A Team Sport for Young Women in the Era of Title IX
In the fall of 1971, the girls of St. Genevieve/Gibbons Hall took sticks in their hands, strode onto the school’s playing field, and began to learn a sport long familiar to Northern girls but alien to the South. The sport was field hockey, a game that stretched the athletic offerings for women in a time just preceding the ground-breaking legislation that generated Title IX and equal opportunity in education for girls.
Coach Joyce S. McKeever worked for years to bring the sport to St. Genevieve. After playing field hockey in high school and college in Pennsylvania and qualifying for the 1960 US Olympics team, she never lost her love for the game. “The girls last year  learned this game for the first time, and I feel that each of them is enthusiastic about it,” she told the Asheville Citizen-Times in 1971.
Almost anybody can play at least one of the positions, according to Mrs. McKeever. If a girl doesn’t like to run, she can be a goalie or a fullback. There is no body contact in the game, and instead of a rough and tumble fight for the ball, success depends on skill and timing. “It’s a case of each girl performing on her own and learning control of her body, which makes it a graceful sport and a ladylike sport,” she said.
Mrs. McKeever remembers securing equipment in the early days. “We had nothing, so I contacted the convent school, Merion Mercy Academy, in Merion, PA, and they helped me with some used hockey sticks and the name of the supplier for gym suits. The school bought some sticks and so did the parents; parents purchased gym suits. Everyone was so excited and that made field hockey a success.” Four decades later in 2013, the enthusiasm remains with her, as she notes, “On a fall day the smell of leaves carries me back to making the trip from gym to field 7 times a day.”
As Title IX was enacted as part of the Education Amendments of 1972, competitive sports for young women became more prominent across America. Field hockey grew steadily in popularity among the girls of SG/GH. Throughout SG/GH history, field hockey was a beloved sport among the girls, many of whom joined their high school teams; several even continued to play hockey in college and became coaches themselves. The emphasis on sportsmanship and athletic skills taught the athletes the essential quality of fair play in competition.
Beth Thomason coached girls’ athletics from 1973-75, introducing a competitive basketball program and continuing field hockey.“The girls had learned a great deal about field hockey from my predecessor, so they taught me, for I had never played hockey. Their skills were excellent; as eighth and ninth graders, they defeated older, more experienced teams, losing only one game in two seasons.”
Dr. Nancy Indriso, who coached the teams from 1975-79, observes, “Field hockey was the favorite sport of the girls, and they preferred it to any other sport. My main focus was to improve their skill level, to upgrade equipment, and to make them even more competitive.”
From 1980-86, Peggy Morgan Partin SG/GH ’73 coached the school’s hockey teams to consistent winning seasons. “The girls were hard workers. The parents were supportive as well. It was fun coaching at the school where I had once played.” She coached the Asheville High team – composed of many of her former St. Gen players – in 1987, again achieving a winning season.
Rita Babraitis, assisted by Karla Jacobson, coached the team to an undefeated season in the fall of 1986, the last academic year of St. Genevieve/Gibbons Hall. Karla recalls, “I drove the old short bus to games at Ben Lippen and Country Day. And I remember one game during which it poured down rain, but the girls were winning and they hardly even noticed - they just played gloriously that day, mud and all. Shelia Grimes was the goalie and her sister, Preston, was pushing hard. Allison Shivers, Margaret Squires, and Margaret Salisbury were little tornadoes of activity and energy.”
Because of its significant role in the athletic training at St. Genevieve, field hockey was added to the athletic program at Asheville School when girls were first admitted in 1971. Many of the new coeds at the former all-male school were alumnae of St. Genevieve; assistant SGP coach Margaret Walton moved with them to Asheville School. For graduates of SG/GH who later attended public schools that had no hockey programs at that time, Coach Indriso organized a club team that proved to be very competitive, playing Asheville School and other teams.
In 1982, a contingent of SG/GH graduates planning to attend Asheville High School petitioned the Asheville City Board of Education to institute field hockey as a sport. The determined 15-year-old girls prevailed over the opposition of the football coach to insist that they have an opportunity to play the fall sport. Asheville High remains the only public school in western North Carolina offering field hockey.
In 2013, thirty-three North Carolina high schools – 17 public and 16 independent – offer field hockey as a team sport for young women.