Celebrating 50 Years of Women’s Athletics at Colgate

This past Friday, Colgate University celebrated 50 years of women’s athletics. Colgate’s own nominated Trailblazers of Distinction Autumn McKenzie ‘97, Dorothy Donaldson ‘05, Dr. Merrill Miller, Thayer Lavielle ‘93, and Vicky Chun ‘91 formed an esteemed panel that was one of the many highlights of the celebratory weekend, which took place from Friday, Feb. 10 through Sunday, Feb. 12. In conjunction with Colgate Women’s Ice Hockey alumni weekend, current and former Colgate athletes gathered to watch and celebrate women’s athletics.

On Friday, after women’s hockey dispatched the top-ranked Yale Bulldogs that knocked them out of the NCAA tournament by a final score of 5-3, festivities began. The opening reception–which welcomed students, alumni, and members of the Hamilton community–was a warm get-together for all involved.

“This is such a great way for alumni to connect and network,” said Interim Vice President and Director of Athletics Yariv Amir ‘01. “You can tell they’re just excited to be back on campus.”

The weekend highlighted both the history of expanding women’s athletics at Colgate University and recent advancements that have allowed many women to join athletic spaces from which they had historically been barred.

“I’m incredibly excited to see the number of people coming back, the number of women coming back, particularly the women who really pushed Colgate athletics to be inclusive, to be equal,” remarked University President Brian W. Casey. “Everyone thinks that in 1972 Title IX came and everything happened, but it took a lot of steps. I can see women who I have known that pushed for varsity teams, pushed for a budget, to meet people who really moved the institution. It’s uplifting.”

Saturday’s recognition of the trailblazers featured a panel of speakers and represented another opportunity for those to gather and recognize growth on the front of women’s athletics. The theme: to be bold and to be brave.

One sentiment of the panel was to encourage student-athletes to find their own passion and persevere against any opposition. Former club ice hockey and lacrosse student-athlete and one of the day’s speakers, Thayer Lavielle ‘93, was one of seven women who tried and was denied participation on a specific varsity team by the University. The group would bring this fight to the courts and leverage Title IX.

“While that could be viewed as a negative, it’s really viewed in the spirit, and credit to Coach Greg, of the living history as well as part of the learning that an institution like Colgate does,” said Madeline Bayliss ‘76, one of the founding members of the Colgate women’s ice hockey team. Plastered on the walls of the locker room are photos of the legends, such as Bayliss and Lavielle, who have contributed to the team’s rich and diverse history.

Beyond the celebration, Bayliss and others hope this weekend can be a building block for the women playing right now.

“We set out to really think about this as a community,” Bayliss said. “This weekend recognizes that we gather every year as an alumni group to bring that community together. We are continuing to broaden this community with other teams as well.” 

Bayliss and many of the other alumni in attendance hope to emphasize their willingness to connect with the Colgate community. Serving as a resource for any student-athlete who feels restricted by circumstance or who wants guidance is an important factor in their relationship with Colgate. The goals of the weekend is coming together and celebrating what these women have accomplished as a result of their strength and solidarity. 

“We had the opportunity to be first at a lot of things, and if you think of how entrepreneurship has been emboldened and embraced by Colgate, in tech how things are started in garages, well this [push for women’s teams] started in a dorm room in Russell,” Bayliss added. “We worked on scheduling and putting it together. We had student coaches, but one of our student coaches was Mike Milbury. We were blessed that other students were very supportive.”

The passion and effort shown by these women in lighting the path for future generations is evident in the transformation of the athletic program into what it is now, and this drive is not something that has gone away or faded.

“I think there is a lot more to be done, but I think you just pursue it. We today have several professional players, we have Olympic players, and we have international hockey federation players. One of the things I did in the fall is run a career workshop that focused on the notion of staying in the game after Colgate. I hope they claim the skills and experiences that they have as a result of this to propel them forward in how they think about the jobs, the careers they want,” Bayliss said.

Beyond the weekend celebration, many of those in attendance look toward the future of women’s athletics.

“One of the things that first has to happen is Reid Athletic Center, which was [originally] built when we were a single-sex institution with 11 varsity teams. We are now Co-ed [with] 3,000 students and 25 varsity teams, so I think the most important next step is to have the facilities to meet the needs of the current population that has such strong women’s sports,” Casey said.

“[Athletics] contains moments of joy and they come not just because of skill but because they love what they are doing,” Bayliss said. “But I see other alumni who love being a professor, who love being involved, who love being connected to this. It defines part of who they are but that’s just it, it’s a singular part and they know that joy and they are finding that joy in other ways.”

An essential part of the weekend for alumni is coming together to reconnect with the community that has shaped the lives of many student-athletes, past or present. They relive not only the memories but that feeling of unique connection in building on what new endeavors they work toward today.