Creating opportunities to celebrate 50 years of women’s athletics at Millikin University has not been easy.
Frustratingly, the pandemic shut down the exciting year of activities we had planned to celebrate this momentous occasion in 2020-21. Disappointed as we may be, we can’t help but note that it seems a little fitting, since the start of women’s athletics more than 50 years ago wasn’t easy, either.
Participating in intercollegiate athletics, often referred to around Millikin as “wearing the blue,” is a privilege reserved for individuals willing to do absolutely anything to represent the University and the Big Blue family. Wearing the blue takes commitment, selflessness and sacrifice. Before 1970, the privilege of participating in intercollegiate athletics at Millikin University was afforded only to men. Women were expected to be satisfied by physical education classes and intramurals ... but we were not.
Thankfully, Harriett Crannell, physical education professor and advisor to the Women’s Athletics Association (WAA), stood up, spoke out and persisted in taking up the cause for women’s athletics, refusing to accept “no” as the final answer.
Coach Crannell blazed a Big Blue trail at Millikin for women who wanted to compete, forged the path beyond intramurals and WAA play days and helped light the path as women journeyed toward equity in intercollegiate athletics. In the early years, women’s teams wore hand-me-down football jerseys discarded by the freshmen football team, often drove their own vehicles to away competitions and packed their own food for pre- or post-game meals.
Coach Crannell was a visionary and leader not only at Millikin, but also in collegiate athletics at the national level (first the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, then the NCAA). Coach Crannell played a key role in leading toward the recognition of women’s Athletics in the NCAA (1981) and eventually at the CCIW conference level (1986).
In 2021-22, we will finally be privileged to celebrate the inception of women’s intercollegiate athletics at Millikin University, a year late, and likely through a hybrid of in-person and virtual celebrations. Nonetheless, we will have an amazing celebration and we will share smiles, tears and gratitude for the women who have worn the blue for the past 50 years; their family and friends who sacrificed to make it possible; and the coaches, administrators and faculty who believed that women deserved the privilege of wearing the blue.
As we celebrate these first 50 years, it is important that we continue to stand up, speak out and advocate for equitable opportunities. Let’s reflect upon those who have made our journey possible: coaches, faculty, administrators, family, roommates and friends. I will forever be grateful for my coach, academic advisor and mentor Harriett Crannell, who inspired opportunity and equity, and for the incredible significance of women wearing the blue.
Save the date: Women in Athletics Celebration Weekend, May 13-15, 2022