Joanie McCrystal can still recall being a lady Jasper in the late ‘70s. The women did not have a locker room — the players changed in and out of their green and white clothes in what they called a “closet.” Overall, she had a good time.
But it was not only McCrystal who reminisced about the past during last Thursday’s women’s basketball game. Liz Jensen, Trish McGrail, Rachelle Carforo and Lisa Toscano did, too — all former players of the early Jaspers teams.
These women were some of the early undergraduates to enroll in Manhattan College as it became coeducational in 1973, which was the first step toward equality on campus. That came a year after Title IX was enacted as part of the education amendments of 1972. It prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or higher education program that receives any federal education funds.
Not only did it open the door for women in admissions but for sports, teaching, vocational programs and more, it helped ensure easy access and treatment once they got in.
By 1972, about 300,000 women and girls played for college and high school sports teams in the United States. Before that, women had little to no opportunities in sports within their schools. Sports were considered recreational rather than a competition.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, women began to create informal athletic clubs such as tennis, bowling or croquet, which was especially popular in New York.
Women’s sports teams receive 2 percent of the overall athletic budget and scholarships were nonexistent at Manhattan College. The school eventually offered scholarships in the 1982-83 season.
According to Manhattan College archives, in September 1975, Kathy McCarrick, who played varsity basketball at St. Catherine’s Academy, found it curious that the college didn’t have a team. She thought, “why not?” create one.
She couldn’t do it alone. She got help from 12 other women, including Toscano to prepare a constitution for the club and petition the student government for $800 to cover uniforms, referees and equipment. They were awarded $750.
The $750 was actually a generous one; other clubs received much less. But the girls needed more, especially for a coach. The girls pitched for someone in the physical education department. Jerry Fahey, a student, volunteered.
Even though women walked the halls of Thomas or Miguel Hall and received funds for a club, there was not a lot of amenities for women athletes — like bathrooms.
Accommodating a women’s basketball team was quite the challenge. The girls would need to run to Miguel Hall — across campus — to use the bathroom during games.
“We didn’t even play in here” in Draddy gymnasium, McCrystal said. “We played in Alumni Gym.”
The 13 players were not given the same respect on the court as the men’s basketball team. They were only allowed two hours of practice per week. If the women practiced in the gym, they would need to leave if the men came.
Toscano said the team could have been wiser to fight for better facilities but they “took what they could get.” The former player is now a Kinesiology professor at Manhattan College who also taught physical education courses. She is also in the Manhattan College Athletic Hall of Fame.
Their locker room was what McCrystal- called a “closet.” To change in private, the girls had to hold up towels. Carforo said the college gave them a small room where “they allowed us to change in.”
The Manhattan College women were in awe of the Division 1 programs. They are found in large schools with big athletic budgets. When the team played away games, they admired some of the other campuses’ facilities.
“The most important thing about athletics is friendship,” said Toscano.
Despite the inequalities and hardships, the former players still had a lot of enthusiasm and enjoyed their time together. As they repeatedly said, “it was a good time.”
“While the ‘75-‘76 season had been a struggle, these women preserved and were back again the next year. There were more than 13 college games scheduled, more than twice as many women tried out for the team and Fahey returned as coach,” according to the college archives.
Within three years of its creation, Fahey coached his last game on Thursday, March 16, 1978, when the Jaspers won the Hudson Valley League Conference championship.
It was a close game as they defeated John Jay, 53-52.
McCrystal still has the uniform — including her sneakers, which took Carforo aback. “Even your sneakers?”
After that season, Manhattan College women’s basketball became a varsity sport in the fall of 1978.
The game was stressful for the girls.
A freshman, Mundy suffered an ankle injury but came back to score and was the MVP of the championship game. Toscano scored the winning basket with only 30 seconds on the clock.
Ironically during last Thursday’s game, the Jaspers took a similar route to its 53-46 win over Fairfield University in Draddy Gymnasium.
Dee Dee Davis scored the first five points of the quarter with a total of 11 for the game. The leading scorer was Bella Nascimento with 14 points. The head coach, Heather Vulin, put Petra Juric back in the lineup.
Juric, a sophomore and computer science major from Croatia, appeared in 24 games.
“It’s a small country and it’s not so much developed — college basketball is not really a thing,” she said after the game. “I would definitely say basketball is way more appreciated here than it is back home.”
Her experience as a Jasper is thanks to Title IX.
Bronx borough president Vanessa Gibson celebrated its 50th anniversary with students, faculty, current and former student-athletes — some wearing emerald green. She also gave the Jaspers a proclamation during half time.
This also comes at National Girls & Women in Sports Day, which led the girls to hang up their green and white uniforms for pink.
Gibson spoke with the student-athletes before the game about why Title IX was created and its importance on the future of sports.
She continued to explain that the amendment was a game changer — literally — because it redefined roles that were not designed for women. It was important, especially in spaces where people would have never thought women would be.
However, sports scholars say there is a long way to go in women’s sports. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, before Title IX, one in 27 women played sports and in 2016, that number changed to two in five, more so for women of color.
The foundation says 17 percent of college athletic directors are women. Yet, only 1.7 percent of them are women of color. Same too, for women coaches.
While 42.5 percent are women, only 4 percent are women of color.
Interestingly enough, men of color achieve the same opportunities as those not of color.
At the same time, some individuals are not aware of Title IX and the change it has had on women’s sports. And some are unaware that slight inequalities still exist.
Juric feels that not enough people have the chance to hear about Title IX and its impact on women’s sports. She said to The Press if Title IX was on social media such as Instagram or Twitter people would have the chance to read up and educate themselves.
“I just want to encourage all of you students at Manhattan College to not only make a difference but set the tone, set the agenda and set the bar even higher and higher and higher,” Gibson said to the players.
Would the women in 1978 be where they are today if they did not struggle through playing two hours of practice or hope they didn’t get thirsty or drink too much Gatorade in hopes of not having to use the bathroom?