Cabrini’s legacy of women in sports and Title IX

By Samantha Taddei
May 2, 2024

Title IX takes the field

In 1972, the Nixon administration enacted Title IX, a landmark legislation that revolutionized gender equality in education and athletics. Title IX grants women athletes equal opportunities in sports within educational institutions that receive federal funding, spanning from elementary schools to colleges and universities. As a result, a new era of opportunity for female athletes began, especially at Cabrini University.

Setting the stage

An all-girls college until 1970, Cabrini laid the foundation for its athletic legacy with its first sports teams in softball, women’s basketball, and field hockey. Since the university’s inception, athletics was a cornerstone of campus life, and the school boasts an impressive record of 146 conference championships and 2 NCAA championships.

Despite the university’s rich athletic tradition, the journey towards gender equality in sports was not without challenges. Laura Wiseley, a former athlete on the softball team and Loquitur sports editor, recalled how women’s softball didn’t have a field on campus during her time at Cabrini. “Nobody came to our softball games because we played off campus. … We had to drive up to Norristown and had to take a bus,” she recounted. As a result of Title IX, the women’s softball team eventually obtained a field on campus.

Breaking ground

Title IX legislation arrived at a pivotal moment in the university’s history, coinciding with its transition to coeducation. In 1997, Leslie Danehy made history as Cabrini’s first female athletic director.

Simultaneously, the hiring of Jackie Neary as a coach marked the beginning of a new era of success for women’s sports at Cabrini.

“If I look at Title IX back when I was a student athlete, I think the big thing was the girls were getting the same stuff the guys get,” Neary explained. “I look back in the ‘80s, men got so many things and all of a sudden, we started getting sneakers, sports bras. That didn’t exist prior to that. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.”

Loquitur lens

Wiseley’s dual role as a sports editor and athlete provided her with a unique perspective on the evolution of women’s sports at Cabrini. “The Loquitur played a crucial role in shaping perceptions and advocating for the greater recognition of women’s athletics on campus,” she reflected.

In terms of coverage, Wiseley emphasized the Loquitur’s commitment to equality. “I feel like we did try to keep it equal. We tried to cover who had the big game that week or who had the biggest story. It was, here’s the schedule, here are the big games. Let’s go cover those with the same enthusiasm as we cover everybody else’s sports,” Wiseley said.

In a field typically dominated by men, Wiseley said that her contributions were valued for their quality rather than her gender by Loquitur staffers. “It was always, ‘She knows what she’s talking about’ rather than ‘Oh, she’s a girl,'” Wiseley recalled. “I just think the staff that we had during that time were just awesome, amazing, talented people, but good people.”

Wiseley’s time at the Loquitur equipped her with the confidence and experiences that facilitated her transition into a career as a sportswriter for the Delaware County Daily Times. As one of the few women in her field at the time, her journey was characterized by breaking barriers and overcoming stereotypes.

The Neary era: coaching for change

Jackie Neary’s tenure as a Cabrini coach is legendary, starting the women’s lacrosse program in 1997 an entering the Cabrini Athletics Hall of Fame in 2013.

“It started with a freshman from South Jersey who went to the president and said, ‘We want women’s lacrosse. We have men’s, we want women’s.’ And they said yes, so that’s how it started,” Neary explained.

Neary amassed a remarkable record with 21 conference championships in 26 full seasons. Additionally, she led the university’s field hockey team to six conference championships since 1996.

Wiseley explained that her roommate was on the field hockey team and was recruited by Neary to play at Cabrini. “You know, and I had never really heard about that before. Like coaches really reaching out to female athletes. I thought that was really cool. I know that men’s sports have been doing that for a very long time. That was the first I had heard about that for women’s sports, again, 25 years ago.”

Neary’s profound impact on Cabrini athletics goes beyond trophies and titles. She’s been a driving force for change, advocating for equal opportunities and empowering female athletes.

Wiseley said, “[Neary] has a very famous alumni in Kylie Kelce, who is out there now continuing on Jackie’s work. I’ve seen her on TV running field hockey clinics and things like that, which is awesome. Any time it can be highlighted that women are athletes and we’re just as competitive as the guys and we want to win, we want to play, we want to get in there, that’s never a bad thing.”

Neary agreed. “I knew as a coach, for my hockey team to be good and my lacrosse team to be good, I had to get out there and sell Cabrini. So, what helped me sell Cabrini over the years was getting a turf field, getting locker rooms, those types of things enabled me to now compete with schools that I was losing kids to.”

Title IX’s impact over the years

Wiseley noted the strides women’s athletics has made. “Look at Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese, they’re doing amazing things. They’re getting great amounts of coverage and recognition for it.”

Neary said, “I think it’s amazing how males now want to watch females play sports. I don’t know if that was happening 30 years ago. I really credit women’s soccer with it. The U.S. women’s soccer team really fights for fair wages.”

“I think that’s the big thing with Title IX. You’re glad it’s there because when you need it, you want to pull that. I’ve been very blessed that I didn’t have to pull it. I think that says a lot about the leadership at Cabrini and the athletic department over the years. From John Dzik to Kate Corcoran right now and in between.”

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Samantha Taddei

Samantha Taddei is a senior here at Cabrini University. She is a 21 year old Communications major with a minor in Leadership studies. Sam is also a student athlete and plays on the Cabrini softball team. In her spare time, she likes to read, write, and watch Philly sports. Her love for writing is what inspired her to join the Loquitur. She is also a part of the Cabrini Communications department's, House 67, where she will be talking all about Cabrini athletics every Thursday night on air. She hopes to one day become a journalist and share her work with everyone on a national scale.

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