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Pioneering Women of the UAA: Nancy Gray, Rosalie Resch, and Sandy Tillman

Pioneering Women of the UAA: Nancy Gray, Rosalie Resch, and Sandy Tillman

Senior Woman Administrators Nancy Gray, Rosalie Resch, and Sandy Tillman have witnessed great changes in collegiate athletics, especially women's sports, and played critical roles in the UAA.

"The UAA was very deliberate about including the voices of SWAs in those early years and I do think that we set the example for other conferences," said Resch, Senior Associate Director of Athletics at University of Chicago, where she earned her undergraduate degree and begins her 42nd year with the department.

Competition has changed quite a bit since she competed in softball, badminton, and volleyball there from 1969-73 and even since she began coaching volleyball in 1977. "When I first started coaching and we played in the 'women's gym' there was no spectator seating," she recalled. "You had to sit on the floor if you wanted to watch."

Mary Jean Mulvaney, who served in athletic administration roles at Chicago from 1966-1990, remembers Resch as a hard-working student-athlete. "Every year was a struggle for Rosy financially," Mulvaney recalled. "After every season, she thought she might have to quit. She would take any job we could find to earn some money. One time after volleyball practice, the team was going out for pizza and Rosy couldn't afford to join them. (Head Coach) Pat (Kirby) gave her $20 and said, 'Some day you will give that $20 to someone else.' That impacted Rosy from that day forward. Pat gave her the confidence to keep going on." 

Before the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) was founded in 1971, Chicago only played schools in a limited local geographical area and there was no further competition beyond those contests. Once AIAW came along, there were district, state, regional, and finally national championships.

One of the most pivotal advancements in women's collegiate athletics came when President Richard Nixon signed Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 into law on June 23, 1972. Title IX states that ""No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, 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."

Gray, who worked 32 years in various roles at Case Western Reserve University, remembers those early days well. "When I first started coaching basketball in 1971, we played in Mather Gym (now Mather Dance Center), a very small facility," she remarked. "You had to put your foot on the wall to inbound the ball because the line was right against the wall. The baskets were on the wall rather than coming out. There were also three or four pillars on one side that bisected the sidelines."

Tillman, who worked for 28 years in the Emory University athletic department and later worked in the school's alumni office, arrived on the campus in 1969. "When I got there, we had a few athletes, but athletics was really not much at all for men or women," she stated. "We played some matches in Georgia and nearby states, but that was it."


Both Resch's career and women's sports at Chicago took dramatic turns quickly. After earning her bachelor's degree in Russian language and literature, she went to Smith College for her master's degree in physical education. In her second year there, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst head volleyball coach quit just before the season and they needed a coach. Resch was recommended for the job, having played volleyball at Chicago. "We played a small schedule of about 8-10 matches a season," she said. "They gave me a small budget and the keys to the van. We played at Smith that season and it was so confusing coaching one school against the school I was attending that I am pretty sure at one point I yelled out, 'Go Chicago!'"

Rosalie Resch (front left) as part of University of Chicago badminton team

At that time, scholar-athlete scholarships were permissible as long as there was no requirement that the student continue to compete. Chicago had the Amos Alonzo Stagg Scholarship for men, but no scholarships for women student-athletes. That all changed when the Gertrude Dudley Scholarship was introduced in 1972. It gained national attention in 1973 when Sunday Parade Magazine published an article about the scholarship, prompting thousands of applications from all over the country. 

In fact, there were so many applications that the university decided to award scholarships to two women, Noel Bairey, who has become a well-known cardiologist focusing on heart disease in women, and Laura Silvieus, who earned an M.B.A. and is now semi-retired from managing a law firm in Oakland, California.

"There was a phenomenal incoming class that year," Resch remembered. "It really ramped up the women's programs. Practices were now five days a week and women wore uniforms instead of numbered pinneys. It immediately became a much more serious program than when I played there."

Resch returned to Chicago after finishing her Masters degree at Smith and was hired by Mulvaney as an assistant volleyball and softball coach on Oct. 1, 1975. At that time, Kirby was still coaching volleyball, basketball, and softball. Resch and Mulvaney have remained close through the years and get together at least once a year. Mulvaney remembers getting a call from Resch on Oct. 1, 2015, thanking her for hiring her 40 years earlier.

The opportunity for Resch to become head coach came in 1977 with the volleyball program and she jumped at the opportunity even though softball was her best sport as an athlete. In fact, Resch's career batting average of .481 is tied for the all-time best at the school.

Rosalie Resch as part of 1972 University of Chicago softball team. She is #30.


