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John’s Journal: Honoring The Pioneers Of Title IX At Win-E-Mac

Win-E-Mac Holds Ceremony For Female Athletes From The Early 1970s

Posted: Monday, October 3, 2022 - 5:59 PM


Female athletic pioneers from the early 1970s were honored prior to a volleyball match at Win-E-Mac.

ERSKINE – The crowd cheered as the athletes were introduced. One by one, their names were announced inside the gym at Win-E-Mac in this northwest Minnesota community, and the cheers resounded as the athletes shared high-fives and hugs with each other.

Mary Strom Schmidt, Denise Johnson St. Michel, Ilene Kiecker Reierson, Julie Bergman Kees, Amy Schimanski Renier, Deanna Haagenson, Nancy Bensen Tradewell, Nola Johnson Hanson, Pam Aanenson, Lori Osland Hole, Ruth Thompson Vetter, Naomi Thompson Hillgartner, Deb Johnson Carey, Beth Strom Fortin, Darlene Johnson Dierkes, Mary Nornes Espeseth, Tami Youmans Ose. And coach Nancy Andree.

The fact that these were not current athletes did not quiet the cheers one bit. These were pioneers, the first female athletes to represent their schools when Title IX opened the door to athletic equality for females in 1972. Back then, these athletes competed for McIntosh-Winger and Erskine schools. Now, as the 50th anniversary of Title IX is marked, they were stars once more at their modern, merged school.

They were honored during a sweet ceremony prior to a varsity volleyball match on Thursday, with the Fosston Greyhounds taking the short ride west on U.S. Highway 2 to meet the Win-E-Mac Patriots. Fosston came away with a 3-0 sweep, but everyone cheering for either team would agree that the best moment of the night came before the first serve was served.

As the 19 women gathered at one end of the gym, members of both current teams – teenage girls who know little of the 1970s – went down the line, congratulating each of the pioneers with a double high-five. And the smiles were bright on both ends of those connections.

“It was just really neat to be a part of it,” Fosston coach Sarah Dryburgh said. “It was a very special night. It was neat to see these pioneer women and how excited they still were, giving each other high fives. For us to be a part of that, I think it was very special for our girls.”

The event was organized by Win-E-Mac activities director Brady Langemo, with lots of help from folks in the community who helped get word to the athletes from the 1970s. One of those who helped connect Langemo to the women was Pam Aanenson, who now lives in Tennessee. Pam had already visited McIntosh earlier in the summer and didn’t plan on attending Thursday’s event. Her plans changed when she started receiving messages from former teammates and friends on Wednesday evening, asking her to be there. She drove 20 hours and she was there.

The women who were honored played volleyball and basketball at their schools (Andree was the first volleyball coach at Erskine).

Times were different then. Today, things like uniforms, schedules and facilities are the same for girls and boys. Back in those early days, the old boys club didn’t want to share gym space or time or attention with girls. Back then, finding basics like uniforms and transportation for girls was a hurdle. Thank goodness those days are ancient history. And there’s really not much wrong if today’s athletes don’t know a lot of those details.

“They honestly had no idea what Title IX was when we first brought it up,” said Win-E-Mac volleyball coach Tanya Hamre. “So we started to explain it to them and they're like, ‘So it's a pretty big deal.’ And my mom was one of the first ones, too. It's pretty cool for them to know the people who first started this.”

Dryburgh said, “Our team talked a little bit about perspective this week; you know, kind of seeing the big picture and not getting so caught up in the now. And (Thursday’s event) just went so well with what we've been talking about. For us to be a part of that, I think it was very special for our girls. And I think they'll be able to really take something away from that and just kind of tie it all together.

“I even think about when I played in high school 25-30 years ago, how much it's changed and how much more competitive it is. These girls train harder and the game has been lifted and become more competitive. You see that history and how much they get to reap those benefits. I think it was really neat for them to kind of have a little bit of that background tonight.”

--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected] 

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