Though she’s certainly been known to watch college basketball, Rachel Epp Buller ’96, associate professor of visual art and design, would not describe herself as a sports fanatic.
As she was putting together “Root for the Home Team,” the special exhibit currently at Kauffman Museum (see pages 30-31), Epp Buller says she was asked, “more than once: ‘Why are you doing this?’”
The clue comes in the exhibit’s subtitle: “Building Community Through Sports.”
Epp Buller is in her fourth year teaching at Bethel full time and also being a Liberal Education Adviser, a professor who each fall leads one section of First-Year Seminar.
Part of the curriculum for this class, required of all first-time freshmen, is to read common texts, one of which, for the past several years, has been Warren St. John’s Outcasts United.
“Outcasts United is about using soccer and the lessons of teamwork to help each other overcome obstacles and hardship,” Epp Buller told the audience at the official opening of “Root for the Home Team,” Sept. 10.
And that ties right into a goal of First-Year Seminar, to help with the sometimes difficult transition from high school to college.
Sports can play an important role in that transition. “Upwards of 70 to 75 percent of first-year students are athletes,” Epp Buller says. “Maybe the first community they encounter on campus is their team.”
Then in 2014 came a call for grant proposals to the Kansas Humanities Council (KHC).
Kansas had been chosen to host the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibit “Hometown Teams” in 2015. So the KHC invited proposals from groups and organizations for ways to tie their communities to the exhibit’s presence in the state.
Epp Buller’s successful proposal made Bethel the only college to join 16 libraries, museums and historical societies in the initiative. However, Kauffman Museum was an essential piece, not least for hosting and fabricating “Root for the Home Team: Building Community Through Sports,” the exhibit that remains on display through June 5, 2016.
This fall, in addition to reading Outcasts United, First-Year Seminar groups visited “Root for the Home Team,” and the students were asked to attend a number of special convocations made possible by the KHC grant.
Why sports matter
Ben Chappell ’93, associate professor of American studies at the University of Kansas, gave the first of these special convocations.
“To say ‘Sports build community’ is almost a truism,” Chappell said. “But why?
“Look at the word in Spanish, comunidad. Comun means what people have in common. Unidad is unity, a commitment to act on shared values and priorities.
“Softball encourages people to form, and rewards them for forming, a team and working toward a shared goal. So yes, sports build community.”
Softball brought Mexican Americans in Newton together. It also connected Mexican-American communities in a corridor that ran from Kansas City through Oklahoma deep into Texas—communities who shared common experiences of both de facto and overt stereotyping and segregation in the 1940s, when the fast-pitch tournaments got started.
“Throughout the 20th century, Mexican Americans and other people of color worked against stereotyping by developing their own institutions, organizations and sometimes sports teams,” Chappell said.
Changing the landscape of women’s athletics
Another in the series of special convocations featured a panel to show a different face of Title IX than what most traditional-age college students today assume.
Allison McFarland, professor of business as well as Title IX compliance officer, served as panel moderator. She noted that though most college students in 2015 hear “Title IX” and think that sexual harassment or sexual violence on campus is at issue, in fact “athletics still receives more than three times the complaints.”
Title IX is a part of federal law, enacted in 1972, that states that, on the basis of gender, no one can “be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
Before Title IX, McFarland said, one out of every 27 girls in the United States participated in organized, competitive sports. After Title IX, it became one out of every 2.5.
Doug Penner ’69, Topeka, taught psychology, served as president and, from 1976-80, coached women’s basketball at Bethel.
When he was growing up in Reedley, California, in the ’60s, Penner said, girls could compete only in swimming or tennis. Boys had almost unlimited athletic opportunities.
“Title IX dramatically changed the image and social identity of women in this country,” Penner said. “[I saw] the door opened a bit for the young women I coached—more for their daughters and now their granddaughters.”
Valerie (Loganbill) Klaassen ’78, Whitewater, was one of Penner’s team members.
Klaassen compared her experience with that of her daughter Sarah.
“Sarah dreamed of playing [NCAA] Division I basketball,” Klaassen said. “She could start playing in the third grade. I had three recruiting calls. She had many calls, letters and coaches coming to watch her games.”
Klaassen first began playing basketball as a junior high school girl in the late ’60s. But when she got to high school at Moundridge, intramurals were the only option.
So she became part of a group of girls who “agitated for a girls’ high school basketball team.”
The first school board vote on the matter failed, but there was a second, and the motion passed.
“We got to practice and play in a small, tile-floor, elementary gym six miles away,” Klaassen said. “We compiled a winning record and we took second at state in 1974.”
Lorene (Dick) Goering ’62, Santa Fe, New Mexico, came to Bethel in 1958 from Oklahoma, where girls were playing high school basketball decades before Title IX (her mother did, in fact). Goering set a scoring record for a four-game tournament that stands to this day, and perfected a jump shot when girls weren’t making that move.
However, at college in Kansas, there were no opportunities to play. “The physical education teacher, Mildred Beecher ’28, helped us put together a club team,” Goering said. “We were good—we won everything.”
Lisa (Habegger) Loganbill ’81, Hesston, played volleyball and basketball and ran track at Hesston High School. At Bethel, she started out in all three but eventually had to drop track due to time constraints.
With twin slides up on the Krehbiel Auditorium screen, of herself (in 1976) and her daughter (in 2015) playing volleyball at Hesston, Loganbill pulled out a gym bag.
“This is how women’s athletics has changed in my lifetime,” Loganbill said. “I’m the mother of a daughter who’s a two-sport athlete at the same high school I attended three-plus decades ago. Here are all the items Mia brought home for uniform check-out for varsity volleyball.”
Loganbill proceeded to pile sweat pants, a sweat top, a ¼-zip jacket, a team T-shirt, a pair of shorts, five uniform tops and a pair of volleyball court shoes on the table.
“Compare that to me. I’m wearing it—that was my uniform for volleyball, basketball and track. One pair of uniform shorts, one uniform top, a pair of stirrup socks. I had one pair of Chuck Taylors—that I sometimes got to switch for track spikes.”
Speaking with audible emotion, Loganbill said, “Title IX ushered in the age of more—so my daughter and her peers can experience so much more than we did as their mothers and grandmothers.”
Diane (Sanders) Flickner, Newton, played basketball and softball at Fort Hays State University. At Bethel, she taught health and physical education, coached volleyball and, for 21 years, served as athletic director, 1990-2011.
She noted that her own “first love was baseball” but growing up in Salina in the 1960s, she wasn’t allowed to play. “It was unfair, discriminatory and perfectly legal.”
As a girl, Flickner said, “I watched my brothers play Little League. I was as good as any boy, but Little League had ‘the Tubby Rule’: No girls allowed.”
Only as a 16-year-old did Flickner get an opportunity to play club softball. Echoing Loganbill, she said, “I wish I would have had a chance to find out how good I was. Today, my 13-year-old great-niece, Eliza, loves softball. And she has every chance to find out ‘how good we really are.’”
Lori (DeGarmo) Mallory ’83, Olathe, played volleyball for Flickner both at Buhler High School and at Bethel.
Mallory was one of the first three women in Wichita State University’s sports administration program, where she said she heard this a lot: “We’re not sure what you’re going to do with this degree.”
“I proved them wrong,” she said. She became the first woman to head a Kansas community college athletic department, at Johnson County Community College (where she still teaches), 1991–2000.