Tillman's road to collegiate athletics started with her going against her parents' wishes. "My parents both ended their education after the 10th grade," she said. "My father owned a grocery store and my mother stayed at home. Their idea of my future was being a cashier at the Jiggly Jungle. I got my aunt to pay for me to go to junior college and then went to William Carey University. If I was going to attend college, it needed to be a religious one for my parents. With only my aunt's support at first, my going to college and also getting a Masters degree from the University of Southern Mississippi were the grandest things I ever did."

She played several sports, including tennis and volleyball, but softball was her best. "When I first got to Atlanta, I played slow-pitch softball and traveled all over the South. We played a national tournament in Satellite Beach, Florida in the 1970's," she recalled. "I was fast back in those days and led off. For some reason they put a shift on me as a left-hander, thinking I couldn't hit to the opposite field. I would hit the ball down the third base line and end up on second base. I ended up with the second-highest batting average in the tournament because opposing teams never made the adjustment. I was named an 'All-American,' which shows what they knew."

Tillman grew up in Laurel, Mississippi and was raised with a cousin who was a baseball player and eventually became a baseball scout. "He is the one who taught me to hit left-handed," she commented. "He always told people about me and said, 'If she had been a boy, I would have signed her and made a lot of money.'"

After college, Tillman was teaching at Agnes Scott College. "There was a woman there getting her doctorate at Emory and she told me I should work there. I went and spoke to Dr. (Clyde) Partin," she recalled. "He said 'Would you like to work at Emory?' and I said, "Yes sir." That was the entire interview. After the first year, he asked me if I wanted to continue there and again I said, 'Yes sir.'"

She remembers things changed very quickly for athletics. When Gerry Lowrey was hired to take over as director of outdoor track programs in 1981, there were five men's programs and two women's programs. In August 1983, the George W. Woodruff Physical Education Center was opened. That was also the year Lowrey was asked to serve as interim Director of Athletics and Recreation, following in the steps of the legendary Partin. "We were nothing before that building and it took us a while to get going," Tillman stated.

"We need more people like her," said Lowrey, who served officially as Emory Director of Athletics and Recreation from 1984-90 after a year-long stint as interim in 1983. "She is a great organizer and manager. If she takes on a task, she will do it better than you could ever have imagined. You can trust that it will be done well and everyone working with her will have fun."

Four men's teams and six women's teams were added in Lowrey's seven-year tenure. "Gerry and I put together search committee after search committee to develop the athletic department," Tillman said. "It was a tremendous growth period and a lot of fun. The student-athletes were excited about it."

"I could not have done half of what I did without her. She was an essential part of the whole process," Lowrey stated. "The program really grew and a lot of that was through Sandy’s vision, help, ideas, encouragement. We went through a real growth spurt and she was a key part of that."

"Sandy hired me and I just love and adore her," said Emory & Henry College Director of Athletics Myra Sims, who started the women's basketball and volleyball varsity programs at Emory University. "She worked with everyone. She promoted an atmosphere that was so collegial. She was such a joy to be around and had a great sense of humor. It was exciting to be there at that time when intercollegiate athletics was blossoming."


Gray was a big part of the changes in women's sports at CWRU. "Our universities (Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve Academy) merging (in 1967), put us in a unique situation," Gray recalled. "There were two men's coaches for all of those teams and they had to decide who would coach the merged program. It was not an issue on the women's side."

CWRU was part of the AIAW, which gave them a structure and tournaments they did not previously have. Then NCAA Division III was formed in 1973. "There were a lot of hard feelings when the NCAA took over for the AIAW," Gray remembered. "Women felt very strongly on both sides of the issue. It was a very tumultuous time, even in Ohio, with which schools chose which organization to be a part of in the 1970s. I remember the NCAA representative for the Division III Track and Field Championships we hosted in the early 1970s telling me it was just a matter of time before the NCAA would govern women's sports and things would get a lot better. Once Title X came along, we made the biggest strides."

Nancy Gray (upper left) and CWRU women's basketball team

CWRU joined the North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) in its inaugural year (1983) and women’s athletics flourished. "We had volleyball, tennis, and basketball at that time, but one of the foundations of the NCAC was equity so we added sports," Gray said.

"I thought I was going to coach field hockey, but we did not have enough interest," Gray commented. "We were adding women's programs and it was a very exciting time to be part of the development of women's sports. I ended up starting the women's soccer program. That first year (1984) was a tough one. Our big accomplishment was when we tied an opponent!"


Resch and Gray gained athletic administration experience before the formation of the UAA, while Tillman spent most her time helping Lowrey build the athletics program.

