It would probably be appropriate to describe the early days of women’s athletics at Texas A&M University as a “do it yourself” program. According to Mickey Stratton, who coached the first female gymnasts in 1970 and 1971, equipment was a major issue. There were no uneven bars for women, so he took a set of men’s parallel bars and rebuilt them for use by women. Other equipment was either borrowed or purchased from manufacturers after the competitions. Equipping the other teams was also a challenge. Things like hitting machines and other equipment to help with practices weren’t available for several years.
Finding uniforms for the competition was a problem. There was no budget for athletics, and A&M bookstore funds were limited. In the first year, women made numbers out of duct tape for the backs of their physical education uniforms for competition and used their own clothes for practice. Another example of the “do-it-yourself” aspects of the program include Coach Holley’s skills as a seamstress; in addition to coaching golf, she made uniforms for the golf team until 1985.
Most student-athletes provided some of their own training equipment and materials. For example, swimmers bought their own goggles. Kelly Krauskopf, who played basketball from 1980 to 1983, recalls their travel bags being so worn out that they needed duct tape to hold them together. The team was embarrassed and decided to go shopping to buy their own bags. Blue was the only color available in the quantity needed, but they bought them anyway so they all had the same bag.
The beginnings of many sports meant finding places to practice and compete, both on campus and in the Bryan/College Station area.
Softball was played at Travis Park in Bryan, Bee Creek Park in College Station, and the Penberthy Intramural Complex on campus until the Aggie Softball Complex was completed in 1996. The Central Park Softball Complex, Bee Creek and Penberthy were all used for tournament play.
Deware Field House hosted volleyball practices and competitions. Coaches and players removed archery goals used by physical education classes and set up nets before every practice and game. Fans were recruited to record scores on a blackboard until flipping scorecards became available.
All track practice and competition took place at Kyle Field, while practice and competition for field events took place where the Clayton Williams Center now exists.
Football games and practices were held near the polo field at the front of campus, an area affectionately known as “Fire Ant Hill”. Simpson Drill Field has served as the host site for many football tournaments.
Gymnastics also shared its space with physical education classes and at one point held a state meet at Bryan High School.
Training areas at the G. Rollie White Coliseum were sparse. The third-floor gymnasium and “sweat box” were frequently used by basketball and volleyball.
Travel presented its own set of problems. In the early years, athletes traveled in their own car or in that of their parents. These same parents frequently paid for gasoline. Accommodation for out-of-town competitions was often provided by relatives, friends, or a combination of both. Sleeping bags and pillows were as important travel items as shoes, uniforms, and other gear. Athletes provided or purchased their own food on the road. Later the money was provided at a rather low rate. A former athlete recounted receiving $2 for food at a 7-11 store.
One of the first major donations to the University was two passenger vans donated by Jocko and Go Go Roberts in 1985. These were a great help for team travel and were mainly used by the basketball and volleyball. Coaches and trainers were the drivers, which meant long days and nights for the staff. Vans were a primary form of transportation until the basketball team crashed into an icy road en route to Dallas in February 1987. After this incident, the athletic department was more aware of such dangers of travel and launched a charter. travel by bus and commercial plane at a much more frequent pace for the teams.
The treatment and rehabilitation of sports injuries began in the days of volleyball coach Laura Kitzmiller (Kitz). She and Billy Pickard arranged for the women to use the small Cain Hall training facility at designated times. During this time, Kitz demonstrated to a student, Jen Nixon, the skills necessary to become a sports coach. As soon as Jen completed basic first aid and emergency care and transportation, she was cleared to travel with some of the teams.
Attracting fans was difficult. For many years, women’s basketball games were played right before men’s games. The number of people in the stands would increase as the men’s game approaches. At halftime, the crowd would be large enough to cheer on the women. Cindy Gough recalls the Jan. 23, 1978, game against Texas, which preceded the G. Rollie White men’s game. As the crowd grew in number, the intensity of the game also increased. The Aggies won that game. It was a huge win as Texas won its next 183 games against Southwestern Conference opponents, including every conference game and a national championship. Aggie’s next victory over Texas wouldn’t come until January 20, 1992, in Austin.
Tickets were not sold to women’s sporting events until 1984-85. Lynn Hickey, who was a basketball coach at the time, remembers setting up the ticketing operation before the game, then picking up the ticket box and putting it in the trunk from her car after the competition until she returns to work the next morning. She also recounted an incident during a volleyball game that year when special assistance was requested from outside the stands. A&M was playing at the University of Texas, and the students lined up from the front of G. Rollie White to Rudder Tower across the street. Hickey, who was also assistant sports director for women, went to the stands to ask Wally Groff and John David Crow for keys to open two more wickets. Not only did the gentlemen help with the keys, but they also manned the ticket offices and greeted the crowd at the competition. From then on, ticketing and administration meet the management of events and the needs of women’s sports competitions.
While there have been tough times and women’s athletics had to prove itself and its worth, none of these issues were truly deterrents or barriers to female athletes wanting to compete and represent Texas A&M Athletics. As Bernie Ponzio, who played on the first softball and volleyball teams, said, “We played for the love of the sport. It brought us closer to each other. The conditions didn’t matter.