got what our students needed. I think everything’s going really quite well. We’ve got good administrators. They are paying attention to Title IX compliance, and I just think that we’re in pretty good shape. I’m proud of that, and I’m proud of our university and what’s happened, and where we are.