"I was involved administratively from the start," Resch said. "I was the sports director for the campus and recreational sports. When AIAW folded (in 1982) and we joined the NCAA, we joined the Midwest Conference and Midwest Athletic Conference for Women since the conference was split into men's and women's sports at the time. In effect, I was the assistant director for women, the liaison for the women's conference, and started attending NCAA meetings."

"Once NACDA (National Association of Collegiate Director of Athletics) meetings opened up to assistants and associates, I would go to those meetings with Mary Jean (Mulvaney), one of the first women on the NCAA Council. She knew everyone and it became a great opportunity for me to meet people."

After coaching basketball and starting the women's soccer program at CWRU, Gray began coaching women's tennis and became the women's NCAA representative. When Dave Hutter was hired as Director of Athletics, Gray was promoted to Associate Director of Athletics and coordinator of women's athletics. "I was very fortunate to have all those different experiences I had there," Gray said. "It certainly helped me grow and become a better person. It helped me understand people a lot better."

"We worked together for a number of years. She is a fantastic person and human being," Hutter said. "She treated people with respect, all of the people, from students to colleagues to rivals. She was always first class in terms of how she interacted with everyone."


Gray knew that joining the UAA was important for CWRU. "Those were the schools I felt all along that we should be associated with," she said. "We were more like the UAA schools. Our kids went to these schools for graduate school. They could actually talk to one another at social events and it was fantastic to have the opportunity to travel to these places."

"It was a huge deal for Emory to put forth the financial backing and I am really surprised we did it," Tillman remarked. "The key for us was that President (James) Laney and (Vice President) Bill Fox were behind it. A lot of it was Bill seeing the need for us and talking to the president about it. I remember one of those first years in the UAA, we went over budget at Emory. Gerry and I had to do the death march over to Bill's office. He wasn't too happy about us being over budget, but he was extremely pleased with the UAA. Joining the UAA was the best thing Emory ever could have done in the world of athletics."

"Sandy was a steadying influence. When it got pressure-packed, she relieved it," Lowrey added. "She took on difficult tasks and got them done. She was, and is, an amazing person. At those first UAA scheduling meetings, I would have been lost without her."


Most of the initial planning of the formation of the new conference, the University Athletic Association, happened at the presidential level with other high-ranking academic officials from the nine founding universities.

Once the decision to form the UAA was official, it was time to get the details worked out and that is the main role the Athletic Directors and Senior Woman Administrators took on.

"I didn't have a lot to say at those first few meetings because I had never been in a conference before," Tillman stated. Rosy and Nancy had experience with conferences so they knew a lot about procedures."

Tillman and Lowrey found out how welcome they were right away. "I remember the first meeting of athletic reps in Chicago," she said. "Our flight was delayed and our vice president was extremely nervous. We were a few minutes late. Mary Jean stopped the meeting and gave us a special welcome as 'the southern members of the UAA family.' Rosy was the perfect host for us the entire trip, though I don't know if she was officially assigned to that duty."

"I attended the UAA meetings very early on," Resch said. "One we started doing operational stuff, I was there. One of the neat things about those early years is that we were so unique and worked through substantive issues."

"A lot of nitty gritty detailed work went into those meetings," Tillman added. "Wording was talked about and very enlightening for Gerry and me. We learned a lot at those first meetings and I was so happy to be there."

All three agree that from the beginning, women had a voice in all aspects of the UAA. 

"It was not a top down meeting," Resch said. "Long before the NCAA was paying attention to women administrators, the UAA had SWAs on the Delegates Committee. There was never any lip service about women's involvement. Presidents and Chancellors recognized from the beginning that there needed to be equal opportunities. It was never in a token way. That has never been part of who we are." 

""I think the best part was that men and women were treated equally around the table," said Tillman. "Everybody had the opportunity to speak."

"It is always nice to have a voice," Gray said. "It was nice for Dave and me to both be there for CWRU, especially since we had a unique situation anyway. I always want the women's point of view to be represented. The UAA was special in many ways - it was comfortable. We were not afraid to speak and say what was on our minds. Not that we always said a lot, but we knew the opportunity was there."

"We were among the first groups of schools that had a women’s athletic director," Hutter recalled. "Nancy was very bright, very knowledgeable about athletics, and it was in an era when women’s athletics were rising to equality. She was very active in seeing that the women’s programs received the same amount of attention from me in all aspects from the budget to the schedule. The women’s programs were on an equivalent and some women's programs were better than the men's."

Originally, CWRU was part of both the UAA and NCAC and Gray admits that caused scheduling nightmares for both conferences and was quite a challenge for the Spartans' athletic teams. "Both conferences definitely worked with us when we were struggling to work things out with them," Gray recalled. "It starts at the top and the leadership of (UAA Executive Director) Dick Rasmussen and (NCAC Executive Director) Dennis Collins were both very welcoming and each gave women a voice. There can be situations where you are a representative but you 'better keep your mouth shut.' That was never the case with the UAA or NCAC."

