The Weekend Celebration of Hartford Women’s Basketball…and Title IX.
University of Hartford associate athletic director Jim Keener was one for two Friday night at the Farmington Marriott. “Pat’s definitely going to be surprised”, he said, heading into the banquet room where the Hawks women’s basketball season was about to be previewed, “But you know how she hates this sort of thing. I’ll probably be fired.” He was right, his boss, Hartford athletic director Pat Meiser, was surprised. He was wrong, he didn’t lose his job. The sort of thing Jim referred to, that Pat hates, is being the center of attention. But this was a night 40 years in the making. Any celebration of women’s basketball, of any women’s sport, or of any advancement of women’s rights for that matter, is a celebration of Title IX, and this year Title IX turns 40, having been signed into legislation in 1972. As Pat Meiser has said many times herself, “I lived Title IX.” She not only lived it, she pioneered it. Pat began her coaching career as the head women’s basketball coach at Penn State two years after Title IX was legislated. That year she gave out the first women’s basketball scholarship in Penn State history, to a Pennsylvania farm girl named Mag Strittmatter, who would go on to set a Penn State women’s basketball career record that still stands, averaging 10.3 rebounds per game. It was a piecemeal sort of scholarship that didn’t become a full ride until Stritmatter’s junior year, but it was a major milestone in women’s athletics. Behind Strittmatter, Meiser’s Lady Lions worked their way into the national polls. In year two Meiser convinced the AIAW, the governing body for women’s athletics before their entry into the NCAA, to hold the women’s basketball national tournament at Penn State. It was with Strittmatter where the surprises began for Pat Meiser Friday night, when her former star, now the director of a non profit in Denver that works with underpriveleged people, entered the room, the final steps of a 2,000 mile journey, to help honor the coach with whom she is linked in women’s athletic history. In her 20th year at Hartford Pat is one on fewer than 30 female division one athletic directors. She had a speech prepared, to introduce her women’s basketball coach, Jen Rizzotti, but she wasn’t prepared for this. Rizzotti is one building block in the foundation Pat Meiser helped build to provide equal footing for female athletes at every level of the NCAA, the coach who originally turned down Meiser’s offer to become the head coach of the Hartford Hawks. Meiser conned her into the job by offering it only on an interim basis. After watching Rizzotti conduct one practice she knew she had her permanent coach. Fourteen years later Rizzotti has created one of the most consistent, most formidable mid major programs in the nation. 40 years later Pat Meiser’s legacy grows every day. Friday night in Farmington that legacy was celebrated, much to her surprise. The surprise would have been if her legacy, as important as it is, wasn’t celebrated. Pat Meiser didn’t just live Title IX, she is everything Title IX represents to every girl growing up in America today who has opportunities that didn’t exist for Meiser when she was their age. It’s the most important footprint we can leave on the earth, to make life better for others than it was for us. Pat Meiser will leave a very important footprint. With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.