"At the time, there was a lot of conversation about women having a place at the table," Resch said. "Women having a voice was a big difference about the UAA right away. I had attended more conference meetings than most by that time and in most cases, if there were women at the table, they did not speak and there was not a welcoming. Tradition was not for involvement for women, but in the UAA, if you are in the room, you have an obligation to be part of the environment."

"It was an interesting time, but not difficult in the UAA," Hutter commented. "There were other conferences that had more trouble with the equality, but in the UAA, that just didn't happen. There was a supportive environment. It was not a conflict at all nor an argument. The feeling around the table was, 'My son and my daughter are equal.'"

Another key to the early success of the UAA SWAs was a strong sense of camaraderie.  "The collegiality has always been good among the coaches and administrators," Gray stated. "The women always got along well and we would do things together, whether it was golfing or going out to dinner and we always had a good time. I remember at meetings in Florida, all of the women would get together for lunch and golf on that Friday."

"We all banded together," Tillman said. "Emory was so new to athletics, I was just sitting back and watching everything and learning. We were so impressed with the conference."

"We knew collegiality was so critical with this being such a different model for Division III," Resch added. "There was a compelling interest for this to go well. I remember those early days with all of us like Joyce Wong (University of Rochester) and Joan Maser (Carnegie Mellon University) and we all felt strongly that the better we knew one another, the easier it would be to deal with issues that arise. We did whatever we could do to make things better for our student-athletes, so calls and inquiries were easier to make because we had those personal relationships. We had a really strong interest in knowing one another and what the different issues were on different campuses. We were joined at the hip sometimes."

"One year when I traveled with our track and field team to Cleveland," Tillman said. "Nancy took me to 'The Flats' for dinner and we discussed situations regarding our careers and the UAA. She helped me resolve some issues that had been bothering me."

The relationships have lasted through the years, even when people move on to other institutions. "When people leave the UAA, we are still drawn to them at NCAA meetings," Resch commented.

"I have never seen anyone like Rosy who meets someone once and they become great friends," Mulvaney stated. "Wherever she travels, she has a close friend in that city and they go out to dinner and Rosy may even stay at their house."

L-R: Rosalie Resch, Sandy Tillman, Sue Zawacki, Nancy Gray, Joan Maser

The friendship between the three women has stayed strong. Gray hosted Resch and Tillman for a golf weekend one year and just a couple years ago, Tillman joined Resch on a trip to Costa Rica. "There is a camaraderie between us that continues with past and present people," Resch added. "I value so much that is has been part of the experience."


Gray thinks it is important that people understand how the UAA got to where it is. "The disappointing part is if you don't appreciate the process that brought things where they are," she said. "Going through the process is painful at times, but it teaches you a lot."

Gray likes what she sees now at CWRU. "We are in good shape with coaches who have stayed and made the programs better," she commented. "You can see how things have changed. Now we have a woman athletic director (Amy Backus). There was a time we never thought we would see that happen. There has been a change in society and in the university. President (Barbara) Snyder was the right person at the right time and she has juggled a lot of issues so well."

As many ways as things have changed in the more than 45 years Resch has been involved in collegiate athletics in one way or another, she sees one constant. "Students grow from ages 18 to 22," she said. "No matter the era, it is a time of growth and development. The shaping of environment is not as important as the shaping of the individual." Chicago once again has a woman Director of Athletics in Erin McDermott, who began her tenure in July 2013.

"There are no words to encapsulate Rosy's breadth and depth of contributions to the University of Chicago and the Department of Physical Education & Athletics (now Athletics & Recreation) over her 41-year tenure," McDermott said. "They are immeasurable as a teacher, a coach, a mentor, an advisor, and an administrator. Rosy is beloved by Maroons past and present and their affection speaks volumes of her impact. Rosy's commitment and steadfast servant leadership are unparalleled."

Tillman is thrilled to see women still playing such an important role in Emory athletics, specifically her good friend and former co-worker Joyce Jaleel, who serves as the Senior Associate Director of Athletics and Senior Woman Administrator. "Joyce is the kind of person who gets things done," Tillman said. "She's been there for all of those championships Emory has hosted and she makes us all look good."

"The concept behind the UAA is still the greatest thing anywhere," Tillman added. "I am happy to see that 30 years later, the concept is still there and that the student-athletes are still happy to be part of the UAA."

This story is the first in a season-long series called "30 for 30" in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the UAA.